14 November 2002 | Robin Parker
A lack of spare parts could jeopardise the readiness of Britain's fleet of new attack helicopters, according to a National Audit Office (NAO) report.
The first of the 67 Apache helicopters were delivered "just a few days later than scheduled" in 2001, the NAO report, Building and Air Manoeuvre Capability - the introduction of the Apache Helicopter, noted.
But a contractor spares package, which committed the contractor, Westland, to provide required spares within 48 hours, ended last month.
While the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has signed replacement contracts for aircraft and radar spares, no contracts for spare equipment, such as aircraft transmissions, are in place.
The new aircraft will be stored at an extra cost of £6 million after a decision was made to buy training services under a separate private finance initiative deal.
The contract, signed in 1996, has cost £71 million more than the planned £3 billion, owing to modification and trial costs.
The NAO said it was "very unsatisfactory" that spares may have to be taken from reserve Apaches. It urged the ministry to make replacing the contract a priority.
An MoD spokesman said only that negotiations were continuing for the replacement contract as part of a commitment to "form from the outset innovative partnerships with contractors".
Jestyn Cooper, a defence procurement analyst at the Eric Morris consultancy, said "cannibalising" of spares was common in defence due to cost restraints.
"Lack of spare night vision systems will be a particular problem, as they are often the first to break down," he said.
"But the complex logistics chain will always make it difficult to get a full reserve of spares for a fleet this large, particularly at short notice. Cannibalising might remain the only option."
David Moore, director of defence logistics management at Cranfield University, said: "The complexity of the contract has proved difficult to manage, as it was given as a broad package, without enough attention to detail.
"Contractors have to make sure there's long-term support up front to deliver a coherent service, which did not happen here."