UK eyes procurement of additional Chinook helicopters

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The UK Ministry of Defence is seeking funds to acquire an additional batch of Boeing CH-47 Chinook transport helicopters, with its action being driven in part by the recent combat loss of two examples in Afghanistan.

According to minister for defence equipment and support Quentin Davies, the MoD is entitled to claim Treasury funding to buy replacements for the lost aircraft. But rather than pursue a purchase on a one-for-one basis, he "hopes to go further".

 
© Andrew Linnett/Crown Copyright
The RAF now has 38 Chinook HC2/2As

Made during a visit to RAF Odiham in Hampshire on 24 September, Davies' comments came as the MoD announced a £408 million ($650 million) avionics and engine upgrade for the Royal Air Force's current fleet of 38 Chinook HC2/2As. Dubbed Project Julius, the work will also be implemented on the service's eight long-range Chinook HC3s, which will finally enter service over a 12-month period starting from November after receiving so-called reversion work to clear them for frontline use.

The new upgrade will introduce Honeywell T55-714 engines across the fleet, with these to deliver improved fuel efficiency and an increase in power of up to 20%. The enhancement will leave the type better equipped for operations in support of UK and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Thales UK will also provide a new glass cockpit with four multi-function displays, digital moving map and onboard mission planning system, largely using off-the-shelf equipment. “We are minimising the risk where we can,” says Peter Hitchcock, vice-president, managing director of its avionics business unit. The company is also proposing additional future enhancements, such as the introduction of a low-visibility landing system.

Modifications will be conducted during planned maintenance and upgrade activities at Vector Aerospace Helicopter Services’ Fleetlands site in Hampshire, which houses the UK’s Boeing-managed through-life capability support service for the Chinook. The first upgraded aircraft is expected to be available in 2011, with the last to follow by 2015-16.

Revealing plans to replace the two helicopters which were destroyed in Afghanistan, Davies confirmed: "If we buy more Chinooks we will be making sure that they are fitted to the same [Project Julius] specification."

Military sources say talks of an attrition buy are at an early stage, but if approved they could lead to the acquisition of a significant number of additional aircraft. This would enable the MoD to make more progress in plugging a gap in battlefield lift capacity highlighted by the UK National Audit Office in 2004, and support the likely conclusions of an ongoing study into its helicopter requirements for the next 30 years.

Other near-term measures include a re-engining programme for some of the British Army's AgustaWestland Lynx AH9s, and a modernisation and life-extension programme for the RAF's Puma HC1s which will extend operations of the type until 2025.

Davies says a contract covering the Puma upgrade will be signed "very soon", despite his opposition to the scheme. The minister earlier this year unsuccessfully pushed for the MoD to instead make a rapid acquisition of UH-60 Black Hawks from US manufacturer Sikorsky.

 
© INS News Agency/Rex Features
Davies: expect more announcements soon

"That avenue didn't work, but I'm pursuing others," he says. "We will be buying additional helicopters, and will do so to get military effect as quickly as possible."