RAF to upgrade UK's Chinook fleet

24/09/09

The Ministry of Defence has announced a major upgrade of its Chinook helicopter fleet costing almost half a billion pounds.

It will cost £408 million and cover the entire RAF Chinook fleet - all 38 aircraft based in the UK and in Afghanistan.

The money's being split in two. £128 million is being spent on upgrading the engines, £280 million on the cockpits.

The new T55 L714A engines will boost output by around 20% to 7,500 horsepower - about the same as 10 Formula 1 cars.

What we've tried to do is look at where we can provide more lift effectively in a short time frame
Wing Commander John Watson is Chief of Staff at RAF Odiham

The cockpits meanwhile will be converted from traditional 20th century analogue displays to 21st century digital ones.

Flight Lieutenant Paul Farmer has spent four years flying Chinooks in the UK, Europe and Afghanistan.

He said: "It's all to do with the extra power it will give us. We'll be able to carry more ammunition and more troops.

"We always try and do as much as we can for the guys on the ground. If we can get 20 troops off the ground in one load we know we are doing a better job for them."

Helping troops

As for how it will help Britain fight the Taliban, he says more power means more missions, the ability to move troops quicker and further as well as helping keep the Chinooks in service till 2040.

"A lot of problems (in Afghanistan) are put down to a lack of helicopters," he said.

"If we can make more of the helicopters that we've got out there then it's the equivalent of getting more helicopters out there."

Newsbeat reporters Dan Whitworth and Hannah Morrison
Image caption More Chinooks will help Britain combat the Taliban more effectively

Wing Commander John Watson is Chief of Staff at RAF Odiham and says it's right to focus spending on the engines and cockpits.

He said: "There isn't a problem with guns at the moment. There isn't a problem with armour.

"What we need in theatre is more lift and what we've tried to do is look at where we can provide more lift effectively in a short time frame."

Senior government Minister Quinton Davies is in charge of buying equipment for the military.

He denies that, with the upgrade not scheduled to finish until 2014, it's happening too slowly.

He said: "These things take a very long time. If I placed a contract for new helicopters today we wouldn't get them for years - no doubt about it.

With the new engines we can start quite quickly and that is just the fact of life I'm afraid.

"The idea that you can just go to a supermarket and just come away with a few new helicopters in your trolley is just absurd, life isn't like that."