Air Transportation: Britain Needs Fewer Chinooks


September 4, 2011: Two years ago, Britain decided to buy another 22 American CH-47F Chinook helicopters, in order to provide the army with 70 of these transport aircraft. Now that order has been cut to 14, as a result of budget cuts. Because of the long waiting list for Ch-47Fs, Britain wasn’t going to receive the first helicopters until 2015. All 14 will be delivered by 2017.

Originally, the new CH-47Fs were to be paid for by cuts in the budgets of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. But the defense budget has been cut more, and this reached the CH-47F program. The newly ordered British Chinooks will cost nearly $40 million each.

Two years ago, 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, it was pointed out, in the media, 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.

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 wants more CH-47s (used, refurbs, new, whatever), and there are not enough to go around.




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