The RAF and Royal Navy have officially completed the transfer of the Merlin HC.3/3A troop transport helicopter force following a ceremony held at RAF Benson earlier this week. The last 25 of the RAF’s helicopters operated by No.28 (Army Cooperation) Squadron were handed over to the Royal Navy’s No.845 NAS on the 9th of July. No.28 (Army Cooperation) squadron has now been re-formed as the RAF’s Chinook and Puma operational conversion unit based at RAF Benson but as No.28 (Reserve) Squadron.
The plan to transfer the aircraft came as a result of the 2010 Strategic Defence & Security Review under the coalition government of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties and was intended to keep the Royal Navy’s transport helicopter force operational as the Royal Navy’s Commando HC.4s reach the end of their operational lives in March 2016. As part of the transition the Merlins will undergo a £445m upgrade program known as the Merlin Life Sustainment Programme which as well as prolonging the life of the aircraft will also make them more suitable to naval operations and will include features from the naval Merlin HMA.2 such as folding main rotors and tail boom for stowage aboard a carrier.
To make up the shortfall in RAF rotary transport up to 14 new Chinook HC.6 heavylift helicopters are to be acquired.