Denmark agrees to transfer EH101s, while Royal Air Force HC3s will finally enter service

The UK Ministry of Defence is to increase the size of its battlefield support helicopter fleet by 10% within the next two years, following the confirmation of two initiatives that will add 14 platforms to its current active inventory.

Worth around £235 million ($460 million), the new measures will lead to the acquisition of six AgustaWestland EH101 tactical troop transports from the Royal Danish Air Force and an avionics modification project that will finally enable operations of the Royal Air Force's eight grounded Boeing CH-47 Chinook HC3s.

Denmark accepted the last of its 14 EH101 Joint Supporters during January, but had been considering returning its six transport examples to the UK following a request to delay the frontline introduction of the aircraft beyond 2008-9.

The Danish aircraft will be returned to AgustaWestland's Yeovil manufacturing site in Somerset, where they will be fitted with UK-specific defensive aids equipment and BERP IV main rotor blades and redesignated as Merlin HC3As. The platforms will expand the RAF's current 22-strong Merlin HC3 fleet, and personnel from its 28 Sqn began training to operate the new platforms several months ago. The new aircraft will be ready for operations from early 2008 and will provide "a welcome boost to RAF Benson's ability to provide direct support to the British Army", says station commander Gp Capt Paul Lyall.

Denmark will also receive six replacement Joint Supporters from AgustaWestland under the expected £175 million deal, with deliveries scheduled within two years of contract signature.

Originally acquired to support operations involving Special Forces personnel, but grounded since their delivery from 2001 due to certification issues, the RAF's Chinook HC3s will undergo a modification programme estimated at £50-60 million, the MoD says. Conversion to the battlefield support role will begin immediately and the aircraft should finally enter service from 2009.

The newly announced deals will increase the UK's support helicopter fleet - which also comprises Eurocopter Puma and Westland Sea King platforms - to 156 aircraft. "I am determined that we have enough [helicopters] if we need to send more to operations in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere," says defence secretary Des Browne. The MoD is also conducting assessments into the possibility of extending operations of its Puma and Sea King fleets, and will launch a competition in early 2008 to acquire new medium-lift helicopters under the delayed Future Rotorcraft Capability project.

Source: Flight International