The British Royal Air Force (RAF) unveiled the first upgraded Chinook helicopter of a planned new fleet this week. The helicopters are part of the country's $1.7 billion (1 billion pounds) campaign to strengthen their military force.
The new Chinook Mark 6, a helicopter that U.K. Secretary of Defence Philip Hammond calls "the battlefield workhorse of the RAF," will bring the British helicopter fleet to 60 — the largest in Europe.
The RAF ordered 14 upgraded Chinook helicopters in 2011 — a time when the British were fighting in Afghanistan and there were calls for more heavy-lift helicopters, reported BBC News. All 14 Chinooks will be delivered to the RAF by the end of 2015, according to the U.K. Ministry of Defence. [Supersonic! The 10 Fastest Military Airplanes]
The RAF is relying on the aircraft's improved hardware to provide a "significant uplift in helicopter capability" to support the army "on the front line for decades to come," Hammond said in a statement.
The new Chinooks boast increased safety and stability through a new digital automatic flight control system, giving pilots improved handling of the aircraft. Chinook helicopters are used for a range of military operations and peacekeeping efforts overseas.
The first Chinooks were designed and manufactured in the 1960s by Boeing, an American aerospace company that still manufactures the helicopters for the U.K..
"Chinook has proved itself time and again on operations, most recently in Afghanistan," Air Chief Marshal Pulford said in a statement. "The new Mark 6 variant will ensure the Chinook fleet is able to continue to play a key role in future operations, wherever they may be."
Pulford added that the new Chinook helicopters are some of the most advanced that the RAF have ever operated.
Caroline Wyatt, a BBC News analyst, believes the new helicoptersare a necessary addition to the British fleet, whether they are deployed for military operations, peacekeeping or humanitarian tasks. "All three services need to remain ready for whatever conflict they may be called on to intervene in at short notice," Wyatt said. "Assets such as Chinooks are among the most useful military assets for transporting troops and equipment to wherever they may be needed in the years to come."
Sign up for the Live Science daily newsletter now
Get the world’s most fascinating discoveries delivered straight to your inbox.