back to article MoD pays quadruple in money + blood for Afghan helicopters

So the die is cast. In yet another masterly procurement move, the UK Ministry of Defence has decided to spend hundreds of millions of pounds upgrading and restoring its aged Puma helicopters - which were due to retire next year - for service in Afghanistan. This will cost more than buying a fleet of brand new choppers. The RAF …


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  1. Scott 19
    Thumb Down

    Wanted: Common Sense

    Been missing since the 1990's, shame our boys aren't bankers they'd be financed till there trousers fell down.

  2. nordwars

    Sounds crap...

    ...what can we do about it?

  3. matthew maclean


    What are they playing at? I am getting proper mad with these decision makers. Do they have steaks in the companys that are getting these insane deals or what? grrrrrrr

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    It's really very simple, maintaining stuff comes from one pot of money, buying stuff from another. The MoD aren't allowed to move money around by the treasury so we end up with these sort of retarded deals.

    The blame lies not with industry or even the MoD for once, instead this is the Treasury's own pot of fail.

  5. Saopaulo101


    This actually makes me angry, its such a bad decision! why cant we have someone sensible making these decisions?

  6. Rob 114

    P45 for Broon!

    wow, Labour, New or otherwise in putting civil servants and rubbish UK "industries" before the lives of soliders in Afghan\Iraq\other porrly defined american war shock!!! But then historically Labour governments have never treated the Armed Forces with any kind of respect. So I guess we shouldn't be to amazed at this. After all it's entirely in keeping with Labour's mindset.

    hardly newsworthy in itself, but sadly thats because it's all too typical for this shithouse "gubmint", the fucktards who lobby for these contracts to go to suppoesed UK industries who cannot function without "gubmint" chucking them contracts they barely deserve and never deliver.

    As both a former member of HM armed Forces AND a Civil Servant I can only say that those in power should hang their fucking heads in shame and swap places with those out in harms way.

    That said I'd be worried aout just buying american kit all the time as you become hostage to their paranoia about having access to botht he hardware and software. But given the economics of the situation - the country being skint, and the fact that the Blackhawks are a superior piece of kit to the Puma, then it's really a no brainer.

    Six months time Labout will be consigned to history and will probably never, ever, ever, be given the reigns of power again in this country. Fucking good riddance to them as well.

  7. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. Geoff Spick

    training bill

    How about the costs and delays of training the crews on a whole new type of bird? plus no crews or birds in the air while they train?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Whatever the problem......

    El Reg says buy from the US. Put another record on will ya?

    OK, things aren't so bad at the moment but you'd have to be mad to get any further into bed with the Yanks.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    This is exactly the same doomed design that proved to be lethal to aircraft and pilots in the previous Afghan war. Pre-Stinger era helicopter.

    A missile with a thermal seeking head against it is guaranteed kill with no survivors. The helicopter gets a hit into engine + gearbox + rotor assembly and disintegrates in the air. That is why Mi-24,25,35 which are amidst the few combat helicopters to retain this configuration have IR suppressors on the exhaust and most modern combat helicopters have had the exhaust moved further down the fuselage.

    Sigh... The ones who cannot remember history are doomed to repeat it.

  11. TeeCee Gold badge

    Re: Grrrrrr

    I take it those steaks that you refer to are Pork ones?

    If so, spot on.

  12. FatBloke

    What price....

    .... a soldier's life?

    Sad. Very.

  13. Dennis 3
    Thumb Up

    @matthew maclean

    Best comment in awhile...

    First, I noticed you chose "steak" instead of "stake", and "companys" instead of the proper "companies".

    Then, I noticed the flame next to your "steak". Brilliant! Very clever plug for both the bovine and grilling worked beautifully. As of this second, the old Weber charcoal grill is heating up, and the steaks are ready.

    That, sir, was the best flame ever.

  14. Tone


    The article said training was included with the price of blackhawks and spares.

    They will need training anyway on the refurbed engines\avionics on the Puma (cost not included)

    Wouldn't the MOD deploy them to a unit that arent on operations.

    The refurbed Pumas will not available for 2 years..

