£408m upgrade for RAF's Chinooks

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The Independent Online

Chinook helicopters operating in Afghanistan will be given a £408m upgrade enabling them to cope with harsh conditions in the country and operate at high altitude for long periods without refuelling.

The two contracts awarded will see the aircraft fitted with the more powerful Honeywell engines costing £128m and more advanced digitised cockpits to be fitted by Thales that will cost £280m.

The Ministry of Defence insisted that numbers of Chinooks in Afghanistan would not be cut during the engineering work, with aircraft based in the UK being modified and replacing those in the battle zone. The whole process, however, will take up to four years.

Last month, the RAF lost two Chinooks in 10 days when one crash landed and had to be destroyed and the other was hit by enemy fire and burst into flames. No one was killed in either incident.

Quentin Davies, minister for Defence Equipment, said the crew of the aircraft hit by a rocket-propelled grenade reached safety because it was one of seven already fitted with the new engine. "This was a dramatic illustration of what these new engines can do. The Chinook is the cornerstone of our helicopter support effort in Afghanistan," he said.

Mr Davies added that several of the eight mothballed Mark 3 Chinooks that have not been in service since they were delivered in 2001 because they were fitted with the wrong software, would now be in service by Christmas.