The RAF Merlin Helicopter Force has reached its first anniversary of operations in Afghanistan.
In the last 12 months the Merlins have proved their worth transporting troops and resupplying them with essential ammunition, food and equipment.
During this time they have carried almost 40,000 troops and lifted over 750 tonnes of freight, providing a significant increase to the UK military helicopter capacity available to battlefield commanders.
The Merlin Force consists of personnel from 28 (Army Co-operation) and 78 Squadrons. They work alongside the Chinook, Sea King, Apache and Lynx helicopters already supporting Operation HERRICK as part of Joint Helicopter Force (Afghanistan).
Before arriving in Afghanistan in November 2009, the Merlin Force had been deployed in Iraq.
Commander Joint Helicopter Command, Rear Admiral Tony Johnstone-Burt, said:
The Merlin aircraft from RAF Benson are contributing significantly to the stabilisation effort in Afghanistan.
I have been enormously impressed by all the personnel involved, both during their training and when deployed on operations. Our aircrew, ground crew, logisticians and engineers and their helicopters in theatre are doing amazing things in extreme temperatures and in the face of a very determined enemy.
Squadron Leader Mark Biggadike, Second-in-Command of 78 Squadron, commanded C Flight in Afghanistan earlier this year. He said:
“It was a big challenge to get the aircraft from Iraq to Afghanistan but it was something that the Force as a whole rose to really well. It was also the first time I had commanded a helicopter detachment in quite such a hostile environment and it was good to see the Merlin making a difference in theatre - to the troops on the ground and indirectly to the overall effort.
I think the Merlin performed very well during their first summer operating in Afghanistan, and in those conditions. Working with the other aircraft types and integrating with all three Services out there was a very positive experience.
It’s nice to see it work as well as it does; it means that the concept of joint operations is alive and well and is very successful - Joint Helicopter Force (Afghanistan) is a prime example of that.
The Merlin is an all-weather, day-and-night, multi-role helicopter used in both tactical and strategic operational roles; performing tasks in Afghanistan which include picking up casualties and flying resupply missions.
The Merlin is able to carry a diverse range of bulky cargo, either internally or underslung, and has been transporting troops to and from forward operating bases and resupplying them with ammunition, food and equipment.
Cargo can include artillery, Land Rovers or light strike vehicles, and over five tonnes of freight.
The cabin can also accommodate up to 24 fully-equipped combat troops and, when required, will convert to carry 16 stretchers for casualty evacuation.