The UK Ministry of Defence will continue with its planned acquisition of 14 extended-range CH-47 Chinook transport helicopters from Boeing, after agreeing a significant price reduction from Washington.

“I have personally written to US defense secretary Lloyd Austin informing him of my final decision to proceed with the first tranche of the Chinook capability sustainment programme,” UK defence secretary Grant Shapps said in a written statement on 14 March.

Chinook ER

Source: Boeing

UK rotorcraft will be in a similar configuration to US special operations examples

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) had been reviewing its contract for the rotorcraft after encountering increased costs via Washington’s Foreign Military Sales funding mechanism.

Following its confirmation of the purchase, the UK will take delivery of its new aircraft from 2027. It ordered the Block II production-standard aircraft in 2021, at that time valuing the purchase at £1.4 billion ($1.8 billion).

Describing the on-order model’s capabilities as “unmatched”, Shapps says: “The extended range variant of the latest Chinook model is specifically enhanced to conduct longer-range special operations and contains more advanced technology.

“Detailed work has served to reassure me that the range of advanced capabilities offered by the programme are critical to remaining ahead of threats, such that we retain the ability to project force into the most dangerous of environments when called upon.”

The extended-range aircraft will be similar to the MH-47G variant now being acquired by the US Special Operations Command, with features including the ability to undergo mid-air refuelling.

“Sterling work with our allies and partners in the United States has helped reduce the costs associated with the programme by over £300 million [$382 million] so far, and the programme is now affordable to the department,” Shapps says.

“Our extensive negotiations have helped cement reforms in US Foreign Military Sales acquisition for the UK, which has now successfully passed into law,” he adds. “These laws will increase the speed and predictability of military procurement from the US going forward.”

Stating that the deal also “offers real value for money in delivering national policy”, Shapps notes: “Proceeding with the programme will deliver estimated UK prosperity benefits of an additional £151 million for the period up to 2031 over those that the current fleet would generate.”

Cirium fleets data shows that the UK has an in-service fleet of 57 Chinooks, with its oldest examples having been in use for 43 years. As part of the acquisition, it will continue to retire the older aircraft, seeing the overall fleet shrink to 51 units.

The MoD cites a figure of 8% for UK industry’s role during production and in-service support of the new model. This includes the provision of flight-control system equipment by BAE Systems, and Leonardo Electronics UK’s delivery of the type’s defensive aids suite.

“I have also instructed my officials to conduct a review into the balance between our heavy and medium-lift helicopter fleets to ensure that our vertical-lift capabilities are optimised to meet our standing requirements, while offering the best possible value for money for the department and the taxpayer,” Shapps says.

The MoD in late February launched the next phase of its long-running New Medium Helicopter (NMH) programme, issuing an invitation to negotiate (ITN) to three bidders vying to replace its Puma HC2 transports. Candidates are the Airbus Helicopters H1754M, Leonardo Helicopters AW149, and the Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk, being promoted by Lockheed Martin UK.

According to its ITN schedule, a selection decision for the NMH requirement will be made during 2025.