Opportunities for collaborative investment in light and medium-weight multirole helicopters

Silhouette of helicopter with soldiers conducting rescue operation

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European Defence Agency member states could benefit from cooperating in developing, acquiring, operating, and supporting light-weight and medium-weight multirole helicopter (MRH) programmes.

Researchers identified and modelled four potential collaboration opportunities that could lead to cost savings and other benefits: joint depot-level maintenance, repairs, and overhaul; joint off-the-shelf procurement; joint system upgrade; and joint research and development of a new military-specific medium MRH.

Background

European armed forces have made extensive use of helicopters over the years in various types of missions and operations. The versatility of multirole helicopters makes them an important military asset in out-of-area missions as well as in domestic transport and search and rescue operations. Despite this, consistent shortfalls in the availability and employability of multirole helicopters (MRH) in operations have been recognised for nearly a decade. While air mobility has been identified by the EU member states as one of the 2018 EU Capability Development Priorities, national helicopter fleets across the EU are fragmented, ageing and in need of replacement or upgrading.

A number of EDA’s participating member states (pMS) have shown an interest, and planned investments in, the acquisition, modernisation or upgrade of multirole helicopters. As research and development, acquisition, and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) of helicopters remains a costly endeavour, it is important to understand the scope for collaboration between European states on helicopter programmes, in order to inform more efficient use of resources while fulfilling capability requirements.

Goals

The EDA commissioned RAND Europe to conduct a study on potential multinational collaboration opportunities in multirole helicopters among its pMS and countries with administrative arrangements (i.e., partner countries). The goal was to identify potential collaborative models throughout the helicopter life-cycle and analyse the related potential cost savings, benefits and challenges.

The study helped to complement the screening phase of potential future collaboration opportunities carried out by the EDA.

Methodology

The project used a range of methodologies, including:

  • A literature review
  • Cost model design
  • Key informant interviews, and
  • A workshop.

Findings

EDA member states and partner countries hold approximately 20 per cent of the global MRH fleet, making them the single largest collective MRH owner. Despite this, the European MRH landscape is fragmented and ageing, with about 33 per cent of the current MRH fleets included in the study being first introduced in the 1970s, and only 3 per cent in the 2010s. At the same time, the European MRH fleet is highly fragmented and many countries own several types of MRH helicopters. These factors are hindering operational availability, effectiveness and cost efficiency.

The current European MRH landscape does however offer opportunities for future multinational collaboration:

  • There is an ongoing trend towards a reduction in the number of platforms present in each pMS.
  • Ageing fleets are opening opportunities for cooperation in ongoing MRO as well as in fleet replacement.
  • Additional financial incentives may further encourage multinational collaboration through EU-level funding mechanisms, such as the European Defence Fund (EDF).
  • In terms of supply, the European MRH industrial landscape is already consolidated in terms of the major producers as well as their component and sub-system supply.
  • European MRH producers have proven their global competitiveness, but more cooperation could be encouraged by competitive pressures from US imports.

The main preconditions for multinational collaboration are political will, operational need, and ‘ways of collaboration’ or the presence of multinational collaboration programmes. A number of motivational factors may boost interest in cooperation, such as the ability to:

  • Save money and increase the operational availability of MRHs by maintaining equipment in a more efficient manner.
  • Promote ‘strategic autonomy’ in Europe and break away from dependence on the US in terms of the supply and maintenance of air capabilities.
  • Decrease dependence on original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) by increasing the negotiating leverage of multiple collaborative partners working together as a single customer.

The study identified and modelled – in high-level terms – four potential collaboration opportunities for European MRHs that could lead to cost savings and other benefits:

  1. Joint depot-level MRO – multinational operation of a single facility for depot-level repairs and maintenance.
  2. Joint off-the shelf procurement - multinational collaboration in procuring MRH from industry or via government-to-government contract.
  3. Joint system upgrade – Joint development and acquisition of a new system or sub-system upgrade.
  4. Joint research and development of a new medium military MRH – joint research, development of a new military-specific medium MRH, followed by collective procurement.