The UK government has requested and will receive 16 special operations Chinook helicopters for the UK Special Forces (UKSF). Late last month, the US State Department and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) approved the sale of 16 new H-47 Chinooks. Additionally, the British will be getting numerous parts that could be used to configure the H-47 into the MH-47G, which is the special operations version of the heavy-lift helicopter.
More specifically, the additional equipment includes extended range fuel tanks, electro-optical/infrared sensor turrets, M-134D-T mini guns, M240H machine guns, embedded GPS inertial navigation units, common missile warning systems, and radio-frequency countermeasures. The sale will also include technical, logistical, and maintenance support. It’s estimated that the purchase will cost $3.5 billion.
The sale, however, doesn’t include the aerial refueling probe, which is characteristic of the Chinook’s SOF variant.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) has around 60 Chinooks in service. The RAF fleet is comprised of a mixture of CH-47D, MH-47E, and CH-47F Chinook helicopters. 7 Squadron, which will be getting most of the choppers, is a SOF unit, and the rough equivalent of the U.S. Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) — tasked with supporting UKSF units.
The DSCA issued a statement to announce the sale:
“The United Kingdom is a close NATO ally and an important partner on critical foreign policy and defence issues. The proposed sale will enhance U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives by enhancing the United Kingdom’s capabilities to provide national defence and contribute to NATO and coalition operations.
The proposed sale will improve the United Kingdom’s ability to meet current and future threats by providing a heavy lift rotary wing capability able to execute missions in extreme environments across a full range of military operations. The United Kingdom will have no difficulty absorbing these helicopters into its armed forces.”
The UKSF has long used the venerable Chinooks for infiltration. During the Gulf War, the SAS utilised Chinooks in their SCUD missile hunting parties. The famous Bravo Two Zero patrol was ferried by a specially camouflaged 7 Squadron Chinook deep behind Iraqi lines.
But the British Chinooks don’t have the capability to perform long-range infiltrations — that is without the impromptu addition of external fuel tanks that compromise the stealth and overall performance. The purchase is seeking to deal with this issue. A few years ago, during a joint exercise between the 160th SOAR — also known as the Night Stalkers — and 7 Squadron, the pros and cons of the different Chinook variants came to the fore.
According to one Night Stalker pilot, the British aircraft were significantly lighter than their U.S. brethren, but they lacked in technology. “I’m blown away by how light their aircraft are. We are used to flying a heavier aircraft and their tactics are revolved around flying a lighter aircraft. They come in a lot faster than we do,” he said.
The Chinook first entered service in the 1960s. Since then, it has seen numerous variants. Boeing is the principal manufacturer.