  15. james 68
    Black Helicopters


    its the only description i can think of.

    its been over 10 years since i was fiddling with pumas and even then they were shit.

    even back then the airframes were falling apart, in northern ireland half the airframes were unservicable and were regularly cannibalised to keep the rest in the air. god forbid you requested a new part as they were never available, spares were a joke and if absolutely necessary they would request a part from westland which would take 6-7 weeks to filter through or 3 months if they had to fabricate it.

    we were begging the powers that be back then to give us the (then outgoing to retirement) wessex or seakings the navy was scrapping, as replacements (both decent sikorsky designs, even though again supplied by westland), they would have cost bugger all to repurpose, but no we were told to "make do" we'd soon have merlins to replace the pumas - did we my arse.

    i have nothing but contempt for the MoD. any serviceman (or woman) in service today is a bloody saint for not turning their weapons on the buggers in self defence.

  16. Jack 12

    @Geoff Spick

    "Sikorsky were offering 60 brand-new birds plus training for £480m"

    So the training costs are included, and if the pumas are not yet fit for deployment in Afghanistan anyway then I'm not convinced there is a big difference there either.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Blackhawk != Puma

    Blackhawk is a multirole assault helicopter akeen to Mi24/25/35. It cannot ferry a lot of load, but can provider a hell of an armed support option and carry a few troops into combat.

    Puma is a "lame duck" transport whirly bird which can have a couple of guns mounted. It is not realistically capable of a ground assault support role. More of a Huey / Mi 8/26 than a Blackhawk.

    The two do not compare and should not be compared. They have different tactical purpose.

    The problem is not in Pumas vs Blackhawks - the problem is _MUCH_ deeper.

    If the UK prefers Pumas to Blackhawks (or Mi24-35 which even USA operates nowdays) this does not show stupidity in procurement. It shows criminal stupidity on the battlefield. Instead of using tactics developed and proven successful during the Vietnam and Afghan war the army is sticking with Indonesia/Korean-war era methods.

    From there on the level of casualties and the abismal success rate are no longer surprising.

    The classic British Army (and not only army) "Not Invented Here" malaise I guess.

  18. Adam Williamson 1


    Lewis, you seem quite keen to play up the superiority of the Blackhawk. Apparently 14 is "about the same as" 16, yet 2.6 is "much superior" to 2. That language seems somewhat strong for the actual numerical relationships involved. Especially since the '2' is a suspiciously round number and could possibly have been rounded down; did you check for a more precise definition of the Puma's carrying capacity?

  19. Simon C

    @ Geoff Spick

    Fair comment I suppose.

    Buying new black hawks (28 of) would save us $56m,

    a) use a portion of that for an immediate training budget = win

    b) contract established pilots for that aircraft = win

    c) do both = win win.

    Choose either a, b or c and you've only scratched the surface of that $56 million saving pot.

    Conservatively (based on no accuracy) I'd say $25mil to cover all training bases etc....still leaving a whopping $25 back into the taxpayers coffers.

  20. Martin 6 Silver badge

    @training bill

    Type conversion from small helicopters to turbines only takes 5hours.

    I'm betting that experienced millitary pilots can manage the transfer between one high performance turbine helicopter to another pretty easily.

    They will still need conversion training to the new Puma, on modern helicopters it's the FMS (all the computer stuff) that needs the intensive training - and the new avionics will make the new Puma completely different to the old one.

    Actually based on historical experience conversion to the new Puma will be easy, because just like the new upgraded Chinook - they wont actually be able to leave the ground.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Not so simple

    What about the cost of change for the MOD - new training for maintenance staff, training for pilots, new spares, new procedures etc. etc.

    This is the same argument you get in a company when there is a delay in supplying a standard PC and some senior manager says it's quicker and cheaper to go to PC World for one.

    I'd hope (was going to say I'm sure) the MOD will have done detailed calculations - you could put in a FOI request to find out...

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    @nordwars and Mark 57

    What you want is for one to "go on fire" when sat in its hanger, preferably very close to a few others. Get a friendly tech to diagnose a leaky fuel seal (Challanger Shuttle, Nimrod etc) and so the board of enquiry grounds the rest. When one or two others also "go on fire" there wont be enough of the fleet left to make it worthwhile.

    Mr Lucifer can be your friend (its a historical reference)

    Icon, its how they should look when charred and mangled.

  23. Oliver Smith

    Not quite as clear cut as Lewis says...

    The Blackhawk is almost as old as the Puma (less than a decade in it, I believe), and the Puma is in use by 30ish national air forces around the world. Hardly the massive difference in age and usage that Lewis was implying...

  24. Sarah Davis

    Stupid is as stupid does!

    The only possible benefit of the proposed scheme (as opposed to buying new machines) is someone somewhere in MoD/Government is making a profit, in short,.. corruption!

