Sunday, September 9, 2007

Kaman debacle

How embarrassing. Stuff has reported that the Airforce has been cannibalising one of its Kaman Seasprites after it smashed down on to the deck of one of the frigates in rough weather. The shortage of parts has made repairing the helicopter (which originally cost US$38 million apiece back in 1998) practically impossible.
Of course this was bound to happen. Landing a helicopter on the land is relatively easy because it stands still. Landing a helicopter at sea, when the deck is pitching, rising and dropping, is not surprisingly, pretty hard and there is a certain amount of luck involved. I have no doubt that the pilot responsible was not a particularly poor pilot, he just hit an unexpected wave, and bang! There goes $60 million bucks!
The problem with the Seasprite is fundamentally linked to the problem of the ANZAC Frigates. The Seasprite is a heavy duty ASW helicopter - and not a bad one either. But why we thought we needed an ASW helicopter in 1998 when we bought the things is beyond me. All the security threats to our economy are conveniently very slow, old fishing boats who really aren't that hard to spot compared to a submarine.
And if you aren't hunting submarines then your whole specification changes rather a bit.
While the NH90 is never going to suffer a shortage of parts (partly because the Airforce bought an extra one for that purpose but mostly because its hugely popular) the question that remains is when is it going to be deployed to do something useful. For that we wait with bated breath.