Commando Helicopter Force ( CHF )
Until recently England's armed forces had a very factionalized control of their rotary wing assets, including RAF, RA, and RN squadrons with different abilities that might be suited to one task but not used in that capacity due to political reasons. The Ministry of Defense changed that, however, with the creation in 1999 of the Joint Helicopter Command, a headquarters that oversees the Kingdom's military helicopter assets. One of the units that falls under this new organization is the Commando Helicopter Force, a group that provided support for the Royal Marines and SBS and is now taking on more specialized Special Forces missions as well. Commando Helicopter Force is divided into four squadrons, 845, 846, 847, and 848 Squadron.
The squadrons are staffed by pilots from all services, and many of the new air crew are recruited from the Royal Marines. With the creation of the Joint Helicopter Command this trend is expected to increase, with many of the pilots now coming from the Joint DHFS ( Defense Helicopter Flying School . In addition, the force will begin to take on new missions as it's roles and abilities are better known throughout the Royal forces and are more accessible via the joint command. These abilities are spread out amongst the group, with different squadrons having different taskings and specialties. 845 and 846 Squadron are the tactical airlift groups and 847 provides air support while 848 is the main training group.
845 Naval Air Squadron operates the Westland HC Mk.4 Sea King helicopter; a variant that has been specially modified for lifting 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 Squadron operates the same aircraft as 845 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 SE Asia, Australia, The United States, and Germany. Two Aircraft of 846 were sent to Turkey following the major earthquake it suffered in November of 1999.
847 operates both the Westland AH.7 Lynx and AH.1 Gazelle helicopter, although there are plans to have the Gazalle's retired by 2004 and possibly augment the Lynx's with the WAH-64D Longbow Apache's that are expected to be operational then. The Lynx can be outfitted for a variety of missions, ranging from close-in offensive operations against fast attack boats to long range anti-ship missions using the radar guided Sea Skua missile. The Lynx can also carry armed soldiers for fastrope or rappelling insertions or regular landings.
848 Squadron is the training squadron for the group, and trains not only the pilots but also the ground crew. 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, which is tasked supporting the Special Boat Service in their operations.
The Helicopter Commando Force is in the midst of change. The Gazelle's will be retired soon and possibly replaced with WAH-64D Apache's, although there is some skepticism of the Apache's shipboard abilities. The Westland Sea King is due to be replaced at some point by the EH-101 Merlin helicopter, although it lacks the ability to sling load the Royal Army's light howitzer. Possible options to this problem include acquiring a limited number of American V-22 Osprey aircraft or cutting more weight from the howitzer. Whatever the future holds for the Helicopter Commando Force, the will continue to serve both The Royal conventional and special forces for the foreseeable future.