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Tue, May 08, 2007

New Life For Grounded RAF Chinooks?

Will Ultimately Join Six New Merlins In Afghanistan

Grounded at Royal Air Force Station Odiham for the past five years, eight CH-47 helicopters are now scheduled to be converted for operations to provide military support in Afghanistan.

The Chinook Mark 3s were ordered by the Ministry of Defense in 1995 for special operations. They were delivered in 2001, but were soon grounded because IFR equipment software could not be properly tested. Only 45 of 100 'essential elements' set out in the RAF's requirement were actually developed, according to a 2005 BBC report.

This software problem rendered the helicopters to VFR flight only. The $518 million Chinooks were only used on limited trial flights since their arrival, an event members of parliament labeled the 'Chinook affair' -- calling the whole ordeal "one of the worst examples of equipment procurement."

In addition to the conversion project, the Ministry of Defense has also agreed to buy six new Merlin helicopters. The complete package will cost around $459 million, according to the Hampshire Daily Echo.

"This is the best possible outcome for our joint helicopter force and for the Armed Forces as a whole," Said Secretary of State for Defense Des Browne. "This package will deliver 14 additional military helicopters into new operational roles, with the first available for operations within a year.

"Battlefield support helicopters are one of the most crucial capabilities for military commanders," he added. "I am determined that we have enough if we need to send more to operations in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere."

North East Hampshire Member of Parliament James Arbuthnot, having recently returned from a visit to Afghanistan, said "The difficult terrain there means that helicopters are the cornerstone of almost all operations. Our forces are performing at full stretch and the arrival of these additional Chinooks -- with their crews -- will help relieve the strain.

"It is important that the Mark 3s are converted for their new role as soon as possible," Arbuthnot added.

The MoD has not said what, exactly, will be included in the conversion project... only that the MK3s will be "converted for operations."



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