Sunday, August 21, 2011

Where is the money?

The last few days there has been a public debate in the press regarding how the Swedish Armed Forces bought their eighteen HKP 14, Swedish designation for Eurocopter NH-90. One thing is for sure. There has been a lot of delays in the delivery of the helicopters resulting in:

- A lack of trained helicopter pilots in Sweden. During the last few years there has been many accidents involving helicopters. A lot of airmen has lost their lives. The investigations of these accidents has found two common cause. That is the lack of leadership and many organisational changes in the helicopter forces. This in combination with a lack of flying experience too often results in accidents.

- Three HKP 10 - Super Puma had to be rebuilt for MEDEVAC operations in order to support Swedish units in Afghanistan. (This business case was also not handled very well, but it is another story). The HKP 10 are today in Marmal in northern Afghanistan and will be there until 2013.

- A lack of helicopters for sea operations. Sweden no longer has any airborne anti-submarine capability. Having the submarine incidents during the 1980-90:s in fresh mind this is very serious lack of capability in the Swedish Armed Forces. The old HKP 4 - Boeing Vertol had this capability, but there were no political interests to prolong the service life of these helicopters. When Sweden sent the HMS Carlskrona to the Gulf of Aden the smaller HKP 15 - Augusta A109 had to be used. This helicopter is not designed for continuous operations at sea and afterwards it has been found out that the helicopters has been seriously damaged by corrosion from salt water. Even when the HKP 14 become operational it will take a long time before the Swedish Armed Forces has any anti-submarine capability, since this is last on the list of planned capabilities of the HKP 14.

- A lack of helicopters for training of new pilots. The Swedish Armed Forces has been forced to rent civilian helicopters and also start sending their pilots for basic training in Germany.

- A lack of helicopters for transport of troops. During the NBG 08 - Nordic Battlegroup 08 readiness period the Armed Forces had to upgrade a few of the remaining HKP 4 for this type of operations. After the readiness period, the HKP 4 were all scrapped. During the Nordic Battlegroup 11 readiness period it was planed that the HKP 15 were to be used for troop transport. But since a lot of the pilots were busy with the Gulf of Aden operations, the HKP 15 is also a bit to small for transporting troops and the HKP 10 were busy in Afghanistan, it was decided to cooperate with a Croatian helicopter unit using the Mi-17. This gave the NBG 11 MEDEVAC capability as well as troop transport capability. Even when he HKP 14 is being delivered there are big unsolved problems. The interior of the NH-90 has been found out to be very sensitive. In other countries using the NH-90, a wooden floor has been put into the troop compartment to protect the structure from heavy boots and equipment.

- Sweden has now ordered sixteen Blackhwak UH-60M with Swedish designation HKP 16 in order to have troop transport and MEDEVAC capability no matter what happens with the NH-90. These helicopters will be used in Afghanistan starting 2013. But Sweden will start to reduce the number of units in Afghanistan (starting this year?). In 2013 there will be very little use for the helicopters in Afghanistan. The first Blackhawks will be delivered in December 2011 and the pilots and technicians are undergoing their training as of now in the USA. I personally believe this will be a good solution to quickly enhance Sweden´s helicopter capability. But in the future the Swedish Armed Forces will operate three different types of helicopters (A109, NH-90 and UH-60M) instead of he planned two. This will increase the logistic and maintenance cost in the future. My recommendation is to sell the A109 when the NH-90 become operational. The UH-60M is unfortunately a bit to small to be used for anti-submarine operations. The A109 is bought to be a basic cost effective tactical trainer. But maybe buing a few extra UH-60M instead of the A109 would be the solution today when the basic training anyway is being done in Germany?

In addition to all the technical problems with the HKP 14, the Swedish Armed Forces has lost many of their trained maintenance personnel. Due to the new contract that all Swedish officers had to sign, many technicians applied for jobs at Saab AB. They are now working at Saab as part of Saab maintenance contract of the Swedish HKP 14. Some of them increased their salary with 30%.

In the Swedish press he focus is on how the helicopters was ordered. The Swedish Defence Material Administration, FMV, wanted to buy the Sikorsky S-92 since it fulfilled all requirements better than the other helicopters that were studied. But the Minister of Defence at the time, Björn von Sydow of the Social Democrat party, decided to overrule the experts and to buy the NH-90 as a joint Nordic project involving Denmark, Norway and Finland. Swedish Saab were to build the tactical planning system for the NH-90 and Finnish Patria to assemble part of the helicopters. But later on the Nordic countries went their separate ways. Denmark bought the Augusta Westland AW-101. But the Danish Air Force had a lot of problems with the first delivered helicopters and decided to postpone the project. The AW-101 were instead sold to the UK and modified to RAF Merlin standards. Today the AW-101 is in operational use in Denmark. In Finland and Norway the NH-90 is in limited operational use today. Norway and Sweden has a joint logistical program. But Sweden decided to buy a version of he NH-90 with a higher cabin. Why this was required has not been found out. It was not in the original helicopter specification, but has been modified during the time of the project. The result is that Sweden is the last of the Nordic countries to receive their helicopters.

But if the decision to over-rule the experts was bad enough there are other very serious aspects in how the business case was handled.

A Swedish Air Force colonel has been investigated for leaking information about the project to Eurocopter. The information included what the other companies offered and how FMV would perform their evaluation of the different helicopters. Eurocopter could of course have used this information to make sure that heir bid was the most favourable. The Swedish Military Intelligence, MUST, has stated that no important information was leaked and there has been no damage done. After that nothing happened with the investigation. But damage or no damage, why did the colonel leak information and what did he gain by doing so? Did the Swedish Department of Defence know about this? Was the colonel more or less ordered to leak the information in order to make sure that the Minister of Defence, Björn von Sydow, got what he wanted?

Swedish reporters very often focus their articles on other countries lack of transparency when it comes to buying military equipment. But maybe Sweden is no better then most other countries? Sweden is at least no more effective. But, has all these problems occurred due to only lack of political leadership or is there money involved? If so, who were to gain from this affair? There is a saying in cases like this, "Always follow the money".


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