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United Kingdom Looks To Buy New Special Forces Helicopters

26.10.2018

The United Kingdom is looking to buy 16 Chinook helicopters from American manufacturer, Boeing, it has been revealed.[1]

The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency released details of the proposed sale on the 19th of this month. The specifications of the aircraft accessories detailed in the report, such as a multi-mode radar setup, electro-optical sensors, extended range fuel tanks, missile warning system and RF countermeasures indicate that the delivered aircraft will be of a similar standard to the MH-47G Chinooks flown by the U.S. Army in the special operations role.

The text of the notice includes:

The Government of United Kingdom has requested a possible sale of sixteen (16) H-47 Chinook (Extended Range) helicopters; thirty-six (36) T-55-GA-714A engines (32 installed, 4 spares); forty-eight (48) embedded GPS inertial navigation units (32 installed, 16 spares); twenty (20) common missile warning systems (16 installed, 4 spares); twenty-two (22) radio-frequency countermeasures (16 installed, 6 spares); nineteen (19) multi-mode radars (16 installed, 3 spares); nineteen (19) electro-optical sensor systems (16 installed, 3 spares); forty (40) M-134D-T mini guns, plus mounts and tools (32 installed, 8 spares); and forty (40) M240H machine guns, plus mounts and tools (32 installed, 8 spares).

This sale also includes communications equipment; navigation equipment; aircraft survivability equipment; initial training equipment and services; synthetic training equipment; support package including spares and repair parts; special tools and test equipment; aviation ground support equipment; safety and air worthiness certification; technical support; maintenance support; technical and aircrew publications; mission planning system equipment and support; and, project management and governance; U.S. Government and contractor engineering and logistics support services; and other related elements of logistic and program support. [2]

Total estimated cost is $3.5 billion.

The most likely operators of the new choppers are 7 Squadron Royal Air Force (RAF) who currently fly the Chinook HC6 in the Special Forces (SF) support role.

While the Chinook HC6 is a sophisticated aircraft, there's no doubt 7 Squadon would benefit from helicopters of a standard closer to the MH-47G. In particular, the 'fat' fuel tanks will provide significantly longer legs and the multi-mode radar with its terrain-following, terrain-avoidance, ground mapping, and weather detection capabilities will enable flying at low level in adverse conditions. [3]

MH-47G Chinook of the u.S. Army
A Boeing MH-47G operated by the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment of the U.S. Army. The aircraft in the proposed British procurement will feature many similar items of kit. The refueling probe is a notable exception - the UK does not currently have the tankers needed to refuel helicopters in flight. The new Chinooks will have all the internal plumbing necessary for the refueling task, however, so probes could be fitted at some later date.
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Huey D. Younger Jr./Released


Chinook HC6 - Royal Air Force
A Chinook HC6 flown by 7 Squadron, RAF. Note the regular size fuel tanks compared with the MH-47G above. The British variant may lack some of the advanced equipment offered by the MH-47, but as a result is lighter and faster.
Image by LPhot Dan Rosenbaum © UK MOD / Crown Copyright 2017 | used under open government licence

Critics of Ministry of Defence procurement will likely be watching this one with interest, recalling the previous attempt to purchase a fleet of Chinooks for the Special Forces. That debacle resulted in a massive overspend and the aircraft remaining out of use for years until finally being brought into general service in a downgraded configuration. [4]

It is likely that the 16 new-build aircraft will replace some of the older airframes in the UK fleet, rather than increasing its overall size.

More info / further reading:

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