The UK Royal Air Force has begun preparations to deploy their fleet of Merlin, and other helicopters, recently returned from Iraq, to Afghanistan in late 2009.

The air force will deploy the long-range armoured Merlin helicopters in a Afghanistan in troop transport role alongside the Lynx helicopter, which is currently undergoing modifications to allow it to withstand the hot temperatures in Afghanistan

RAF wing commander Ross Richards said that Afghanistan and Iraq are very different theatres, so a series of modifications are being made to enable the aircraft to cope with the different conditions and threats they will face in Afghanistan.

“We’re working hard and are on track to deploy the required number of aircraft. By the end of the year we should see Merlins in Afghanistan,” Richards said.

The RAF has begun modifications on the aircraft, including new rotor blades, improvements to the defensive aid suite for protection from ground threats and ballistic protection.

UK Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said that the Merlin helicopter will be a massive boost to UK troops currently serving in Afghanistan.

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“It’s a well-armoured aircraft. It’s served in Iraq very successfully for the last few years and we are spending money on its protection as well as its lift capability before we send it out to Afghanistan.

The Puma medium transport has been deployed to Kenya in a army training capacity.

The UK helicopter fleet currently deployed in Afghanistan consists of Apache helicopters in a troop support role, Chinooks as the principal troop and casualty transport helicopter as well as a fleet of Sea King helicopters, which have primarily been used in command support to move commanders around the battlefield.