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    RAF Chinook Fleet to Reach 70 Helicopters

    The UK announced today plans to increase heavy airlift in support of operations in Afghanistan. As part of this plan Boeing will deliver the RAF with 22 new Chinook helicopters between 2012 and 2013. The UK Ministry has  announced its plans to increase heavy airlift, supporting British Army operations in Afghanistan.

    The new procurement will increase the Royal Air Force (RAF) Chinook fleet from 48 to 70 airframes. The recent order is part of the MOD newly announced 'Future Helicopter Strategy' that will deliver a 40 percent increase in the number of lift helicopters available for use on operations in extreme conditions, such as those in Afghanistan. The RAF will fly the new Chinook alongside the Merlins which arrived in Afghanistan last month.

    Phots: Above and at right: British RAF Chinook Mk3 helicopters operating in Afghanistan. Photos: U.K. MOD.


    According to Britain's Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, “Helicopter capability has already doubled in the last three years and this future strategy builds on this, ensuring that our Armed Forces have the very best resources at their disposal.” Commander Joint Helicopter Command, Rear Admiral Tony Johnstone-Burt, added that "This new strategy will dramatically increase our military capability on the battlefield for many years to come.”

    The new strategy will be implemented in two phases – a near term upgrading and modernization and long term acquisition of new platforms, at a total cost of more than six billion pounds. In line with this strategy the Royal Navy and RAF will be phasing out of service the obsolete Sea King helicopters, which are nearing the end of their useful life. The Navy’s future helicopter requirements would be met by a combination of the Merlin fleet and new Wildcat. The Army will also operate Wildcat alongside the Apache attack helicopter. Following the retirement of Puma, beginning in 2022, the UK’s Armed Forces will operate four core helicopter fleets of Chinook, Apache, Wildcat and Merlin – each of around 65-75 aircraft. Until the services achieve this goal, improving the availability of the current helicopter fleet for combat missions. This level has increased substantially in recent months and achieved a 95 percent level. Major factors in this high availability are the deployment of Merlins to Afghanistan, upgrades implemented in the engines powering the Army Lynx helicopters, a major upgrade to the existing fleet of Chinook helicopters, introducing new engines and partly digitized cockpits (eight Mk3 Chinook have already been modified and being delivered back to the RAF, as part of streamlining the fleet with the Mk2 version).

    Right: A UK Chinook Mk3 helicopter makes its first test flight on June 6 at the Ministry of Defence's Boscombe Down facility during the flight testing and evaluation phase of the Mk3 reversion program. Photo by: Boeing Company


    The deployment of the Merlin helicopters has boosted the availability of helicopters in support of combat operations in Afghanistan. Above and below: RAF Merlin helicopters landing in Afghanistan, as seen from the outside (above) and inside the cockpit (below). Photos: U.K. MOD.

    The Puma helicopters are also undergoing and service life extension, keeping them operational into the third decade.

    A Chinook helicopter can carry up to 55 troops or 10 tons of freight and be used in a variety of operational roles, including troop transportation and casualty evacuation.