    Not really a suprise

  25. Frank Bough

    Why Not.. more Merlins instead? They're bigger and more advanced than either the Black Hawk or the SuperPuma. Surely if we bough enough of them we could get the unit cost down to a decent level?

  26. Goatan

    Soo bad

    This is rediculas. When I take over this island and proclaim myself King I shall appoint you Lewis as the grand high general of the MoD so you can make the sensible decisions

  27. I didn't do IT.
    Paris Hilton

    @ AC 15:03 Whatever the problem

    "OK, things aren't so bad at the moment but you'd have to be mad to get any further into bed with the Yanks."

    Oh, why not? It's quite toasty down here in the covers. :)

    PH - because most Brits wouldn't mind getting further into bed with *that* piece of America.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    i'll take NH90 over blackhawk

    Blackhawks? Surely a more modern helicopter such as the NH90, would be a superior choice.

  29. Chris 35

    Sorry Mr. Brown

    You're not going to be around to make a headline grab for saving us from this government-engineered crisis.

  30. Hate2Register

    You must put my title in for me..

    Never mind Lewis, you can reduce your elevated stress levels by considering that spending a couple of million extra quid on a British product will allow defence products skills, (manufacturing / servicing) to remain in the UK.

    And even if you're right that the government spends far too much on idiotic procurement decisions. So what. Are you going to save us? Yeah, think of it, you could write a strongly worded article that will change the world. The world... haha

  31. Anonymous Coward

    @ Martin

    Actually based on historical experience conversion to the new Puma will be easy, because just like the new upgraded Chinook - they wont actually be able to leave the ground.


    No doubt some greedy f*uck pig is getting a nice back hander for the refurb. Sort of reminds me of that school that bought a £1000 pound photocopier for £30000 or something stupid. Don't worry. When the country needs more money cos the powers at be wanked it away on shit heli refurbs and overpriced office equipment the overlords will just increase taxes yeeeaaaa!

    I'll get my coat. It's the old scruffy one with all the sewn on patches. Can't afford a new one because the one eyed idiot is bleeding me dry and giving it to some smack head for a holiday or a nice flat.

  32. MonkeyBot

    @ Rob 114

    "Labour governments have never treated the Armed Forces with any kind of respect."

    They're still pissed about Peterloo.

  33. Julian I-Do-Stuff

    e-Petition under way

    PumaUpgradeFail - Quick and dirty but should be up soon.

    This sort of thing really pisses me off

  34. Stuart Van Onselen

    @Oliver Smith

    I think you're confusing *design* age with *aircraft* age. The design of the Blackhawk may be old, but the examples the army would be buying would be new-build. Whereas the Pumas, apparently, really are 30yo flying accidents-waiting-to-happen.

    Odd, it seems straightforward to me, but this is the second time I've seen someone make this same error. Perhaps Lewis can word things a bit more clearly in future?

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What you'll find

    Is that one or more of the guys in charge of this decision will be on the board of the supplying company 6 months after they leave the MoD. Happens time and time again.

  36. David Green
    Black Helicopters


    I'm all for keeping money at home, but this is just ignorant. This is the same sort of mentality that kept the US auto industry afloat 30 years longer than it should've been.

  37. Ashley Stevens
    Thumb Down

    Macro vs Micro

    It's not quite as simple as that though.

    If you look at it from the macro level, spending in the UK isn't really spending at all. Because the money stays in the UK economy. It pays UK workers, who get taxed (therefore a lot goes straight back to HM Guv). Some goes to UK companies but then they get taxed (guess where that goes). Then the UK workers spend the money in shops, mostly in the UK and pay VAT (tax). And the UK workers have a job so they don't claim benefits either.

    So if you look at it that way, as a government surely does, then it's not really spending money so much as recycling it in the UK economy. As opposed to money spending overseas, which is just money that's gone.

    So it's a fallacy to equate spending in the UK and overseas. It can only be compared like that on a very simple micro level that doesn't show the true macro economic picture. It's thinking like this that killed off the VBomber programme, the UK's own nuclear programme and the UK space programme.

  38. N2

    The right tools for the job?

    Sadly, it is never going to happen, not without significant change

    This is because the civil service is largely a pack of shiny arsed pen pushers.

    Were these glorified administrators in their ever increasingly tall ivory towers be replaced by serving members from our Army, Navy & RAF earning a bit of hard earned shore time then it would all be very different.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    @@ AC 15:03 Whatever the problem #

    PH - you reckon?

  40. Apocalypse Later

    Bureaucratic ratio

    There was an article in the Telegraph the other day that said the Ministry of Defense has one civil servant for every two servicemen. And yet they still can't count the beans properly.

