Lynx deserves a rest, but no cash means a revamp

The trend towards ‘jointery’ – getting the disparate branches of the UK’s armed forces to drop age-old rivalries in order to train and fight seamlessly – is gathering pace.

This week it will even extend to the UK’s Defence Systems and Equipment International exhibition.

DSEI, at the ExCel exhibition venue in London’s Docklands, is the combination of the former army and Royal Navy equipment exhibitions which up until a few years ago were held at Aldershot and Portsmouth respectively.

But jointery is not confined to the armed services – it also filters down to industry.

A number of upcoming procurements play towards the trend, the biggest being the UK’s Future Joint Combat Aircraft, which is underpinned by impending decisions by the US and UK on the Joint Strike Fighter.

At DSEI, there will be many examples of programmes that exploit the MoD’s desire to strip away the more debilitating of the armed forces’ inter-service boundaries. One of the most significant will be the Battlefield Light Utility Helicopter and its naval counterpart, the Surface Combatant Maritime Rotorcraft.

BLUH and SCMR concern the 180-odd Westland Lynx helicopters operated by the army and the navy. In principle, both programmes could result in a new type replacing the Lynx, which has been in service since the 1970s. In practice, however, this is unlikely. Most observers agree the money simply isn’t there.

Instead, the MoD is likely to push for a major upgrade of the army’s Mk 7 and Mk 9 Lynx scout/attack helicopters under an upgrade programme put forward by Westland called Future Lynx. Around 80 of the army’s 100-strong Lynx fleet would be revamped with new engines, ‘re-lifed’ airframes and all-new avionics. The total programme cost is said to hover around £1bn.

The MoD has been reviewing BLUH all year and is on the point of passing its recommendation to the government for a decision this autumn. A green light for Future Lynx upgrade is touted as the most likely outcome.

The big question is whether the government will follow expediency and authorise the SCMR upgrade of 57 navy Lynxes at the same time as BLUH, as the two programmes share many identical components and systems.

If it does, both programmes – and Westland, too – will benefit from the economics. If it doesn’t, it starts to make the equipment side of jointery look a bit of a sham.Nick Cook is aerospace consult- ant for Jane’s Defence Weekly and industry editor of Interavia Business and Technology.