Three of the newly upgraded Commando Merlin HC4 helicopters belonging to 845 Naval Air Squadron embarked on the Royal Navy’s (RN’s) aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth on 20 August to participate in the aircraft carrier’s four-month ‘Westlant 18’ deployment.
Based at RNAS Yeovilton, Somerset, the helicopters are among 25 former Royal Air Force Merlins being cycled through the HC4 upgrade for shipborne operations. The first aircraft were delivered from conversion in May, and have since been preparing for this maiden deployment in addition to their other core roles supporting UK national maritime security operations and the Royal Marines Lead Commando Group (LCG) for global contingencies at short notice.
Royal Marines Colonel Lenny Brown, commanding officer of the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF), told Jane’s that the helicopters will undertake a number of roles as part of Queen Elizabeth’s work-up during ‘Westlant 18’.
“Our main role on this deployment will be providing the deployed search and rescue [DSAR] to support Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter fixed-wing trials,” he said. “Our upgraded Commando Merlin HC4 helicopters allow us to conduct day and night, all-weather SAR missions due to our coupled digital automatic flight control systems [DAFCS]. This allows us to conduct automatic transitions down to a stable hover to pick-up downed aircrew and personnel on land or at sea. We will also be undertaking maritime intra-theatre lift [MITL] in support of the Carrier Task Group.”
The CHF Commando Merlin crews have also been undertaking the Joint Personnel Recovery (JPR) role, working alongside Royal Marine Ground Extraction Force personnel from Lima Company, 42 Commando.
The CHF will provide an enduring capability in support of the Carrier Task Group as well as providing a strategic rapid deployment, global contingency capability in support of the LCG.
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