RAF Special Ops Chinook Fiasco
A report by the National Audit Office (NAO), published on the 3rd June 08, has once again highlighted the troubled Ministry of Defence (MoD) procurement of the Chinook HC3 program. To date, the attempt to provide the RAF with the upgraded Special Operations-capable helicopters has cost upwards of £422 million.
The Chinooks HC3s, originally earmarked for 7 Squadron, RAF, feature a number of improvements over the HC2/HC2a variant currently flown by Special Forces:
- larger fuel tanks
- In-flight refueling capability - via a telescopic refueling probe
- forward looking infrared (FLIR) sensors
- advanced navigation avionics such as a weather radar and digital moving map displays
- enchanced defensive aids (electronic and infrared jammers)
photos of the HC2a variant (left) and HC3 (right) :
(photos courtesy of airliners.net)
Note the larger fuel tank bulges each side of the fuselage and the black dome of the Benelix weather radar housed in the nose of the HC3 variant
Problems with the avionics packages have prevented the HC3s from being cleared for operational use. After much time and money spent, the MoD decided to convery the HC3s to HC2a standards while adding a temporary upgrade package, the 'Night Enhancement Package' (NEP), to the existing Special Forces Chinook fleet.
The NEP consists of:
- GPS/INS navigation
- digital moving map displays
- night vision goggles (NVGs)
While all this extra kit improved the aircraft's capabilities it also reduced visibility for the pilots, which has raised further safety concerns.
It has been rumoured that several Merlin helicopters have been converted for Special Operations use, as a stop gap, until the new Chinooks become available.