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UK plots fresh Chinook helicopter acquisition

The UK is considering a fresh acquisition of Boeing CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters to replace the oldest examples in its current inventory.

Rear Adm Jon Pentreath, chief of Joint Helicopter Command, speaking at the Future of Military Rotorcraft conference in London on 11 September, said further "modernisation of the Chinook fleet" is being contemplated.

This, he says, would "converge the requirements with the US Army specification" and address potential obsolescence issues.

Boeing produces both the baseline F-model Chinook, as well as the MH-47G special forces variant, which features a number of upgrades including inflight refuelling capability.

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The Royal Air Force's oldest Chinooks have been in service since 1980 and have been progressively upgraded from their original HC1 specification to the latest HC4 and HC6A standards.

However, despite the ongoing modernisation, including the recent addition of Thales cockpits, common to the rest of the RAF's CH-47 fleet, and a digital automatic flight control system, the airframes are approaching the end of their lives.

With the USA signalling that F-model Chinooks will continue operating until 2050 or later, combined with the start of work on the so-called Block II performance upgrade package, London sees an opportunity to further invest in its inventory.

Any UK acquisition would focus on Block II aircraft, which are due to begin delivering to the US Army from 2023, with systems transferred across from the current fleet.

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No decision has been taken on whether to retain the present Thales cockpits or move to the US Army-standard flightdeck, with the latter approach potentially offering a cost saving through commonality.

US Block II upgrades encompass both the standard F-model Chinook and the MH-47G. Although Washington has approved multiple overseas sales of the CH-47F, it has yet to conclude an export deal for the G-variant.

FlightGlobal understands that UK personnel have already visited the USA to evaluate the aircraft ahead of any potential acquisition.

Boeing in 2015 delivered the final aircraft to the RAF from a £1 billion ($1.31 billion) order for 14 new-build HC6 Chinooks.

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