The Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) agency within the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has procured 14 new Chinook H-47 extended range (ER) heavy-lift rotorcraft in an effort to modernise its fleet.

The DE&S purchased the new variant from the US Department of Defense as a foreign military sales agreement for £1.4bn ($1.75bn). The contract includes development and manufacturing services over the next decade. Deliveries are scheduled to start in 2026.

The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) say that the new helicopters will be based at RAF Odiham, the home of the Chinook fleet.

The Chinook is a versatile aircraft having proven its relability in every major conflict since the Falklands War. It can operate in a diverse range of environments, from the desert to the Arctic, and transport up to 55 personnel or ten tonnes of cargo.

With a top speed of 300kph, the H-47(ER) will have a range of new capabilities. These include a digital cockpit, a modernised airframe to increase stability and improve survivability, and a digital automatic flight control system to allow pilots to hover in areas of limited visibility.

The changing face of the fleet

While the MoD are quick to emphasise that the new rotorcraft signals the commitment made in the recent Defence Command Paper to invest over £85bn on military equipment over the next four years, the new contract does not expand the RAF but instead offsets the loss of the C-130J Hercules.

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Although the A400 Atlas is the successor transport aircraft to the Hercules, it is widely believed – especially among members of the UK Defence Committee – that this modernisation replacement is a poor substitute for the long-lasting C130J.

While this assertion borders on the extreme, the Atlas does lack certain capabilities that the Hercules can perform: it is lighter, more agile, and can take off and land in hostile environments more effectively. Considering the size, weight and manoeuvrability of the Atlas, the 14 new H-47 Chinooks may be a desirable solution to cover these areas of concern.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace stated: “From assisting emergency repairs to UK flood defences, providing vital logistics support during Covid-19 to its warfighting role on Afghan battlefields, the Chinook has been the workhorse of the Armed Forces for over 40 years.”

This workhorse quality is just what the RAF needs now that the C-130J has been withdrawn from the fleet. Alongside the Atlas, the CH-47 Chinook is used for the transportation of troops, artillery, supplies, and equipment to the battlefield, just as the C-130J has done for so long.