Much to the relief of Australian infantry and special operations troops, the government recently signed contracts to construct maintenance and support facilities for the seven CH-47F transport helicopters that were ordered in 2010. That order became subject to cancellation as Australian troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan and military budgets were threatened with cuts.
This came after a period of rapid expansion of the Australian helicopters transport fleet. During nearly a decade of operations in Afghanistan the army expanded its CH-47D force to eight although one was lost to a crash in Afghanistan. The first CH-47Ds arrived in 1995 and two more were hurriedly obtained from the U.S. Army in 2012 to replace the one lost and increase the CH-47D force to seven. These two CH-47Ds were taken from U.S. Army stocks in order to assure quick delivery.
The CH-47Fs on order will cost about $60 million each and are part of a package deal that includes two simulators. Australia joins a growing list of American allies that want CH-47F transport helicopters. The tricky aspect of the Australian sale was how soon the CH-47Fs could be delivered. There is a backlog and the U.S. is under pressure to get the Australians (who have been capable and steadfast allies for nearly a century) theirs as soon as possible. At first the plan was to get Australia their first two by 2012 with the rest arriving by 2015. But then the Australian government decided that the CH-47Fs might not be needed after all. That controversy went on until recently and now the first CH-47Fs are to arrive in 2016, with the new support facility completed and ready to handle them.
The 22 ton CH-47F can carry ten tons of cargo, or up to 55 troops, and has a maximum range of 426 kilometers. Its max speed is 315 kilometers an hour. Typical missions last no more than three hours. It is the best helicopter for use in placed like Afghanistan, having proved able to deal with the dust and high altitude operations better than other transport choppers.
The first CH-47s entered service in 1962, able to carry only five tons. Some 750 saw service in Vietnam and 200 were lost in action. During 1982-94, 500 CH-47s were rebuilt to the CH-47D standard. U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) operates 31 MH-47Ds and Es, which have additional navigation gear. These are being upgraded to MH-47F standards and the fleet expanded to 61 helicopters. As a result of all this, the CH-47 will end up serving at least 75 years. The CH-47F upgrades and new builds will not be completed until 2018.