Deployment of British Air Force Chinook CH-47 helicopters in Mali has been extended

The British Government has announced on June 12, 2020, that the Royal Air Force (RAF) deployment in Mali has been extended. The ongoing mission is to support the French counter-terrorism operation in the Sahel region of West Africa. Currently, the RAF has three Chinook CH-47 Helicopters and 100 personnel based in Gao, Mali and they will be continuing to work with the French Armed Forces.

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Deployment of British Air Force Chinook CH 47 helicopters in Mali has been extended 925 001 British Royal Air Force Chinook helicopter in Mali. (Picture source British Royal air Force)

Personnel from RAF Odiham have been deployed in non-combat roles in Mali since 2018, with the aircraft contributing a unique logistical capability to the French-led operation. The Chinooks and aircrew allow French troops to cover a much larger field of operations, by moving personnel to the French bases spread across Mali, eliminating the need for dangerous road moves, and helping to move vital support equipment to strategic locations.

Since arriving in Mali the RAF has clocked over 2,000 hours of flying and moved over 13,000 passengers and 1,100 tonnes of equipment. Currently, the Chinooks are being flown by aircrew from 18(B) Squadron and are supported by personnel drawn from across the RAF and British Army. The conditions are often challenging, with over 40-degree heat in the summer months and regular sandstorms.

Alongside international partners, French forces operate across the Sahel to counter the threat from militants linked to groups such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh. Forces deployed on this mission have had a number of successes and recently killed the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and several other high-profile members of the group.

The RAF Mission, in support of the French operations, is aiming to deliver long-term and sustainable peace in Mali and is a part of the wider UK Government efforts to stabilize fragile states in the region by tackling the root causes of conflict. This deployment, alongside the UK’s broader development and diplomatic efforts, is helping to address the increasing instability in the region, protect the civilian population, and strengthen the authority of the Malian Government.

The Chinook is an extremely capable and highly versatile support helicopter that can be operated from land or sea bases into a range of diverse environments, from the Arctic to the desert or jungle. This helicopter may be armed and is fitted with a suite of self-defense equipment allowing it to operate across the battlespace.

The Chinook helicopter is primarily used for trooping, resupply and battlefield casualty evacuation (casevac). With its triple-hook external load system, internal cargo winch, roller conveyor fit and large reserves of power, the aircraft can lift a wide variety of complex underslung or internal freight, including vehicles. It can carry up to 55 troops or up to approximately 10 tonnes of mixed cargo.

The current operational Chinook fleet of British Royal Air Force includes Mk 4 and Mk 6 aircraft, fitted with digital glass cockpits. The Mk 6 also benefits from a Digital Automatic Flight Control System, greatly enhancing handling and safety, particularly when operating in recirculating dust or snow conditions. The extended-range Mk 3 carries double the fuel load of a standard Chinook and having been upgraded to a glass cockpit configuration, returns to the fleet as the Chinook HC.Mk 5.

The Mk 4 will be further modified with the embodiment of DAFCS, resulting in the Chinook HC.Mk 6A configuration. The type will continue to play a key role in UK Defence activity, with the Chinook Sustainment Programme aiming to build on the platform's success, recapitalizing existing airframes and extending the capability out to 2040.