Goodbye Faithful Friend…

Today (090210) Sky News report: End Of The Iconic Yellow Sea King Chopper…

The bright yellow Sea King rescue helicopters of the RAF and the red & grey ones of the Royal Navy are being replaced. As you would suspect, this is a direct result of MOD budget constraints and further military cutbacks.

RAF (SAR) Seaking Helicopter
RAF (SAR) Seaking Helicopter

Over recent years we have all witnessed the continuous ‘streamlining’ of the British armed services by this Government. It therefore makes me wonder; how long it will be before, we’re left with just one minesweeper, a regiment of TA soldiers and the ‘possibility’ of a ‘future fighter’ sat on the drawing board?

The comment about the Eurofighter may be a little harsh however; it did take from 1988 until 2003 for the MOD to get the RAF Typhoon into operation. Despite formal activation of the Typhoon Squadron at RAF Coningsby in Jul 2005, the RAF tells us that, operational employment is “expected to be declared later on this decade”? I don’t know if Typhoon is the best choice of name, perhaps ‘damp breeze’ may have been more apt? I digress…

As I write this piece, a new Search & Rescue (SAR) service has just been announced by the MOD. The Govt. contract has been awarded to a consortium that will operate brand-new white and orange helicopters from 2012 (MOD press release). Apparently the ‘Private Finance Initiative’ is worth in excess of £5bn and, will see SAR operations being flown by a mixture of civilian and forces pilots.

The contractor, called the ‘Soteria Consortium’, is made up of CHC-SAR who already supply helicopter services to the Coastguard Agency, the THALES Group a major international defence contractor and, wait for it… The Royal Bank of Scotland?

Could this be yet another example of politicians and business directors pissing in the same communal pot of nepotism? Surely not? You can bet your bottom dollar there will be some whopping great bonuses in the offing though!

The consortium had to promise to retain all 12 search-and-rescue stations around Britain. I suppose that’s some comfort, there’s usually a few less lies coming out of board rooms than parliament, just!

It’s interesting to see how the MOD and Government has tried to spin a picture of ‘wonderful opportunity’ by saying things like…

As well as improving reliability, the changeover will free up military pilots for operational duty… (MOD)

The new harmonised service is an excellent opportunity to build upon the high regard that the UK SAR service is so rightly held in… Paul Clark, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport

The future service will benefit from modern, fast, reliable helicopters and will continue to operate from 12 bases in order to ensure that it provides a fully effective SAR service… Quentin Davies, Minister for Defence Equipment and Support

Last year the head of the RAF told the media, when questioned about the shortage of helicopters for military operations said; “a shortage of crews, not aircraft, was the main impediment to providing more airlift to troops fighting the Taliban”.

That may be the case however; years of siphoning off funds from one government department to another, has paid its toll. Simply trying to bolster public support or soften adverse opinion in an ailing Government is probably more like the reality.

Yes, the winners may be those who need rescuing in the future, the Sikorsky S-92A is undoubtedly a sound piece of serious kit. And, the constituent parts of the consortium (with the exception of RBS) also have a wealth of knowledge, skill and experience in the SAR role.

However, for the government to dress it all up as some wonderful service ‘they’ are supplying for ‘us’ is, tantamount to treating us all as if we have the mentality of a five year old. The main simple reason for this happening is, our government can’t afford to pay the SAR bills any longer, they have no feckin’ money… Unless they borrow some more!

And, to suggest that British SAR services being held in ‘high regard’ is, in some way, their doing really is a bit rich! With the exception of the 12 RN/RAF/CG SAR stations and the odd Coastguard Watch Commander paid for by our government, the remainder of the British SAR infrastructure is predominantly voluntary!

RNLI crews, Mountain Rescue Teams and the Search & Rescue Dog Handlers, not to mention the Major Incident rescue teams like the ones currently operating in Haiti, are all volunteers! How can the government have the bare faced nerve to try and claim any responsibility for their worth?

Yes, the distinctive sound of rotor blades overhead, during times of dire emergency will still carry on however, the sight of the big yellow bird owned (in this area) by 202 Squadron RAF will be sadly missed.

Farewell faithful friend I am sorry your retirement will be very similar to the rest of us. Written off, viewed as superfluous to requirements and allowed to rot away on the scrap heap of change!

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