photo by MilborneOne
October 19, 2011 Tony Osborne, SHEPARD GROUP
Farnborough - Danish plans to deploy two AgustaWestland EH101 Merlins to Afghanistan are being delayed by issues over spare parts, according to a senior official.
Shortages of key components and difficulties in purchasing spare engines for the aircraft have limited crew training and delayed preparations by the Danish Air Force's Helicopter Wing Karup to send a pair of aircraft to Helmand towards the end of 2012.
Lt Col Steen Ulrich, chief of operations at the helicopter wing, told delegates at the Heli-Power 2011 exhibition in Farnborough that the wing would probably not be able to sustain the operations of two Merlins in Helmand until late 2013.
Danish ground troops work closely with British troops in Helmand and the Danish plan would be to base the Merlins alongside the British Joint Helicopter Force (Afghanistan) (JHF(A)) where they would provide an extra tasking line alongside RAF-operated examples.
'We are getting the upgraded tail rotor which I am sure will improve the situation, but even this programme is behind schedule,' Lt Col Ulrich said.
'It's a very capable aircraft, but I want it to fly more for less money,' he added.
Ulrich said that the average availability of the Merlin fleet was currently sitting at around 60%. The Merlins are operated by the Karup-based 722 Squadron. The unit has 14 EH101s, eight SAR-equipped aircraft and six TTT-variants used for tactical troop transport.
Previously, the unit operated Sea Kings on SAR duties, but the introduction of the EH101 has led to an expansion of the unit's role, including the support of special operations personnel, and it is this training which has suffered as a result of spares shortages.
The wing is still planning to take part in the mission rehearsal exercises run by the British Army on the Salisbury Plain with two Merlins at the beginning of 2012.
In the meantime, the Danish government is shortly expected to downselect two of the three aircraft vying for its naval helicopter programme, which is being contested by the Eurocopter Panther, the AW159 Wildcat and the Sikorsky MH-60R. The chosen aircraft would replace the Westland Lynx and enter service in 2015. A final decision on the type is expected in mid-2012.