The UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has confirmed that the UK will acquire 14 new CH-47ER Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, following negotiations between the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) procurement arm – Defence Equipment & Support – and the US Government.

In a 14 March release, the MoD stated that the negotiations had reduced costs “for elements” of the programme by more than £300m ($382m), ensuring “value for money” while providing the UK Armed Forces with a “cutting-edge” heavy lift capability.

“The Chinook is one of our most iconic aircraft, having been operated in every major conflict since the Falklands War. Delivering on this deal not only enhances our capability, but will boost UK industry and skills,” Shapps said, with the MoD stating that the new deal would also see £151m “pumped” into the UK economy, without elaborating.

With the announcement, the decision by Shapps appears to conclude a long-running programme by the UK to acquire the helicopters, which has been hit by apparent increases in costs and delays. It also ends the prospect of the UK withdrawing from the deal, as threatened by former UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

Wallace stepped down from the MoD in 2023, succeeded by current incumbent Grant Shapps.

What will the CH-47ER Chinook provide?

The Extended Range (ER) variant of the long-serving US-designed helicopter is among the most advanced of the family, offering size, weight, and power (SWaP) benefits over older versions.

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The ER variant has double the range of a standard Chinook and is capable of air-to-air refuelling, with the ability to carry up to 55 personnel or 10,000kg of cargo. The twin-rotor aircraft are able to reach speeds of 300km/h.

However, the acquisition has not been without difficulty, with more than two and a half years going by since the UK was revealed to be intent on the acquisition of 14 CH-47ER helicopters, thought to cost in the region of £1.4bn, or £100m per helicopter.

Later estimates put the cost of acquisition at over £2bn, potentially as high as £2.3bn, with the latest announcement not disclosing the new value of the re-negotiated deal.

It was reported last month that a decision was due on the acquisition, with James Cartlidge, UK Defence Procurement Minister, stated on 15 February that a review note for the programme was “due to be assessed by the Ministry of Defence Investment Approvals Committee in Quarter 1 2024”, which would in turn inform any future decisions in the acquisition.

UK Chinook acquisition hit by delays

Reported in 2023, the UK agreed to defer the delivery of the helicopters due to financial concerns resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, with a three-year delay approved in order to meet future British Army capability requirements.

According to official figures published in December 2023, aircraft deliveries are due to start from 2027.

In a written parliamentary answer on 25 May last year, Cartlidge stated the UK “remained committed” to the acquisition the CH-47ER platforms, but that the delivery schedule was “currently subject to review to ensure defence requirements were best met”.

In October 2023, Cartlidge said that the MoD “acknowledged” and were “working to resolve” CH-47(ER) cost growth. According to official UK figures, as of December 2022 the country’s military operated 59 Chinooks across the fleet.

It has also been revealed that 14 older CH-47 airframes will be retired from the fleet as the ER variants are inducted into service. With the 14 ER platforms predominantly dedicated for special forces, this means regular forces will see a reduction in available aircraft numbers.