Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Is Apache really going to be deleted?

There are times when following the modern media that one feels like sighing deeply, ordering another G&T and hoping that salvation will eventually turn up. Today was one of those days. Reading the Daily Telegraph, the authors heart sank on reading an article which suggested that the British Army was considering scrapping the Apache Attack helicopter. This was bases on a public lecture by a senior member of the Apache helicopter force. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/9722347/British-Armys-fleet-of-Apache-helicopters-could-be-scrapped.html)

The gist of the article was that in 2017 the UK will find itself having to fund the technical support for the Apache AH64-D variant, as the US military will have moved to using the E variant. The result is that the Apache will req   uire a capability update in order to remain sustainable alongside its US peers. Currently the MOD is considering its options on how to proceed with this upgrade, and that Ministers will take a decision shortly.

That aircraft require upgrades is not news, and in fact one only has to look across the entire UK military aircraft register to spot that pretty much every aircraft type has had extensive upgrades since entering service in order to remain relevant. The Tornado GR4 is light years removed from the Gr1 variant, despite being outwardly the same plane.

Its fairly common when putting staffwork together to put up a list of options on what can be done in a certain situation. For instance this may include ‘do nothing’, ‘delete the capability’ or ‘invest X amount’ or ‘invest Y amount’. This is absolutely standard practise, and is a very sensible thing to do. You can only make a considered decision on what to do if you have all the figures and facts in front of you.

The fact that a ‘delete Apache’ line has been raised would seem to suggest that people are looking at how much would be saved by not keeping it in service (although interestingly the article doesn’t show how much would need to be spent to mitigate the loss of capability). In reality the chances of Apache being deleted would seem to be very, very slim indeed in the current climate. It provides a unique capability, and one that could not easily be replicated by alternate means.

The article goes onto note that no final decisions on numbers have been taken – well this is hardly surprising, as until Ministers have taken a decision on their preferred course of action, its not really appropriate to come up with figures on what may, or may not, be upgraded.

What appears to have happened is that a journalist has seized on a legitimate comment by someone talking about the wide range of options that have to be considered, and then turned this into a ‘Apache is going to be scrapped’ story. This is an example where the MOD is being attacked for considering cuts, when in fact all that has happened is that Ministers have not yet taken a decision on what to do.

The final clincher is the strong quote from MOD clearly noting that Apache will remain in service. From what can be seen here, the Telegraph has published an entire story about the withdrawal of an aircraft type, when in fact withdrawal is not being considered, when no decisions have yet been taken and when the Department is clear that it wants Apache to remain in service.

Once again the author despairs about the lamentable standard of understanding of Defence matters in some areas. No one expects the entire nation to understand the subtleties of all aspects of defence, but equally this form of reporting is essentially scaremongering which seems to be built on totally misrepresenting a public speech, and then adding in some spin to meet the requirement to raise the blood pressure of the papers readership.

How can we have an intelligent debate about defence in the UK, when the media seem intent on misrepresenting even the most basic discussion on future defence options?


  1. Perhaps the story was slipped out to gauge public reaction?
    Politicians are devious characters( and so are some civil servants ).

    Another way of trimming the military budget and saving some money.
    If we aren't going to go to war again why do we need the Apache?

    We got rid of our Aircraft Carriers so why not the Apache ?

    1. Because the carriers were a token capability, the Apaches aren't.

  2. Given the airframe hours burnt in Afghanistan, I cant see many people agreeing that the cost to upgrade to E standard, divided by the flying hours left in the Apaches is worth the cost.

    You'll know better than I what those numbers are of course, but the issue was raised at least four years ago, and use has not dropped in that time, as far as I'm aware.

    1. airframe hours are not so much of an issue on helicopters than they are on fast jets as there is less stress put on the airframe in flight. hense why helicopters generally have a longer service life. the upgrade could be expensive though.

  3. Unfortunately, the Telly is getting form for this type of story, which is shameful considering what it once was.

    There tends to be a common thread as well, which goes along the lines of "Poor army disadvantaged by (delete as applicable) MoD incompetence / Extravagant RN programmes / Expensive RAF Cold War toys". Max seems to be casting a long shadow over his former domain. Or maybe it's just a plethora of Army officers dripping to their local Tory MP, who then drips to his favourite journo....

  4. I had the same reaction after first reading the entry, but I bet the screaming headline is the work of a subeditor, not the journalist who submitted the piece. Still, it's funny to see the direct quote at the end say the opposite of the 'quote' in the headline.

    1. They do it all the time.............it's called, 'balance'.

  5. Agreed on the lack of understanding and communication between the MOD, the media and the public.

    Of course scrapping Apache is rubbish and the story has been derived from the MOD very sensibly looking at all the options and blown up into a sensationalist indictment of defence policy.

    Having said all this I sadly predict that when it does come to an upgrade only a certain number will be kept, perhaps 40 or so, whilst the level and tempo of operations will be expected to remain the same. It seems the way of things these days.

    1. Challenger - my instinct is that numbers will be determind post SDSR - reduction in airframes would be a reduction in force levels, which inturn is realistically into SDSR territory now.
      Don't forget with only 2 years to go till we see an SDSR, its likely that many decisions will wait to be covered by this work.

  6. Its worth reading the MOD rebuttal to this story - very strong denouncement of the article.

    "The Telegraph has today run a story suggesting that the Army's Apache fleet could be cut due to the US military's decision to use a newer variant of the aircraft. The article quotes Colonel Andrew Cash, the commanding officer of the Army's attack helicopter force, explaining that options for the future adaptation of the Apache force were being considered as part of an Apache Capability Sustainment Programme. The article also suggests that the UK might decide to replace the Apache with Tiger helicopters.

    There are no plans to remove the Apache capability; in fact we plan to update and upgrade the fleet. The number required after 2017 will be decided according to operational requirements.

    Decisions regarding the future structure of the Apache fleet will not have an impact on its current operations."

  7. Its a pity The Times put up the paywall. The DT is sliding down to Daily Mail/The Sun levels of journalism and trying to find decent news coverage is becoming very difficult.

  8. If only our media covered MoD issues like this one: Sir Humph would have nothing about which to complain.