The United Kingdom’s (UK’s) Fleet Air Arm’s 846 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) was stood up at RAF Benson on 30 September with the AgustaWestland AW101 Merlin, while the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) 78 Squadron was disbanded.
As part of the UK’s 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the Merlin utility helicopters are migrating from the RAF’s Support Helicopter Force to the Royal Navy’s (RN’s) Fleet Air Arm’s Commando Helicopter Force.
The Commando Helicopter Force has, for 35 years, operated the Sea King HC.4, which is due to be retired in March 2016 when the Merlin takes over its role. The Sea King HC.4 is used primarily to transport the Royal Marines from ship to shore.
During his speech at the 78 Sqn Disbandment/846 NAS Standing Up Ceremony, RAF Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford said: “squadron disbandment these days are rare, but the handover of an aircraft type from one service to another is unheard of”.
Since 2012, 320 RN aircrew and engineers have been trained at RAF Benson on the Merlin, and the culmination of this is the standing up of 846 NAS. It will now work alongside 28 (AC) Sqn, the remaining RAF Merlin unit, until it relocates to the Royal Naval Air Service base at Yeovilton in early 2015. The second Fleet Air Arm unit, 845 NAS will stand up on the Merlin in 2015, and 28 (AC) Sqn will be disbanded.
All 25 of the ex-RAF helicopters will now also undergo a GBP455 million (USD737 million) Merlin Life Sustainment Programme by AgustaWestland to prepare them for maritime operations.