Commando Helicopter Force

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Commando Helicopter Force
CountryUnited Kingdom
Branch Royal Navy
TypeRoyal Marines Air Wing[1]
RoleCommando Air Support
SizeThree Naval Air Squadrons, one Combat Service Support Squadron, and a fully deployable Force Headquarters.
Part ofFleet Air Arm
Joint Helicopter Command
Garrison/HQRNAS Yeovilton
Nickname(s)The Junglies
Colonel Del Stafford RM

Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) is a unit of the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm and an element of the Joint Helicopter Command of the British Armed Forces. Its primary role is to provide Rotary-Wing support to 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines and other UK force elements in the amphibious environment. CHF uses a combination of transport helicopters based at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset, England.


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

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.[2]

In 1999, CHF merged with various Royal Air Force (RAF) and Army Air Corps force elements under the Joint Helicopter Command, whilst maintaining its identity as a formed unit.[3]

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.[4] CHF was also a major part of Joint Helicopter Command's contribution to Operation Herrick in Afghanistan.[5]

Following the Strategic Defence and Security Review of 2010, the decision was made to transfer all RAF Merlin HC3 helicopters to the Royal Navy under the command and control of Commando Helicopter Force. On 30 September 2014, the aircraft were formally handed over from the RAF to the Royal Navy; with the first Royal Navy Merlin squadron, 846 Naval Air Squadron, standing up concurrently and relocating from RAF Benson to RNAS Yeovilton on 26 March 2015.[6]

The Merlin HC3 replaced the ageing Sea King HC4 as CHF's medium-lift transport aircraft when the Sea King HC4 retired on 31 March 2016.[7]

As part of the transfer of service, the Merlin HC3 is undergoing an upgrade to the HC4 standard which includes a full mid-life upgrade of the airframe and avionics; and will 'marinise' or more accurately optimise the aircraft for ship-borne amphibious operations.[8]


It is based at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset, England; aircraft are regularly deployed with 3 Commando Brigade, overseas and to the ships of the Joint Expeditionary Force (Maritime) (JEF(M)) which includes HMS Bulwark (Landing Platform Dock).[9]

Command and control[edit]

CHF is a Fleet Air Arm asset and as such remains under the Operational Command (OPCOM) of Fleet Commander, while Operational Control (OPCON) is delegated to the Joint Helicopter Command, under Army Command, who will task assets in accordance with Permanent Joint Headquarters or Front Line Command requirements.[10]


Commando MAOT (Mobile Air Operations Team) receiving an Under Slung Load (USL) from a Merlin Mk3 helicopter of 845 Naval Air Squadron (NAS), at Norway during Exercise Clockwork.

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

845 and 846 NAS received Merlin HC3s/HC3As to replace the retiring Sea Kings in 2014 and 2015. 846 NAS took their Merlin HC3s on 30 September 2014; 845 NAS followed on 9 July 2015. These are being upgraded to the Merlin HC4/4A as part of the Merlin Life Sustainment Programme (MLSP).[14] The Merlin HC4 will have a grey colour scheme, not the dark green colour of the "Junglie" Sea Kings.[15]

Concurrently, 847 NAS has come to the end of the process of upgrading to the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat.

845 Naval Air Squadron[edit]

845 NAS operated the Westland Sea King HC Mk4 helicopter; a variant that has been specially modified for medium-lift transport and flying in all sorts of weather conditions and terrains. 845 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, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan. 845 NAS was temporarily stationed at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire as part of the Merlin transition until it relocated back to RNAS Yeovilton on 20 June 2016.[16]

846 Naval Air Squadron[edit]

846 NAS 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. However, squadron operations are not limited to northern flying conditions and it has operated in South East Asia, Australia, the United States, and Germany. Two of the squadron's aircraft were sent to Turkey following the major earthquake it suffered in November 1999. 846 NAS was temporarily stationed at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire as part of the Merlin transition until it relocated back to RNAS Yeovilton on 26 March 2015.[6]

In March 2016, 846 NAS was given the role of Maritime Counter Terrorism after the disbandment of 848 Naval Air Squadron and its Sea King HC4 helicopters.[5]

847 Naval Air Squadron[edit]

847 NAS operates Wildcat AH1 helicopters, in light transport and reconnaissance roles.[17]

Decommissioned Unit[edit]

848 Naval Air Squadron[edit]

848 NAS was the Commando Sea King HC4 training unit for the CHF, and trained 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 use as well as tactics and survival fieldcraft. Being a naval unit that was directly tasked with supporting the Royal Marines, trainees are also schooled in shipboard and amphibious assault operations. A special unit within 848 Squadron, M Flight, was tasked with supporting the Special Boat Service (SBS) in their operations. 848 NAS disbanded in 2013 but then reformed on 1 May 2015 to continue operating the Sea Kings, maintaining operational capability within the CHF while 845 NAS converted to the Merlin, until the Sea King reached its planned out of service date on 31 March 2016.[15][18] 848 NAS disbanded 24 March 2016.[19]


Aircrew, recruited from the Fleet Air Arm and Royal Marines, join the force having completed training in helicopter operations under No. 1 Flying Training School[20] at RAF Shawbury.[21]


  1. ^ "Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) | Royal Navy". Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  2. ^ "Commando Helicopter Force". Elite Forces. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  3. ^ "Strategic Defence Review" (PDF). Ministry of Defence. 1 July 1998. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  4. ^ Ripley, Tim (2004). Air War Iraq. Pen and Sword. p. 130. ISBN 978-1-4738-1170-6.
  5. ^ a b "Rare insight into the Royal Navy's Commando Helicopter Force". 21 February 2016.
  6. ^ a b "846 Naval air squadron returns home to RNAS Yeovilton". Global aviation Resource. 30 March 2015. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  7. ^ "Westland Sea King HC4 Commando Retirement". Aeroresource. 31 March 2016. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  8. ^ Waters, Conrad (2015). Seaforth World Naval Review 2016. Seaforth Publishing. p. 85. ISBN 978-1-84832-312-4.
  9. ^ "HMS Bulwark and Merlin helicopters ready for operations in the Mediterranean". Royal Navy. 5 May 2015. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  10. ^ "Navy Command, Senior Officers". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  11. ^ "845 Naval Air Squadron – Royal Navy".
  12. ^ "846 Naval Air Squadron – Royal Navy".
  13. ^ "847 Naval Air Squadron". Archived from the original on 7 August 2013. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
  14. ^ "Janes Guide – Merlin HC4 Upgrades".
  15. ^ a b "The Past, Present and Future of the 'Junglie'". Forces Network. Archived from the original on 9 February 2015. Retrieved 10 February 2015.
  16. ^ "845 NAS Come Home". Fleet air Arm Officers Association. 20 June 2016. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  17. ^ "The 847 Naval Air Squadron transitions to the AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1 helicopter Interview with Major David Sutton Royal Marines, Senior Pilot". Janes. 7 May 2015. Retrieved 30 December 2017.
  18. ^ "848 NAS awarded the Bambara flight safety shield".
  19. ^ "It really is goodbye to the 'old girl' – Royal Navy".
  20. ^ "RAF chief opens state-of-the-art helicopter training facilities in Shawbury". Shropshire Star. 29 February 2020. Retrieved 7 August 2020.
  21. ^ "UK MoD begins training helicopter acquisition". Flightglobal. 10 September 2014. Retrieved 30 December 2017.

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