Tuesday, December 15, 2009

40 per cent increase in UK military helicopter capability

40 per cent increase in UK military helicopter capability
December 15, 2009

The Ministry of Defence will give a major boost to the military helicopter fleet with the provision of 22 new Chinook helicopters, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth has announced today, Tuesday 15 December 2009.

The first ten new Chinooks will start to roll off the production line in 2012 and be completed in 2013, increasing air support on the front line in Afghanistan. The Chinook fleet in total will increase in size from 48 to 70 airframes, which will include eight Mk3 Chinooks and replacements for two Chinooks lost on operations.

This announcement is part of a new Future Helicopter Strategy that will deliver a 40 per cent 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 Chinooks alongside the Merlins which arrived in Afghanistan last month.

Announcing the Future Helicopter Strategy, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said:

"Our forces on the front line in Afghanistan repeatedly tell me that Chinook are indispensable on operations. I am therefore delighted to announce plans to deliver more of these robust, effective and proven battle-winning helicopters.

"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, said:

"The superior lift performance of the Chinook has proved invaluable on operations. This new strategy will dramatically increase our military capability on the battlefield for many years to come."

The new strategy will see the ageing Sea Kings, which the Royal Navy and RAF currently use, being taken out of service early.

The Navy's future helicopter requirements will be met by a combination of the Merlin fleet and new Wildcats.

The Army will also operate Wildcats alongside the hugely successful Apache. It will mean that following the retirement of Puma from 2022, the UK's Armed Forces will operate four core helicopter fleets of Chinook, Apache, Wildcat and Merlin, with around 65-75 of each aircraft.

Today's announcement builds on the substantial progress that has already been made this year to improve helicopter capability. Improvements include:

- an increase in helicopter flying hours (which is what commanders use to plan) of 95 per cent
- an upgrade to Lynx helicopter engines
- the first Merlin helicopters deployed to Afghanistan
- a £408m upgrade to the existing Chinook fleet with new engines and part-digitised cockpits
- a £300m upgrade to the Puma fleet to extend its service until at least 2022
- the first of eight converted Chinook Mk3 aircraft delivered into service.
- This is part of a £6bn programme of investment over the next decade.

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