PICTURES: UK's first Merlin helicopter arrives in Afghanistan

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The UK's first AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin HC3 transport helicopter to be made available for use in Afghanistan has arrived in the country, and the type will become fully operational before year-end.

Flown to Camp Bastion in Afghanistan's Helmand province on 10 November aboard one of the RAF's six Boeing C-17 strategic transports, the Merlin will now undergo preparations for combat use, with "more expected [to arrive] over the next few weeks", says the RAF. The Merlin force will start operational flying after a "bedding-in" phase of several weeks.

 

Both images © Steve Lympany/Crown Copyright
The Merlin was flown to Camp Bastion using a C-17 transport

The RAF declines to say how many of its Merlins will be sent to Afghanistan, but says the type "will provide a significant increase in the helicopter lift capability available to commanders on the ground". It adds that the 15t-class aircraft "will perform a wide range of military tasks".

Availability of the Merlin medium support helicopter follows the RAF's use of Boeing CH-47D Chinook HC2/2A transports in Afghanistan since 2006. The smaller type was previously deployed on operations in Iraq until August 2009.

Preparations for the Afghan deployment included making aircraft performance and self-protection enhancements worth £45 million ($75 million) to bring the Merlin up to so-called theatre entry standards.

 
© SAC James Stier/Crown Copyright
The Merlin force has performed pre-deployment training in the USA

Personnel from the RAF's 28 and 78 squadrons also took part in the environmental training exercise Merlin Vortex at the US Navy's El Centro training facility near San Diego, California.