RAF Boosting Chinook Helicopter Fleet with New Builds and Rebuilds
The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) plans to order 22 new Chinooks, in its latest response to widespread criticism over the shortage of heavy helicopter lift to support British troops in Afghanistan. Last September, the RAF announced for its existing fleet of 38 Chinooks a $650 million upgrade program named Project Julius that consists of a cockpit upgrade and more powerful engines. In November, the service deployed some of its AgustaWestland Merlin HC.2 helicopters to Afghanistan for the first time.
This month, the RAF took delivery of the first of eight new Chinook Mk3s that were stored for eight years after delivery, because of a procurement failure (see picture). These aircraft were supposed to be tailored for the use of British Special Forces, but their avionics software did not meet UK military airworthiness standards. The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) acknowledged that Boeing fulfilled its contractual obligations; the fault lay in the British decision to save money by combining analog and digital avionic systems. The aircraft have undergone “heart surgery,” according to British Defence Minister Bob Ainsworth. A team led by Boeing and also comprising AgustaWestland and QinetiQ has renewed the display screens, black boxes and wirings–more than 100 looms had to be replaced. The eight aircraft are being delivered to almost the same standard as the Project Julius upgrade. But they retain the larger fuel tanks along the fuselage that distinguished them from the RAF’s standard HC.2s. By the time that all eight HC.3s are delivered, the UK Ministry of Defence will have spent an additional $261 million on them, after an original acquisition cost of $414 million (in 2001 prices).