Special Operations: British Operators Get The Right Ride


November 30, 2018: Britain has ordered 16 more CH-47 Chinook transport helicopters. These will be modified MH-47G special operations models to be used by British special operations forces. The British 47Gs will lack the aerial refueling probe but will still have the internal aerial refueling plumbing so aerial refueling capability can be added later with the installation of the long probe. The British MH-47Gs will still have the larger fuel tanks (providing max range of 1,380 kilometers), electronic countermeasures and more navigation equipment the MH-47Gs have missile detection and jamming systems to enable them to better defend themselves. Several additional navigation systems allow the MH-47s to operate in all weather and visibility conditions. That includes a terrain following radar and a receiver for the transponder downed pilots are equipped with. This model is also modified to enable up to eight troops to be lowered or brought up via a powered hoist at one time. There are bubble windows and a gunners port on the left side (on the other side is the winch). Britain will be the first export customer for the MH-47G and these will cost $219 million each (including special maintenance equipment, spares, technical assistance and training). This order may still be canceled or modified depending on political or budget changes in Britain. Since 2001 British special operations have been heavily involved overseas and British operators often got to ride on American MH-47s and were impressed with the capabilities of these helicopters. The requests for Britain to obtain MH-47s have been persistent so it is likely this deal will go ahead.

In mid-2017 Britain began upgrading its 38 older CH-47 to the latest (CH-47F) standard. This will involve replacing the older analog cockpit displays with digital ones and upgrading other electronic systems. Since Britain carries out upgrades like this with British made electronics they use British nomenclature for the different models. The latest American CH-47 is the F model and the British upgrade with change older HC4 models (similar to the American CH-47D/E) to the HC6A (American CH-47F). Britain also refers to the helicopter officially as the Chinook, which is the official nickname for what the Americans call the CH-47. What the U.S. and Britain agree on is that the CH-47 continues to be one of the most useful and reliable transport helicopters available. Since 2001 this has been demonstrated repeatedly in Iraq and Afghanistan where more recent designs proved less effective than a CH-47, even ones that had not been upgraded regularly.

Britain currently operates sixty CH-47s (out of 72 procured over the years.) Only 41 are actually in service because of those undergoing or awaiting upgrades or replacement. At the end of 2015, Britain received the last of fourteen CH-47F Chinook helicopters ordered in 2009. Actually, Britain wanted to buy another 22 American CH-47Fs back then in order to provide the army with 70 of these transport aircraft. That order was reduced to 14 in 2011 as a result of budget cuts. Because of the long waiting list for Ch-47Fs Britain was initially told it would not receive all 22 until 2017. Because of the reduced order, all of them arrived by the end of 2015. These cost nearly $40 million each but Britain now has 60 CH-47s, all equipped slightly differently depending on how long ago they arrived.

In 2009 the original CH-47F order was justified by the fact that Britain was then losing about a hundred troops in Afghanistan each year, most of them because of roadside and suicide bombs. Many of these casualties could be avoided if more helicopters were available. Back in 2009 media reports pointed out that British troops in Afghanistan had one helicopter for every 700 troops while the Americans had one for every 200. British commanders admitted that they needed (based on American experience) about fifty helicopters. The British government promised more, and the order for 22 Chinooks was part of an effort to make it so, at least in the future. Britain has been using CH-47s since 1980 and these have served in the Falkland Islands, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The CH-47 is the best helicopter for use in Afghanistan, having proved itself able to deal with the dust and high altitude operations better than other transport choppers. The CH-47 has been engineered, over the years, to deal with the dust. The first CH-47s entered service in 1962, able to carry only five tons. Current models carry more than twice that. Some 750 CH-47s saw service in Vietnam, and 200 were lost in action.

During 1982-94, 500 CH-47s were rebuilt to the CH-47D standard. The new CH-47F is more durable and easier to maintain than the CH-47D, and most D models will be upgraded to the F standard eventually. Right now, everyone still wants more CH-47s (used, refurbs, new, whatever), and there are never enough to go around.


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