Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, told Parliament today that the Defence Logistics Organisation (DLO) is working hard to improve the management of helicopter logistics, but it has not yet been able to deliver fully the agreed levels of logistics support.
Overall performance has been patchy. For the Joint Helicopter Command, in the 12 months to September 2001 the DLO achieved its targets more often than not but it has experienced difficulty in achieving more demanding standards since April 2001. Where targets were missed performance has generally been marginally below target.
For Lynx, availability targets were never met, but this was due to a problem with the main rotor head which led to many helicopters being grounded. The MOD, together with its industrial suppliers, responded promptly to the problem and put in place a robust recovery programme, although difficulties in retrieving good data on the lives of rotor heads and a long manufacturing lead-time were complications.
Weaknesses in logistics support can have severe operational impacts. The main rotor head problem reduced the number of Lynx and the Royal Navy protected priority front line operations and flying training, resulting in some ships going to sea without Lynx helicopters. Also, when Sea Kings were deployed to Sierra Leone, all spare engines were sent with them, impacting on UK search and rescue helicopter logistics, although helicopter availability was maintained.
Agreements between front-line commands and the DLO are still evolving and there are differences in terminology and content. For example, some Agreements include targets for how many helicopters are actually ready to fly and others do not. The reasons for any shortcomings in logistics outputs need careful examination and the DLO is not yet easily able to interpret information regarding performance measures or to identify clear trends.
The DLO has a comprehensive programme designed to improve the quality of the logistic support it provides. This includes the development of modern, integrated IT systems and processes, adopting innovative support arrangements with industry, and the identification and application of best practice. Currently the DLO has to manage its business utilising the legacy systems from the three predecessor Service areas and resource constraints also play a part in its ability to perform well.
But there remains scope to improve performance and so increase helicopter numbers. Our recommendations complement the DLO’s various initiatives, highlighting areas for management action that should result in increased availability of helicopters at the front line. A more consistent performance regime and improving performance information would help make better use of existing assets. More could be done to disseminate the good practices that are being implemented such as examples of contacting and the development of innovative partnering arrangements, and better business planning leading to increased management grip of assets and resources.