Monday, November 16, 2009

First RAF Merlin arrives in Afghanistan

The first RAF Merlin helicopter has arrived in Afghanistan as part of a move to boost air support on the front line.The full Merlin deployment to Afghanistan will be completed by the end of this year, providing a significant increase in UK military helicopters and flying hours available to commanders on the ground.

The Merlin will perform a wide range of military tasks, making it a valuable asset for British forces.The helicopter was stripped down and transported by a C-17 aircraft from RAF Brize Norton and has arrived at Camp Bastion for re-assembly and extensive pre-flight checks before it takes to the Afghan skies.Armed Forces Minister, Bill Rammell, said:

"We recognise the importance of helicopters for operations in Afghanistan. The deployment of the Merlin helicopters is evidence of our ongoing commitment to increase capacity, and further improvements to helicopter capability in Afghanistan will follow over the next 12 months."Group Captain Jonathan Burr, Station Commander at RAF Benson, said:

"The Merlin Force has pulled out all the stops to get the Merlins to the front line as quickly as possible. The Force is now ready to take on the challenges of operating in the harsh conditions of Afghanistan and is eager to contribute to the UK effort as they did so successfully in Iraq."Squadron Leader Mike Cook, Senior Engineering Officer for the Merlin Force, said:

"The first group of engineers taking the Merlin to Afghanistan have worked extremely hard at RAF Brize Norton to prepare the aircraft for its journey. The entire Engineering Squadron has risen to the challenge over the previous months to make sure all the aircraft are in top condition for the forthcoming deployment."

The Merlin Force, based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, returned from operations in Iraq in August 2009 and will provide vital support to ground operations and increase the capacity of the UK helicopter lift in Afghanistan by a further 25 per cent.

Since returning from Iraq the crews have undertaken intensive pre-deployment training at El Centro Naval Air Facility in California, whilst the aircraft themselves have received a £45m upgrade that will give them improved performance in the harsh conditions of Afghanistan and protection against threats.


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