The UK has withdrawn its Royal Navy Westland Sea King HC4+ transport helicopters from operations in Afghanistan, as its Commando Helicopter Force personnel prepare to begin training to fly the replacement AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin HC3/3A.

Deployed since 2007, the "Jungly" Sea Kings logged more than 12,500 flight hours in more than 3,800 missions flown from their base at Camp Bastion, in Helmand province.

 Sea King HC4 Afghan - Crown Copyright

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The aircraft transported 80,000 troops and more than 700 tonnes of supplies during this time. Their last operational sortie was flown in Afghanistan on 30 September.

Assigned to 845 and 846 Naval Air Squadrons at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset, southwest England, the transports will support training activities while their use is scaled back. The UK expects to retire the last of its remaining Sea Kings by 2016.

"Crews will begin converting to newer, faster and more capable Merlins," the Royal Navy said in an announcement about the HC4+ aircraft being returned to the UK. The navy will eventually take over use of the aircraft from the Royal Air Force, which is to expand its fleet of larger Boeing CH-47 Chinooks later this decade.

 RAF Merlin Afghanistan - SAC Andrew Seaward Crown

© Crown Copyright

"While the Sea King is reaching the end of its life, we now have the certainty of a new aircraft to take the force forward and return to our core role of supporting the Royal Marines," said Capt Matt Briers, commanding officer of the Commando Helicopter Force.

The RAF currently has 24 Merlin HC3/3As in active service, according to Flightglobal's HeliCAS database.

Several of the navy's Sea King 7 airborne surveillance and control system aircraft remain in use in Afghanistan, along with UK commitments of Chinooks, Merlins, AgustaWestland Lynx AH9As and Westland/Boeing Apache AH1 attack helicopters.

Source: Flight International