The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is seeking options to fulfill its Rotary Wing Command Support Air Transport Helicopter Service (RWCSAT) contract worth up to £40m ($51.3m) over a five-year period, as the latest Public Accounts Committee report reveals a near-£17bn black hole in military funding.

In a contract notice published in mid-February, the MoD stated that it was seeking solutions for the RWCSAT requirement to provide point-to-point flights for “high priority military personnel, ministers and government officials within the UK and near Europe”, which would be performed by “British military aircrew” from 32 Sqn based at RAF Northolt and tasked through Air Command HQ.

According to the contract requirements, aircraft should be capable of operating in restricted airspace such as prohibited areas, restricted areas, and danger areas, as well as being able to operate within a control zone such as London’s Heathrow Airport.

Delivery of the solution is intended to occur “as soon as practicable” from December 2024. The contract end date is set at November 2029.

The aircraft should be able to operate in the UK and near European civilian airspace, including over water, at a minimum range of 250 nautical miles. The RWCSAT capability should provide up to 500 flight hours, the MoD notice added.

It is not known whether any incoming RWCSAT capability would come at the expense of the existing AW109 helicopters operated by RAF 32 Sqn at RAF Northolt. At the time of publishing, the UK MoD had not responded to questions from Airforce Technology on the planned acquisition.

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On 8 March, the UK Public Accounts Committee published a damning report into the MoD’s Equipment Plan, stating that there was a £16.9bn funding black hole between its intentions and the reality of available finances.

32 Sqn: the RAF’s little known VIP transport fleet

UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps created headlines at the end of February when he was reported by The Mirror to have utilised an RAF AW109 helicopter to fly from RAF Northolt to attend a meeting on public transport in the north of England.

A widely travelled member of the UK Government Cabinet, Shapps has previously been Transport Secretary from 2019-2022, Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy for four months between October 2022 and February 2023, and home Secretary for six days during the chaotic administration of former Prime Minister Liz Truss.

Currently providing rotary-wing VIP transport with 32 Sqn, the AW109 provides site-to-site transportation for senior military commander and government ministers in the UK and Europe, according to the RAF. The platform has a maximum endurance of two hours 40 minutes, with up to six passengers on board.

In addition, 32 Sqn also operates two Dassault 900LX business jets, known as the Envoy CC Mk1 in RAF service, which were acquired to replace the Bae146 which went out of service in March 2022.

The 2021 Integrated Review committed to retire the fleet of four BAe146 aircraft and provided funding for two Dassault 900LX Falcon replacements. The Envoy CC Mk1s are military owned and tasked, civilian registered, and commercially operated from 1 June 2022; with a transition to full military registered and operated service from 1 April 2024.