Friday, August 1, 2008

National Audit Office Press Notice: Ministry of Defence: Hercules C-130 Tactical Fixed Wing Airlift Capability

National Audit Office Press Notice
Ministry of Defence: Hercules C-130 Tactical Fixed Wing Airlift Capability


Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General
HC 627 2007-2008
27 June 2008
ISBN: 9780102954180
Price: £13.90

Despite a decreasing fleet size, and an increasing need for maintenance and upgrades, the Ministry of Defence is meeting the requirement for Hercules aircraft to transport military personnel and freight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hercules aircraft are available to fly on planned missions 85 per cent of the time, according to a report released today by the National Audit Office.

Increased stress on the aircraft has been caused by landing on unpaved airstrips in Iraq and Afghanistan, additional use of air drops, as well as a change from transporting people and equipment over long distances to making short flights in theatre. More ‘wear and tear’ has resulted, and increased maintenance costs. Fatigue, which decreases the life span of the wings, is accumulating more rapidly than in the past. The Department has had to retire four aircraft during 2006 and plans to retire a further five C-130Ks during this year, ahead of their planned retirement date of 2010. The Department will also need to address shortened wing life on the newer C-130J.

The initial estimate for the number and type of spares for the C-130J was inaccurate, leading to some spares shortages. Whilst the shortages have not been allowed to affect aircraft deployed in Afghanistan or Iraq, on average Hercules C-130J have been unable to fly for 24 days a year for lack of parts. The Department has a shortage of engineering staff, and the RAF estimates that additional personnel would give increased aircraft availability.

The focus on operations has meant there are fewer aircraft available for training. Aircrew on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan fly on average 60 hours per month, as opposed to 13 hours for aircrew based in the UK. Simulators are not able to replicate fully flying the Hercules C-130, as they have not kept pace with modifications and upgrades to the aircraft. As a result, there is a danger that the broader skills base of crews could be eroded in the future.

There are also significant risks to the future ability of the Department to provide sufficient airlift to the armed forces. These include the withdrawal from service of the Hercules C-130K, the late delivery of the planned A400M transport aircraft, and a reduction in the anticipated service life of the C-130Js wings from flying in more challenging environments during operations. These issues could leave the RAF with a shortage of fixed wing aircraft.

Tim Burr, head of the National Audit Office, said today:

"The MoD’s focus has been on supporting troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under difficult circumstances, it has ensured the armed forces have the Hercules aircraft they need. But delays to the A400M aircraft, as well as the stresses and strains caused by sustained operational use of the existing Hercules fleet, are stretching both aircraft and aircrew and could in time pose risks to their future effectiveness."

Notes for Editors
The Hercules aircraft makes up 60 per cent of the MoD’s current air transport assets. The RAF has operated the aircraft for the movement of military personnel and freight for over 40 years, initially with the older K model and from 1999 with a combined fleet including the newer J model.

Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.

The Comptroller and Auditor General, Tim Burr, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 850 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.

Press Notice 30/08

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