Commando Helicopter Force

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The 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 elements. The CHF uses a combination of attack and transport helicopters provided by the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm based at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset, England.


The 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, the 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 Amphibious Ready Group; HMS Ocean ( Landing Platform Helicopter), HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion (Landing Platform Docks).

Elements of the force have operated in Northern Ireland to 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 as well as being a major part of JHC (Joint Helicopter Command) Operation Herrick, until pulling out late 2011.

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

In 2005 the Gazelle reconnaissance helicopter was retired from service in the CHF.

The RAF's Merlin HC3 helicopters are to undergo an upgrade to HC4 standard and then be transferred to the Royal Navy in the Commando Helicopter role, replacing the ageing Sea King.[1]

Command and Control[edit]

The 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 or Joint Forces Command or Front Line Command requirements.[citation needed]


The Commando Helicopter Force has four naval air squadrons with separate roles:

845 Naval Air Squadron operates the Westland HC Mk.4 Sea King 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 the same aircraft as 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.

847 Naval Air Squadron operates Westland Lynx AH.9A helicopters, flown by Royal Navy and Royal Marines pilots and aircrewmen .

In the light-lift role, the Lynx can carry an aircrewman armed with a cabin door machine gun and troops for fast-rope or rappelling (abseiling) insertions, or regular landings. It is also used to transport cargo and conduct reconnaissance.

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.

845, 846 and 848 NAS will receive the Merlin HC3a/HC 4 to replace the retiring Sea King by 2016. The current plan sees 846 NAS equipping with ex-RAF Merlin HC3s in 2015. 845 NAS will follow in 2017, operating the fully navalised Merlin HC4.[6] 847 NAS has been upgraded to the Lynx Wildcat with 4 of them altogether.[7][8]


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 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]


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