RAF Chinooks record 3,000 flight hours in Mali operations

Boeing Chinook HC5/HC6/HC6A heavy-lift tactical transport helicopters assigned to the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) No 1310 Flight have recorded 3,000 flight hours in support of the French-led Operation Barkhane in Mali.

The passing of this significant operational milestone was announced by the RAF on June 2. Since July 2018, personnel and examples of the heavy-lift tactical transport helicopter have deployed to Gao, Mali, in a non-combat logistical role to support Operation Barkhane – a French-led counterterrorism mission in the Sahel region of West Africa.

RAF Chinook pops flares over Mali [MOD Crown Copyright/Flt Lt Andy Donovan]
A Royal Air Force-operated Boeing Chinook HC6 heavy-lift tactical transport helicopter releases flares as part of a systems test over a river in Mali on March 30, 2021. MOD Crown Copyright/Flt Lt Andy Donovan

In support of this, RAF Chinooks regularly conduct large-scale troop and vehicle movement, resupply, VIP transport and logistical support operations to French forward operating bases and desert locations across Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. While the Chinook mission to the region is known as Operation Newcombe by the British military, the examples assigned to No 1310 Flight have moved more than 1,500 tonnes of freight and over 18,000 French troops in support of Operation Barkhane since 2018.

The current detachment comprises helicopters, pilots and aircrew from No 27 Squadron, which is headquartered at RAF Odiham, Hampshire. The deployment is also being supported by personnel from across the air force, army and navy through the UK’s Joint Helicopter Command. The RAF states that “since arriving in mid-January 2021, the current detachment has transported over 1,000 soldiers while operating in temperatures over 45°C and [overcoming] frequent dust storms.”

Sqn Ldr Bennet, the current commander of the RAF detachment in the region (No 1310 Flight), said: “The crews and individuals who are deployed on Operation Newcombe have maintained a high tempo of operations throughout our time in theatre, delivering support to the French in their efforts to counter the militant Islamist threat.

RAF Chinook over Mali [MOD Crown Copyright/Flt Lt Andy Donovan]
Flight Sergeant (FS) Anderson from No 27 Squadron at RAF Odiham, Hampshire, mans the Chinook HC6A's 7.62mm M60D machine gun at the rear of the aircraft as it transits through Mali's Hombori mountains at sunset on March 23, 2021. MOD Crown Copyright/Flt Lt Andy Donovan

“This deployment has been particularly challenging due to COVID-19; however, our mitigations have kept the detachment 100% free of the virus, resulting in no lost sorties. In addition, the harsh conditions in which we operate have added a number of substantial technical issues, that test the engineers on a daily basis. Despite this, the team has managed to provide over 100 flying hours per month and so achieve our mission to support our French allies,” he added.

Last June, the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) announced that the RAF’s deployed Chinook force would remain in the region until 2023, where the heavy-lift tactical transport helicopter and associated personnel will continue to support the French mission through Operation Newcombe. In the second half of 2020, the UK deployed an additional 250 personnel to Mali in support of a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission to the region.