The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is turning to the commercial sector to fulfill military parachute training (MPT) requirements, following the publishing of an open contract opportunity in a deal that could be worth up to £65m.

According to a 19 May contract opportunity announcement by the MoD, the training will be based mainly in the UK, with the prospect of some European MPT during the contract. The MoD is planning for a five-year availability service with three, one-year contract options after.

Aircraft utlilised by the service provider must be able to carry a minimum of 20 parachutists with full equipment load and be able to air dispatch low-level jumps and facilitate a portable oxygen capability for high-altitude parachutists (HAP) secured to the aircraft floor.

The service should aim to deliver by Q1 2025, with an approved framework agreed between military and civilian aviation authorities and the commercial MPT prover. The MPT provider is expected to base the aircraft at its own site in southern England and pick up personnel undergoing parachute training from locations across the UK, with RAF Brize Norton as its main operation base.

There is also a potential requirement to support MPT in Europe, mainly over southern France. The commercial MPT contractor is expected to supply type-rated aircrew, engineers, fire and crash cover, and medical cover when not provided by the MoD, according to the contract notice.  

An initial flying time of 900hrs per year in anticipated, with MPT courses taking place at intervals throughout the year.

The MPT contractor will be required to airdrop parachutists using round and square parachutes to cover a variety of activities including low level (static line), via both side doors and tailgate ramp, and medium and HAP freefall from a tailgate ramp from multiple heights up to 20,000ft pressure altitude.

The parachuting platform should be a “recognised parachute training aircraft” and be able to operate by day and night.

Are military platforms available?

The ability for UK personnel to conduct parachute training has gained currency in the political sphere recently, with the outgoing C-130J transporters regularly used as MPT aircraft. The remaining C-130J will be retired from service this year, with the workload moving to the newer 22-strong A400M Atlas aircraft fleet

However, military certification on the Atlas was still recently understood to be ongoing, with the aircraft not certified to conduct dual stick jumps from its side doors. The Atlas is also undergoing mechanical rectification work to solve known issues, although the fleet registered a greater availability than the outgoing C-130 aircraft between 1 March 2021 to 1 September 2022.

The requirement of a minimum 20-parachutists capacity and both side and rear exits will limit the range of commercial aircraft that qualify for the award. A fully loaded military-specification C-130J is able to accommodate around 80 parachutists.