On completion of the final Sea King H C MK 4 Operational Training Course 848 Naval Air Squadron has been stood down. This is the latest step in the transition of the Commando Helicopter Force on to the Ex RAF Merlins which are being transferred to the Fleet Air Arm as a replacement for the Sea King H C Mk 4 which have been flown by the CHF since 1979. A number of Sea Kings have already been retired as part of the process with 846 NAS being stood down in March this years, as Sea King crews have gone to RAF Benson to begin conversion training. When the final Sea King H C Mk 4 is retired it will mark the end of the of the “Iconic” “Junglie” helicopter that has been deployed in response to every threat that the British Nation has faced in the last thirty five years having entered service with the Commando Helicopter Force with 846 NAS in December 1979.
846 Naval Air Squadron will re-equip with the Ex RAF Merlin H C Mk 3 as part of “The Merlin Transition programme”, which will see the transfer of command and service specific operating practises, is progressing in accordance with the endorsed plan” and will “see this transfer take place in the third quarter of 2014” according to a recent response published in Hansard by the Philip Dunne, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, whilst 845 NAS is currently flying the last eleven Sea King HC Mk 4 airframes providing the Royal Marines with contingent and amphibious Helicopter Support as part of Joint Helicopter Command.
By August 2015 845 NAS will begin to get its first Merlin H C Mk 3/3As and will operate a mixed fleet of Merlins and Sea Kings until with the final Sea Kings are withdrawn ahead of the March 2016 OSD(Out of Service Date).
The first Merlins will begin arriving at RNAS Yeovilton when 846 NAS returns to the station in 2015 from RAF Benson where 28 (Army Cooperation – AC) Squadron RAF has been delivering conversion training to CHF pilots since 2011. The transition will see the FAA with 37 fully trained Merlin crews as compared with the existing 43. By the early part of 2014 it is expected that 50% of the RNAS CHF engineering staff will have completed their conversion training at RAF Benson. During the coming February and March, RAF and RN crews will jointly deploy for the ‘Clockwork’ cold-weather and mountain-warfare training at RNorAF Base Bardufoss, which has been part of the CHF stamping ground since first deploying with the Royal Marines 1969.
The next step will be to see the Merlin H C Mk 3/3A returned to AgustaWesland to undergo a marinisation programme which will also address obsolescence issues and will see the aircraft emerge as Merlin H C Mk 4/4As from September 2017 through to March 2022.