London (UPI) Dec 8, 2010
Britain has decided to drop military aircrews from a new deal to provide helicopter-based U.K.-wide search-and-rescue operations.
The $11 billion contract with a consortium involving French defense giant Thales, helicopter operator CHC Helicopters and the Royal Bank of Scotland was meant to bank on a civil as well as military aircrews, yet London has decided to cut the British air force and navy crews to cut costs, Defensenews.com reports, citing unnamed defense sources. The contract, first unveiled in February, could be finalized and announced as early as next week, Defensenews.com says.
The Soteria consortium was chosen as a preferred contractor in February over the AirKnight consortium made up of Lockheed Martin, British support services company VT Group and British International Helicopters.
The 25-year contract with Britain's Ministry of Defense and Department for Transport is based on an around-the-clock private service. The consortium based its bid on American-made Sikorsky S92 helicopters, due to be operated from 12 bases on Britain's coastlines starting in 2012.
The program would replace the existing one provided by the air force and navy as well as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which operate around 40 aging Sea King machines scheduled to be scrapped in 2014. From then on, only private crews would provide search-and-rescue operations.
Members of the former government have said the new fleet of helicopters, some 30 percent faster than the Sea Kings, will be able to attend low-level overland nighttime incidents, be equipped with forward-looking infrared equipment and fully integrated de-icing equipment to improve performance in severe winter conditions.
Using only private crews is expected to relieve the helicopter crews needed in Afghanistan, where Britain has the second-largest force after the United States. However, Britain will lose valuable search-and-rescue experience when such is needed in overseas military missions.
The amended deal is part of a wider cost-cutting program. Eager to modernize its armed forces and rein in a massive national deficit, Britain in October announced it would cut defense spending by around 8 percent by 2015.
London said it would reduce troop numbers troop reductions, reduce troop numbers by 17,000 to 158,500, scrap defense equipment such as airplanes, tanks and artillery and ax 25,000 civilian jobs in the Defense Ministry. Even after the cuts, Britain will remain Europe's largest military power.
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