MoD Responds to Chinook Criticism
(Source:; published Aug. 26, 2011)
Letter to the Editor of the Daily Telegraph by UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox

SIR – You report (August 23) that the new Chinook helicopters ordered by the Ministry of Defence will be delivered too late to support troops in Afghanistan. This is not the case.

Although commanders in Afghanistan have made it clear that they have enough helicopters for their needs, when the first new Chinooks are operational in 2014 they will immediately allow the freeing up of other UK-based Chinooks should they be needed. In any case, we need additional airframes before any future conflict arises.

This £1 billion order for 14 Chinook helicopters is in contrast to a mere aspiration that was unfunded by the previous government and consequently never ordered.

This boost to the RAF is a testament to this Government’s commitment to deliver top-class equipment to our front-line troops.

Commentary by

In this muddled attempt at a correction, British Defence Secretary Liam Fox unwittingly underlines just how useless this £1 billion expenditure really is.

He first acknowledges that “commanders in Afghanistan have made it clear that they have enough helicopters for their needs.”

He then goes on to say that the “first new Chinooks [will be] operational in 2014,” when the Ministry of Defence’s own Aug. 22 statement says that the first “three helicopters will be ready for operational deployment in early 2015.”

The 2014 date refers to when the first helicopter (note the singular) will enter service, which is not the same as being operational. And, as British troops are due to leave Afghanistan in 2014, the new Chinooks will clearly not see action there.

Fox further adds that “we need additional airframes before any future conflict arises,” a clear admission that they will not otherwise be needed. Nor does he say what the RAF will do with its 60 Chinooks, once they are all operational in 2017, while it waits for those future conflicts to arise.

The Rotary-wing Air Force? More Helicopters than Fighters in Future UK Fleet
(Source:; published Aug. 24, 2011)
(Aug. 25 correction to reflect true size of UK Chinook fleet)
By Giovanni de Briganti

PARIS --- Some of the defense decisions made by Britain’s coalition government since it came to power last year have appeared misguided, ill-considered and, at times, even lunatic, like the costly and unjustified decision to build two new large aircraft carriers, one of which would then be mothballed while the other would operate without fast jets for several years.

Many others, such as the decision to prematurely retire the Royal Navy’s existing carriers and their Harrier attack jets; to retire the just-delivered Sentinel intelligence aircraft as well as the remaining Nimrod maritime patrol and ISR aircraft, opening critical capability gaps, showed a profound misunderstanding of many things military.

Few of these decisions, however, are as wasteful of public funds as the £1 billion acquisition of 14 additional CH-47 Chinook helicopters that Defense Secretary Liam Fox announced on Aug. 22.

The Royal Air Force already operates 46 CH-47s, which already constitute Europe’s largest Chinook fleet. Thankfully, the order for 14 aircraft is less extravagant than the 22 planned by the previous Labour government, but what is the intended use of these new helicopters?

The MoD’s announcement says that the “first three will be ready for operational deployment in early 2015, and all fourteen will be fully operational by early 2017.” This is well after British troops are due to withdraw from Afghanistan, so they will be of no use there.

So, in 2017, the RAF will have a fleet of 60 Chinooks, all based in the United Kingdom.

It also will have a fleet of 28 Puma Mk. 2s, which Eurocopter is currently upgrading under the Puma Life Extension Programme at a cost of £300 million.

The RAF also will continue to operate a fleet of 28 Merlin HC3 and HC3a heavy helicopters (originally known as the EH-01, and now designated AW-101 by their manufacturer), for a total fleet of 116 large (medium and heavy) helicopters.

But the Royal Navy also has a fleet of 42 Merlins, as well as 13 Sea King Mk 7s and 62 older Sea Kings slated for retirement by the end of the decade.

MoD’s inventory will thus reach about 233 medium and heavy helicopters in mid-decade, in addition of course to smaller battlefield helicopters such as Lynx and its successor, Lynx Wildcat, and WAH-64 Apache combat helicopters now in service.

Given that Britain’s armed forces are being savagely cut to save money, one wonders how the British government could feel justified in squandering £1 billion to gain additional heavy helicopter capacity for which it has no operational need.

If, as many observers believe, Britain will not order the entire Tranche 3 of Eurofighter Typhoons, it will end up with more large helicopters (over 200) than fast jets (190) by the end of the decade.

Given that the British Army is due to shrink to well under 90,000 regular personnel by 2015, that barracks and air bases are being shut down to save money, and that there is no appetite for new foreign adventures, just what will Britain do with such a huge number of hugely expensive helicopters?


prev next

Breaking News from AFP See all

Press releases See all

Official reports See all