A new chapter in surface finishing of aircraft, ground support equipment and military vehicles has started with the award of a 10-year contract to Serco. The company has taken on a task previously done by RAF tradesmen.
The Defence Logistics Transformation Proqramme (DLTP) Commodities Study report concluded that surface finishing was a Depth function, and that the trade group involved, TG13b (Painter and Finisher), had no specialist deployable role, so support to the RAF could be provided by a civilianised workforce.
With an Air Force Board decision in 2006 to dissolve the trade group, the Air Commodities IPT (AC IPT) was tasked to identify a replacement output solution for 16 RAF sites in mainland UK, Northern Ireland and the Falkland Islands for painting and finishing services.
Neil Plowman from the AC IPT said:
‘Various options were explored and we found the best value for money solution would be for a single contract. Following an intensive competition Serco was selected as the preferred bidder in December 2007.
‘This project was the first to be subjected to the new DE&S scrutiny and approvals process, and it was only after this, and trades union consultation process had been successfully concluded in August 2008, that the IPT was able to award the contract.’
The joint AC IPT, Air Command and Serco implementation team has worked hard with each other and the units to ensure the transition to the contractorised solution was as smooth and efficient as possible. This has involved the integration of more than 90 RAF painters and 20 MOD civilians with a newly recruited workforce of more than 100 Serco technicians across the country, and the introduction of a new and innovative IT infrastructure to coordinate the complex range of tasks involved in the programme.
For the contractor it is a unique contract in many respects. Ian Wiggans from Serco said:
‘Weâ€™re starting off with residual RAF manpower, who are going to be a diminishing commodity. The sites weâ€™re operating from are also quite diverse, and range from the largest, at RAF Marham to RAF Boulmer with only a couple of staff. This programme is very important to us, not just in business terms, but also in giving us the opportunity to extend our support and work more closely with our colleagues in the RAF across the country.’
The end of the successful transition process was marked at an event at RAF Cottesmore in December, formalising the handing over process between the RAF surface finish trade and Serco. It was attended by representatives from the AC IPT, Air Command and Serco. Speaking at the event, Group Captain Nick Cox from Air Command said:
‘The surface finish programme is another great example of industry and the military working in partnership to enhance operational capability. We are delighted with the excellent work that Serco has undertaken during the preparation for the handover of the responsibility for the task.
‘Their services will make a significant contribution to enhancing the support to a wide range of RAF aircraft and support equipment over the coming years, and we look forward to working with them.’
Surface Finishing is an engineering maintenance activity. It is essential that the surface finish is correctly maintained to preserve structural integrity by inhibiting or preventing corrosion. A good finish can also contribute to smoother airflow and improve aircraft efficiency.
Examples of the different aircraft coatings available are:
Low Infra-Red Reflective: Designed to blend in with a sky background and hamper IR electronic sensors from locking onto an aircraft when looking at it against a sky background. Typically used on fast jets.
Infra-Red Reflective: Designed to match foliage reflectance.
Solar Heat Reflective: Applied correctly over a suitable primer and or undercoat this finish can reduce the effects of solar loading quite significantly. Mainly used on transport aircraft.
Alkali Removable Temporary Finish: Formulated as a ready-use temporary camouflage coating (e.g. transition to war). It is available in a restricted range of colours and is designed to blend in with the surrounding terrain.