  41. Death_Ninja

    Why not... some Russian helicopters... rugged, cheap, modified for and proven in Afganistan.

    The enemy this time around don't have British/American surface to air missiles and consequently would get proper chewed up just like the Muj did before the West bailed them out (much ultimately to their own undoing of course!)

    Then again, if we won't even buy US equipment because some politician's mates at the Garrick club have directorships of UK defence contractors, then certainly they wouldn't do some as radical as buying Russian kit!

  42. Linbox

    @ Oliver Smith

    Don't confuse 'originally designed' and 'currently being manufactured'.

    Compare if you would the Austin Maxi and the BMW 3-series, reasonably comparable cars when they were being sold in 1975. One stopped production in 1981 and the other has been continually manufactured since.

    Would you rather spend your money trying to make a Maxi run reliably or spend slightly less money on a brand new 325i?

  43. Anonymous Coward

    @Ashley Stevens

    Your forgetting that those "mostly UK shops" are all selling mostly imported products.

    Its time for the UK to wake up and realise that they are NOT a super power by any definition. The UK dosent have the economy nor the know how to build modern machines of war. Leave it to those that do and focus on the training of the personal where the UK still have a lead way to many other armed services. Crippling the UK armed forces just so you can say that that piece of whirlie was made in the UK as it falls apart mid air isen´t really worth while now is it?

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    And you think...

    .... that the spec of a UK Blackhawk would be the same as one for Colmbia. Get a life, needed for completely different operations. I know for a fact that the UK Apaches are very different to US ones (OH works for the manufacturer)

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Lewis, what's your obsession with buying American kit all the time?

    Britain has a strong defence industry whatever you might think, your obsession with offshoring everything to America- putting our entire military future in the hands of the Americans is utterly ignorant.

    It would be strategically and economically stupid to drop our defence industry altogether and let the Americans make everything for us instead. Owning a powerful defence industry in itself is somewhat of a weapon because we can choose to arm enemies of our enemies which is often abused, but ultimately puts us in a much better place than to have our enemies able to slaughter allies and possibly go for us next.

    The problem as always with your analysis Lewis is you completely and utterly miss the bigger picture. Time and time again this is where your articles fail- you look at individual cases whilst ignoring the knock on effects of your suggestions.

    The MoD is entirely inefficient for sure, they could definitely get better deals than they do, but your solutions are rarely the answer, they would do more harm than good.

  46. N2

    @Death Ninja

    Buy some Russian helicopters?

    That explains your handle

  47. Mr Larrington

    Hold on, lads...

    ...I've got an idea.

    Instead of spending twenty billion sovs on "upgrading" Trident (What's wrong with the current version? No iPod connectivity?), a weapon system which we do not want, cannot use and are not certain how to operate, why not spend the cash on something useful, like schools, hospitals, helichopters which work etc. etc. Sorted.

    Also the only common factors between the E21 BMW 3-series and the fifth-generation E90 model currently in production are the badge and the woeful lack of standard equipment, such as indicators.

  48. Dave Evans 1
    Black Helicopters

    A better way

    As has been mentioned, the S-70 series is not really a direct comparison to the SA-330. However, maybe a more sensible option would be AS532 Cougars from Eurocopter which come in at the same(ish) cost and have better performance capabilities than borh. The fact that they are operated in Nepal and Saudi Arabia give the impression that the heat and altitude of Afghanistan should be little problem.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Anonymous Coward 16:47

    Thank you, thank you VERY much for being the only person to realise the point of keeping defence within the country.

    AC because I work for one of said companies.

  50. Dave Bell


    It's worth looking at what other NATO countries are doing. Other European NATO countries...

    This seems like a pretty dumb way of providing helicopters. But is the whole European military industrial complex worse than the USA? I suspect one problem is the amount of kit on any modern aircraft which uses American-made components.

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The smart money

    Does not agree with Lewis.

    You have to ask yourself what is the purpose of procurement. Its certainly not to benefit our troops, the UK has a long history of providing them with as little as they can get away with.

    That's nothing to do with Labour or Tory, its been going on ever since we had a professional army, because kit is expensive and labour is cheap.

    You want to change that ? Then stop whinging and pay more taxes.

  52. The First Dave

    @Stuart Van Onselen

    "Perhaps Lewis can word things a bit more clearly in future?"

    Good one - that had me laughing for twenty minutes! Lewis has never been a fan of balanced reporting!

