Commando Helicopter Force

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Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) is a part of the Fleet Air Arm, and is an element of the Joint Helicopter Command of the British Armed Forces; which provides Rotary-Wing (helicopter) support to 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines and other force elements. CHF uses a combination of transport helicopters provided by the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm based at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset, England.

History[edit]

A Lynx AH7 helicopter carrying commandos, while in service with Commando Helicopter Force.
Colour photograph of five fully covered marines in a huddle underneath a helicopter.
Ground crew with Commando Helicopter Force huddle from the downwash of a Sea King HC4 helicopter on exercise in Norway.

Commando Helicopter Force was formed in 1997 to consolidate command and control of the various Fleet Air Arm and Royal Marines helicopter squadrons which supported 3 Commando Brigade under Flag Officer Naval Aviation.

In 1999, CHF merged with various Royal Air Force and Army Air Corps force elements to become the Joint Helicopter Command, whilst maintaining its status as a formed unit.

It is based at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset, England; although aircraft are regularly deployed with 3 Cdo Brigade, overseas and to the ships of the Response Force Task Group (RFTG); which includes HMS Ocean (Landing Platform Helicopter), HMS Bulwark (Landing Platform Dock)and other Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) ships.

Elements of the force have operated in Northern Ireland until 2002, Sierra Leone in 2000 and Bosnia and it was an element of the amphibious force for Operation Telic, the British involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, notably supporting the landings to secure the Al-Faw Peninsula. CHF was also a major part of Joint Helicopter Command's contribution to Operation Herrick in Afghanistan.

The force also supports the 3 Cdo Brigade annual Cold Weather Warfare exercise in northern Norway.

In addition to Sea King HC4 helicopters, CHF operated Gazelle AH1s in utility and reconnaissance roles, as well as Lynx AH7 in light transport and anti-armour roles. In 2005, the Gazelles were retired, while the Lynxes were later replaced with the Lynx AH9A variant.

Following the Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2010, the RAF's Merlin HC3 helicopters were ordered to be transferred to the Royal Navy under the command and control of Commando Helicopter Force. On 30th September 2014, the aircraft were formerly handed over from the Royal Air Force to the Royal Navy with the first Royal Navy Merlin Squadron, 846 Naval Air Squadron, relocating from RAF Benson to RNAS Yeovilton on 26th March 2015. The Merlin HC3 will replace the ageing Sea King HC4 as CHF's medium-lift transport aircraft when the Sea King HC4 is retired on 31st March 2016. As part of the transfer of service, the Merlin HC3 will undergo an upgrade to the HC4 standard which will include a full mid-life upgrade of the airframe and avionics and will marinise the aicraft for ship-borne amphibious operations.

Command and Control[edit]

CHF is a Fleet Air Arm asset and as such remains under the Operational Command of Fleet Commander, while operational control is delegated to the Joint Helicopter Command, under Army HQ Land Command, who will task assets in accordance with Permanent Joint Headquarters, Joint Forces Command or Front Line Command requirements.[citation needed]

Organisation[edit]

The Commando Helicopter Force has four Naval Air Squadrons with separate roles:

845 Naval Air Squadron operates the Westland Sea King HC Mk.4 helicopter; a variant that has been specially modified for medium-lift and flying in all sorts of weather conditions and terrains. 845 has had at least two of it Sea Kings deployed to the Bosnian theatre since 1992. Besides Bosnia, they have operated in Albania, Egypt, Honduras, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

846 Naval Air Squadron operates with 845 NAS, but has not seen action in Bosnia, being more focused on the Northern flank of the Nato theatre. Until recently, 846 maintained a base in Northern Ireland that allowed it to become very proficient in cold weather and winter operations. Their operations are not limited to northern flying conditions, however. The squadron has also operated in South East Asia, Australia, The United States, and Germany. Two Aircraft of 846 were sent to Turkey following the major earthquake it suffered in November 1999. 846 NAS is now temporarily stationed at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire as part of the Merlin transition, due to bring the Merlin Mk3's and Mk3a's back to Yeovilton.

847 Naval Air Squadron operates Westland Lynx AH.9A helicopters, in light transport and reconnaissance roles.

848 Naval Air Squadron is the Commando Sea King HC4 training unit for the group, and trains not only the aircrews but also the ground crews. In addition to the skills necessary to fly their missions, Commando Helicopter Force members are trained in small-arms weapons as well as tactics and survival fieldcraft. Being a naval unit that is directly tasked with supporting the Royal Marines, trainees are also schooled in shipboard and amphibious assault operations. A special unit with 848 Squadron, M Flight, is tasked with supporting the Special Boat Service (SBS) in their operations. 848 NAS has disbanded in 2013 but will reform to continue training Sea Kings until their reach their out of service date.[5][6]

845 and 846 NAS will receive Merlin HC3s/HC3As to replace the retiring Sea King in 2014 and 2015. 846 NAS replaced 78 Sqn RAF and took on their Merlin HC3s on 30th September 2015; 845 NAS will follow on 9th July 2015 when it replaces 28 (AC) Sqn RAF. Concurrently, 847 NAS is upgrading to the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat with 6 of them altogether. The Merlin HC4 will have a grey colour scheme, not the dark green colour of the "Junglie".[7] In the future, 845 and 846 NAS will have around 10 Merlin HC.4s each, with five Merlins in maintenance.[8]

Personnel[edit]

It is commanded by a Royal Navy Captain. Squadron personnel are drawn from all three armed services, although the majority are from the Royal Navy.[citation needed]

Aircrew, recruited from the Fleet Air Arm and Royal Marines, join the force, already trained in helicopter operations, from the Defence Helicopter Flying School at RAF Shawbury. Type training for the Sea King is conducted in 848 Squadron and type training for the Lynx is conducted with the Army Air Corps.

Technician and engineer training is conducted within the single services as appropriate for the aircraft type and supporting trades are filled by qualified single service personnel.

Squadrons conduct organic continuation training and life support and security continuation training is supported from within the force, each squadron maintaining a complement of survival, military skills and cold weather warfare instructors.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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