SGT JIMMY WISE / CROWN COPYRIGHT
FLEET Air Vice-Marshal Julian Young explains to Anne Paylor how upgrading the technology on the Royal Air Force’s helicopter fleets gives a new lease of life to the aircraft, making them cheaper to run and enhancing their operational capabilities
T With a fleet of 60 Chinook helicopters, the RAF is one of the biggest operators of this remarkable rotary-wing aircraft
he RAF’s current Rotary Wing Strategy dates back to 2009, when the decision was taken to enhance the capability and extend the life of the existing Puma and Chinook helicopter fleets. The strategy helped inform the UK Government’s 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and proposed a plan for the RAF’s helicopter force in the light of extensive operational experience at the time. The SDSR reinforced the strategy’s acknowledgement that there was a continued need for the capability, but trimmed some of the numbers involved to meet tough affordability challenges, in line with overall defence priorities. At the time of the SDSR, the RAF operated four fleets of helicopters: Merlins, Pumas, Chinooks and Sea Kings. The entire fleet of 30 Merlins has since
been transferred to the Royal Navy Commando Helicopter Force, and the Sea King search and rescue helicopters were retired from service on 31 March 2016. As a result, the RAF now operates just two helicopter fleets: Pumas and Chinooks. The SDSR reduced the Puma fleet from 28 to 24 aircraft and, following the loss of one aircraft in October 2015, the Puma fleet now stands at 23. The number of Chinooks, however, has increased to 60 with the addition of 14 new Mark 6 helicopters, the last of which was delivered in December 2015.
A NEED TO UPGRADE “At the time of the SDSR, we were at the tail end of operations in Iraq and in the throes of the Afghanistan conflict – two theatres in which helicopters proved to be a primary requirement,” INSPIRATION AND INNOVATION AIR POWER 2016
3.1 Upgrading the helicopter fleet.indd 67