    Seriously though, what is this obsession with looking only at the base cost of something?

    If we buy american kit, then the cost is absolute.

    If we buy British kit, then even if it appears slightly more expensive, what we get is: a big fat VAT check (most of the time, maybe not for military kit), 20% of the wage bill goes straight back to the government as income tax; 18% of the remainder comes back as VAT on the stuff that has been bought with those wages;

    Knock-on sales are made to other countries, sometimes of new kit, and sometimes of our refurbished cast-offs.

  53. Anonymous Coward

    Some Comments

    @ Adam Williamson 1, re. nitpick #

    Lifting 16 troops with a capacity of 2000KG is 125KG per soldier, which might be OK at sea level in a cold country, but the requirement is for hot and high (which kills helicopter performance) so I'd sooner have the Blackhawk's 185KG per soldier (it's a proven tool in Afghanistan).

    @Ashley Stevens, re. Macro vs Micro #

    This is a ridiculous argument; where do you stop? Why didn't the government (of the day) do this for ICL, Rover and any other manufacturing company that's gone to the wall through pricing and uncompetitive products?

    Besides, £45 million of this deal is for French made engines; how does that benefit UK design and engineering expertise?

    One really good reason to buy American aircraft, is that they are normally the result of a competitive bid against another product (in the case of the UH-60 the Boeing-Vertol YUH-61A); so the resulting product has at least had some competition to beat so you won't get a lame duck.

    The US armed forces rarely settle for second best when it comes to equipment; why should we?

  54. Anonymous Coward

    Hang on a minute

    You guys are seriously complaining that money is being spent within the UK rather than being spent outside of it?

    Sure it might be 'cheaper' to buy the US kit, but that means the US gets our money - by spending the money in the UK then the cash filters back to UK taxpayers, keeps skilled workers in jobs and british businesses afloat in these challenging times.

    IMO that kind of back-handed benefit is worth the extra cost of what otherwise might be a bit of a daft move.

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Tired of Lewis.....

    I used to enjoy Lewis's articles, but they are starting to grate. Every article is the same: "XXXX decision my MOD is stupid, why don't we just buy off the shelf 'mercan kit"

    Same argument all the time makes me wonder how much he really knows / understands - real life is more nuanced than this and trotting out the same standard argument all the time undermines his credibility.

  56. james 68


    nice to see you lot equate human lives as worth exactly £0.00

    lets spend our money on equipment thats not fit for purpose so we can keep the ITALIANS in jobs and throw half of it at the FRENCH for second rate engines

    why worry about the lives of those dedicated to defending us when we can save...oh we cant save any money were throwing it all away to foreign companies (agusta-westland is 100% italian owned) we cant even save british jobs because the workers in the westland factories are 80+% imports from italy and france

    yeah great deal - and all the while our troops are killed, maimed and disfigured for want of better kit that could be gotten cheaper. but they dont matter do they? you lot disgust me just as much as the MoD and the cancerous overgrown government that only cares about lining their own pockets, at the expense of troops AND taxpayers.

  57. Anonymous Coward

    re Tired of Lewis..... #

    If you're getting tired of Lewis saying buy off the shelf kit that works better for less; think how tired the taxpayers are of supporting lame-duck companies for overpriced equipment that will turn up years too late to be useful.

    Once again: why is the defence industry exempt from competitive forces i.e. price, quality, customer service (delivery performance)? Most of us work in environments where these are the difference between success and failure; for our armed forces they are the difference between life and death.

    FAIL for the MoD!

  58. Ricky H


    just plain fail. i'm just venting on some internet comment page. I understand this will change nothing.

  59. Frank Bough

    How much IS a soldier's life worth?

    Despite all the talk of 'heros', you only have to look at their pay and conditions to see that we treat them as worthless and disposable - never mind that the primary purpose of equipping them at all seems to be to line the pockets of BAE et al.

  60. Anonymous Coward


    Another great Anti-MOD story frol Lewis I see...

    Please think of things like ...

    Spares Stockpile

    Training for pilots

    Training for Support Staff (Ground Crew)

    Then tell me which is the Cheaper Option...

    Dont just look at the cost of the Pumas themselves..

    For every Puma there are a number of pilots that need retraining and then a number of Ground Crew that have to support them. That all costs a lot of £££ for re training.

    These things dont come with a Haynes Manual

    Aircraft & Helos are not simple things to maintain

    Its not like a car where you can take it to any mechanic to fix.


    Yes I am Ex RAF before you ask.

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