In one of the boldest military outsourcing moves yet, Britain is planning to have private contractors handle airborne search and rescue (SAR). Currently, SAR is performed by a joint (navy, air force and coast guard) force of military personnel.
Now is the time to try outsourcing, because the three decade old Sea King helicopters currently used by SAR troops have to be replaced. The Sea Kings are worn out, and too expensive to safely maintain. But the new naval helicopter, the Merlin, is too big and expensive for SAR work. The Ministry of Defense does not want to buy a different model helicopter just for SAR work. So the idea is to contract a civilian firm, that would recruit civilians (many of them former military SAR personnel) to do the work. The new SAR firm would need about forty new helicopters. The American Sikorsky S-92 and the French Puma are the leading contenders for this. But the Ministry of Defense would not have to bother with buying or maintaining the new helicopters. Using civilians for SAR is not unique, several other nations already do it this way. Most of the SAR missions are to deal with civilians in distress. Overseas, the military is accustomed to using their own aircraft and helicopters for SAR work in combat zones.