Military | Airframes
Just as 2009 was drawing to a close, the U. K. Government announced that it would purchase 22 new Boeing CH-47F Chinook helicopters to supplement the 38 Chinook HC2/HC3 aircraft that the Royal Air Force (RAF) already operates. The RAF operates these rotorcraft as part of the tri-service Joint Helicopter Command (JHC), which also includes British Army and Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm helicopters.
The announcement follows criticism in the British media over the past year that Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government had provided insufficient medium-lift and transport helicopters to British troops operating in Afghanistan. In July 2009, Lord Malloch Brown, minister of state for Africa, Asia and the United Nations, told the Daily Telegraph that British forces, “definitely don’t have enough helicopters,” in the Afghan theatre. It is expected that this latest order for Chinooks will roll off Boeing’s production line next year, with deliveries completed by 2013.
The Chinook purchase is part of an initiative announced by the U. K. Ministry of Defense (MoD) called the ‘Future Helicopter Strategy’ which will see the retirement of 25 AgustaWestland Sea King HAR3 aircraft in operation with the RAF, and the circa 70 Sea King HAS Mk.3/6, HC Mk.4 and Mk.7 helicopters that the Royal Navy operates. The RAF’s 36 AgustaWestland Puma HC.1 medium lift rotorcraft will leave service in 2022. However, these machines will be replaced by 62 AgustaWestland AW159 Lynx Wildcat utility and maritime support helicopters for the British Army and the Royal Navy, plus the 66 AgustaWestland Merlin HM.1/HC.3 maritime support and utility helicopters operated by the Royal Navy and RAF.
Moreover, JHC is expecting that eight Chinook HC3 Special Forces aircraft—which were ordered from Boeing in 1995 but have remained grounded since their arrival in Britain due to software certification problems—to enter service at RAF Odiham Air Force Base in January 2010. QinetiQ, a British defense company, has been leading the airworthiness upgrade for these helicopters. In essence, the upgrade has “reverted them back to an HC2 standard,” according to an MoD spokesperson, which will give these helicopters a similar configuration to the Chinooks that the RAF already operates. The completion of this upgrade will take the RAF’s Chinook fleet to 46 aircraft, before entry into service of the Chinooks ordered in December 2009. According to the spokesman, the last of the upgraded HC3s will be delivered by December 2010.
The RAF’s existing fleet of 38 HC2 aircraft are also undergoing an upgrade with the installation of Honeywell T55-714 engines and a glass cockpit as the aircraft go through deep maintenance following their return from Afghanistan. Dubbed ‘Project Julius,’ this upgrade is being performed by QinetiQ and Boeing and is expected to enable the RAF’s Chinook fleet to remain in service until 2020.