The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
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Finally, The MH-47G
by James Dunnigan
November 21, 2014
On September 29th U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) received its first (of 12) newly built MH-47G helicopters. SOCOM is also receiving 36 older MH-47s upgraded to the G standard. The 47G is basically a special SOCOM version of the new CH-47F. The 47G has additional electronic items for communication and night/bad weather navigation. SOCOM has about 60 MH-47s but most of them are over 40 years old and often refurbished and upgraded. Replacements are needed and the dozen MH-47Gs are the first in decades.
The U.S. Army is in the midst of spending over $11 billion dollars to refurbish its fleet of existing CH-47 transport helicopters to the F standard. The CH-47 has proved to be a very successful design and none of the proposed replacements was dramatically better than an upgraded CH-47. This upgrade effort will result in a fleet of 513 CH-47F helicopters (including 397 rebuilt CH-47D choppers, 55 new build 47Fs ones, plus some special versions like the MH-47G).
The rebuilt CH-47Ds became CH-47Fs that are good for another twenty years of service. The F model CH-47 has up-to-date digital communications, is easier to maintain, and cheaper to operate. The CH-47F can carry up to 55 troops and has a maximum range of 426 kilometers. Its max speed is 315 kilometers an hour. Typical missions last no more than 2.5 hours.
In 2010 the CH-47F helicopter got its first sustained experience in a combat zone and performed well. This was a major factor in getting the money to buy more of them. A company of 20 CH-47Fs arrived in Afghanistan during 2009, and soon found themselves often flying eight missions a day, day after day. The CH-47Fs had a 90 percent availability rate. Although the CH-47F has been flying since 2001, and were first delivered to the army in 2009, it takes sustained use in a combat environment to smoke out the last bugs and maintenance problems. In Afghanistan there were some problems with the flat panel displays, which were quickly worked out. There were several other minor problems, mostly having to do with all the dust in the environment and the temperature extremes (often below freezing in Winter and over 45 degrees/113 Fahrenheit in Summer). This was tough on the maintainers and manufacturers' reps initially, but after a year maintenance problems were no longer an issue. This is important because in Afghanistan the CH-47 is a critical form of air transportation, including combat assault.
Since the 1990s, the U.S. Army had used UH-60 "Blackhawk" helicopters for combat assault missions, while the larger CH-47 "Chinook" was used just for moving cargo. But the army found that, in the high altitudes of Afghanistan, the more powerful CH-47 was often the only way to go in the thin mountain air. While doing that the army found that the CH-47 made an excellent assault helicopter. In many ways it was superior to the UH-60, mainly because the CH-47 carries more troops and moves faster and farther. The CH-47F has even more powerful engines and is even more valuable for high altitude assaults. It is the best helicopter for use in Afghanistan, having proved able to deal with the dust and high altitude operations better than other transport choppers.
The first CH-47s entered service in 1962, able to carry only five tons. Some 750 saw service in Vietnam and 200 were lost in action. During 1982-94, 500 CH-47s were rebuilt to the CH-47D standard. SOCOM operates 31 MH-47Ds and Es, which have additional navigation gear. These are being upgraded to MH-47F standards and the fleet expanded to 61 helicopters. As a result of all this, the CH-47 will end up serving at least 75 years. The original CH-47F upgrade program and new builds will not be completed until 2018. The new contract will extend production into the 2020s.