UK extends Chinook deployment in Mali

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has once again extended the deployment of Royal Air Force (RAF)-operated Chinook HC5 helicopters and personnel to Mali.

Since 2018, three of the heavy-lift tactical transport helicopters and personnel from RAF Odiham, Hampshire, have been deployed in a non-combat logistical roles in Gao, Mali. The deployment is in support of French-led counterterrorism operations in the Sahel region of West Africa.

The MoD added that 250 personnel will be deployed to Mali later this year to join the UN peacekeeping mission in the region. This upcoming deployment is in response to a UN capability gap and will form part of a 12,500-strong international force which is scheduled to remain in the region for the next three years.

Chinook HC5 [MoD Crown Copyright] #1
A pair of Boeing Chinook HC5s create dust clouds on landing in the African desert. MoD Crown Copyright

UK Minister for the Armed Forces, James Heappey MP, said: “West Africa is as important to the UK as it has ever been and we have many friends and allies in the region who share our desire to promote peace and prosperity… Combating extremism in the Sahel is vital for the security of the wider region and the UK will play its part tackling the declining security situation.”

As part of the mission, RAF Chinook HC5s and their crews have moved more than 1,000 tonnes of cargo and over 12,000 passengers since the first three examples were deployed to Gao in July 2018. Last month, the deployed helicopters passed a milestone, having contributed more than 2,000 operational flight hours in support of the mission.

A total of eight Chinook HC5s are employed by the service, alongside 14 HC6s and 38 HC6As. These eight platforms were designated as HC3Rs before they received Boeing’s Digital Flight Control System (DAFCS) and upgraded avionics under Project Julius. The HC5 ‘fat tank’ variant of the CH-47 provides extended-range in comparison to its in-service counterparts, thanks to its larger fuel tanks.

The UK is currently seeking to procure 16 new-build Boeing CH-47F (Block II) Chinooks under the US’ Foreign Military Sale (FMS) programme.

A full report on deployed operations in Mali, including the RAF Chinook detachment, appears in the June issue of AirForces Monthly.