British inquiry finds military to reduce its helicopter fleet
A British House of Commons inquiry has found that the number of British military helicopters in service will be dropping by around 20 percent over the next 10 years, just as a debate is brewing in the United Kingdom over whether there is enough airlift capability in Afghanistan.
The disclosure of the planned reduction is the latest in a growing row over claims that a lack of helicopters is putting British and other coalition soldiers’ lives at risk.
According to reports in British media, the number of British military helicopters will fall from the current total of 550 to between 300 and 400 by 2020.
In its report, House of Commons Defence Committee members wrote: "We are concerned that operational commanders in the field today are unable to undertake potentially valuable operations because of the lack of helicopters for transportation around the theatre of operations. We are also concerned that operational commanders find they have to use ground transport, when helicopter lift would be preferred, both for the outcome and for the protection of our forces."
The planned reduction by the military "will make this worse."
According to the Telegraph newspaper, the Ministry of Defence’s helicopter budget has fallen by almost half since 2001.
There are between 23 and 25 British helicopters in Afghanistan, though British military officials have declined to confirm specific numbers, the Telegraph reported. Some 5,000 British troops use 10 Chinooks and five Lynxes in Helmand province, the paper reported.
In contrast, around 4,000 U.S. Marines in the same province have more than 100 Chinooks available.
On Tuesday, The New York Times published a story noting that when Britain’s top army commander visited troops in Helmand this week, the fact that he was flying on a U.S. Army Black Hawk made headlines and fueled the debate.
"Self-evidently, if I move in an American helicopter, it’s because I don’t have a British helicopter," the general told the BBC.
The debate is also being fed by rising British casualties. In one 24-hour period last week, eight British soldiers were killed.
Britain lost 15 troops in the first 10 days of July, bringing the total since the war began to 184.