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By Julian Nettlefold, Editor, BATTLESPACE

30 Mar 07. On Friday the U.K. MoD announced its long awaited procurement of additional helicopter capability, filling the yawning gap in the urgent need for helicopters in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Over the next two years, fourteen additional helicopters will be made available for use on military operations, the Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne has announced today.

The Ministry of Defence has agreed to buy six new Merlin helicopters, which will be available within a year and to convert eight existing Chinook Mark 3 helicopters to make them available for deployment in two years. The complete package will cost around £230m.

Des Browne said: “This is the best possible outcome for our joint helicopter force and for the Armed Forces as a whole. This package will deliver 14 additional military helicopters into new operational roles, with the first available for operations within a year.

“Battlefield support helicopters are one of the most crucial capabilities for military commanders. I am determined that we have enough if we need to send more to operations in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere.” The Merlin has already performed well on operations in Iraq. These six helicopters are brand new aircraft originally purchased by Denmark, the last delivered in January this year. They have not, however, entered operational service with the Danes. The UK has agreed in principle with the Danish Government and AgustaWestland that the Merlins will be transferred to the UK. Denmark will then receive six additional aircraft from AgustaWestland. We are grateful to the Danish Government for this agreement, which demonstrates once more the strong link between our two NATO nations.

The £175m firm cost will equip the UK Merlins with operational enhancements and the latest generation of advanced rotor-blades which will enhance their speed, range and lift. This will ensure good performance even in demanding environments like Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Chinook Mk3s were ordered in 1995 for special operations. They were delivered in 2001 but have been unavailable since then due to well reported technical problems.

Having taken military advice, the Defence Secretary has decided that given the high priority attached to supporting current operations, a better solution is to convert the Mk3s to a battlefield support role. This is judged to provide a lower delivery risk than other options considered for the Mark 3s and is the only one that provides significant enhancement to our Chinook helicopter capability in the next two years.

Work will begin immediately on the conversion, which will cost in the region of £50-60m.

DR&A said, “The above ‘stop-gap’ measures follow pressure for more helicopters in support of current Operations. Long-term requirements are said to be covered by the Future Rotorcraft Capability (FRC) programme, which includes plans to launch a competition early in 2008 for a new medium-lift helicopter.”

AgustaWestland and the MoD signed an agreement to modify six EH101 Merlin helicopters the MoD are buying from Denmark, to provide additional helicopter support for the UK armed forces. The agreement also includes the purchase of six new build EH101 Merlin helicopters that will be delivered by the MoD to the Royal Danish Air Force to replace the original aircraft.

The six ex Royal Danish Air Force EH101 Merlin Joint Supporters, which will be known as EH101 Merlin HC Mk3As in RAF service, will be delivered to AgustaWestland’s Yeovil facility where they will be modified to MoD requirements. The aircraft were delivered to the Royal Danish Air Force in the last 12 months and will enter service with the Royal Air Force later this year after modification. The aircraft will be also equipped with BERP IV technology main rotor blades which will provide further improved performance. The Merlin Mk.3As will be the first helicop

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