An excerpt from an email I recently received. Although not a Jungly by trade, the point is well made so it gets my vote.... Background Planning Round 11 is currently underway, which will decide defence spending for the coming year. As we are all well aware, resources are scarce and in the battle over those resources, it is important that all the facts are presented to ensure decisions are made based on merit rather than on alliances and politics. The Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) is on the boundaries of the tectonic plates and its future is not guaranteed. Before Christmas, the Prime Minister was asked if the planned Merlin transfer was to go ahead. He wrote a letter stating that it is still his ‘intention to transfer 25 Merlin Mk 3/3a helicopters from the RAF to the Navy over the next few years.’ The caveat to this stated ‘intention’ is that it is subject to Planning Round 11. Insider sources have said that the Merlin transfer from the RAF to the RN is subject to the RAF receiving the Chinooks it has requested. If the Chinook purchase doesn’t go ahead, it is likely to be concluded that there are not sufficient helicopters for the RAF to transfer the Merlins as agreed. At this point, the argument will be that there is no point training Navy personnel to do what, on paper, RAF pilots can (supposedly) already do.. At present though, none of the RAF Merlin pilots or maintainers are deck qualified on type, a strict requirement before deployment is possible. It’s also debatable whether anyone has asked them if they signed up to go to sea! The future of fixed wing capability is already dicey (more on that another time), and if the CHF were to miss out on the promised upgrades and the intended transfer, the Fleet Air Arm will drop below critical mass. At this stage, it will become much easier for opponents to argue against its continued existence. This quote was in the Telegraph last week – ”Despite challenging the previous government over the helicopter shortages in Afghanistan a key decision will be the likely announcement to cut 12 extra Chinooks that were part of a package ordered by Gordon Brown.” This is based on rumour and guesswork, but informed guesswork is all we have – we cannot prove the actions of our opponents until they have acted. We are fighting against a small group that operate under the strap line (and goal) of ‘one nation, one air force’, and we cannot afford to wait. There have been whispers that senior folks in the RAF have been saying the transfer won’t go ahead – “don’t worry, boys; those Merlins are safe with us.” Time and again our opponents have engineered a situation in which the only rational and logical conclusion to reach is the one that is very much in their favour. This is how the Harriers were scrapped and with that, the ability not just to project power and to intervene, but the essential tools to defend the nation. What would be lost? The CHF are currently deployed in Afghanistan, operating under tough conditions out of Camp Bastion and Kandahar. Not restricted to supporting the Royal Marines, the CHF provides air support to all UK Land Forces, including resupplying the forward operating bases, dropping troops into patrol areas and removing them from hotspots and fire fights, often under heavy fire. The CHF’s winter training in snow white out conditions has equipped them equally for the sand brown out conditions that typify operating in large swathes of Afghanistan – their flexibility allows for greater military flexibility, meaning our troops on the ground can go where the fight is. The CHF has previously seen action in Iraq, the Balkans, Sierra Leone and Northern Ireland, and it played a crucial role in the evacuation of 12,000 British nationals from Lebanon in July 2006. This last point is something to think about next time you book your holidays! There are individuals out there who will tell you that the CHF does not need to be part of the Fleet Air Arm or part of the Navy at all, and that it doesn’t matter who is flying the helicopters. They will tell you that a quick training course is all that is needed to get RAF pilots and maintainers up to the necessary standard. If helicopters were buses and their route was to the local high street and back, they may have a point. But the CHF deploys to war zones for months on end. They are trained to operate from ocean-going ships, living and working in close quarters with the Royal Marines and the Carrier crew. Attitude is everything, and being part of that team is a crucial aspect of what it means to fight and win. Furthermore, those who have served, both in the Helicopter Squadrons and on board the Carriers, argue that a unique understanding of the operating environment is necessary in order to successfully land a helicopter full of Marines on a deck crowded with crew and millions of pounds of equipment, at night and in rough seas. Manning the CHF is a job for the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. Action All is not (yet) lost! If you believe the CHF should remain as part of the Royal Navy, then we need you to act now. The case is very simple – the Commando Helicopter Force must remain part of the Royal Navy, and it must be properly equipped. Failure on either of these points will lead to the end of the CHF and put the future of the Fleet Air Arm in serious jeopardy. What you can do - 1. Write to your MP, explaining the need for the Merlin transfer from the RAF to the FAA to go ahead – the CHF must have the equipment it needs to do its essential job, supporting our troops on the ground. Ask him or her to represent your views to the PM and relevant Ministers. (Clicking here will take you to a website through which you can securely contact your MP) 2. Send an email or a letter to Liam Fox, Secretary of State for Defence, and Peter Luff, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, making the case for the CHF, its helicopters and crew. You can write to Liam Fox and Peter Luff using the following House of Commons addresses: The Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP Secretary of State for Defence House of Commons London SW1A 0AA and Peter Luff MP House of Commons London SW1A 0AA Or use the form on this page to contact them through the MoD website. 3. Contact the media. Write to the papers, both local and national. Call up radio shows, tweet it at the relevant opinion leaders, email television shows! (In all of this remember to be polite and considerate – there’s no need for rudeness, even at a time like this!) Most importantly, spread the word. Get in touch with old friends, send this on to anyone you think will care. Sign up to the action list at the Navy Campaign, join us on Twitter. We need the Government to understand the implications of the Merlin transfer – and what a failure to do so will mean for troops on the ground and for the future of the FAA.