Commando Helicopter Force
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.
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.
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.
Command and Control
The CHF is a Fleet Air Arm asset and as such remains under the Operational Command of Commander in Chief Fleet, Operational Control is delegated to the Joint Helicopter Command, under HQ Land Command, who will task assets in accordance with Permanent Joint Headquarters or Front Line Command requirements.
The Commando Helicopter Force has four naval air squadrons with separate roles:
- 845 Naval Air Squadron - Medium-lift - Sea King HC4
- 846 Naval Air Squadron - Medium-lift - Sea King HC4
- 847 Naval Air Squadron - Light-lift, anti-armour and reconnaissance - Lynx AH7
- 848 Naval Air Squadron - Sea King HC4 training unit
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. 846 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 Army-owned Westland Lynx AH7 helicopters, flown by Royal Navy and Royal Marines pilots . It is possible that the Royal Navy's Commando Helicopter Force will also replace the Lynx in the anti-armour role with the Apache AH Mk1 (WAH-64 Apache Longbow). However no other helicopter can match the Lynx for light-lift/assault during combat situations.
The Lynx AH.7 can also be outfitted for the anti-armour role, with the attachment of 2 pylons each carrying 4 TOW anti-Tank missiles.
In the light-lift role, it can also carry an Aircrewman armed with a cabin door machinegun and Marines for fastrope or rappelling insertions, or regular landings. It is also used to transport cargo.
848 Naval Air Squadron is the Commando Sea King HC4 training squadron 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.
Squadron personnel are drawn from all three armed services, although the majority are from the Royal Navy.
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.
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