With aircraft already operating from HMS Queen Elizabeth the JHC is changing its role and future capability to support UK defence
The United Kingdom’s Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) operates the country’s fleet of more than 200 battlefield helicopters. Over the past five years, the JHC has transitioned from supporting counter insurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq to a rapid-reaction global contingency role in support of the UK’s Future Force 2025. JHC is now looking at how best to support the British Army’s new high-readiness warfighting division including the new mechanised Strike Brigades that were formed as part of Future Force 2025.
JHC is preparing for a range of contingency operations that are likely to be undertaken in contested and operationally degraded and demanding conditions across the full spectrum of warfare. JHC’s three core outputs remain supporting UK land forces, littoral manoeuvre (LitM), and special forces (SF).
In June, the latest Royal Navy (RN) AgustaWestland Merlin HC4 helicopters will enter service with the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF), and will embark onto the first of two RN Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers – HMS Queen Elizabeth (RO8) in August. JHC aircraft will support the carriers in their carrier strike and amphibious assault roles as part of JHC’s LitM capability.
Also in 2018, the British Army’s Thales Watchkeeper unmanned aircraft system (UAS) is expected to achieve full operational capability (FOC) and enter service with the army’s new Watchkeeper Force under JHC. This timeline is uncertain, however, as the Watchkeeper failed to gain a key flight safety certificate in late 2017, leading to officials refusing to sign the system's Release to Service clearance.
On the battlefield helicopter side, JHC separates its fleets into roles of lift, find, and attack. Lift comprises Boeing Chinook HC5/HC6/HC6A, Airbus Helicopters Puma HC2, AgustaWestland Merlin HC3/HC3A/HC4/HC4A helicopters. Find comprises Thales Watchkeeper UASs and the AgustaWestland Wildcat AW159 AH1 Battlefield Reconnaissance Helicopter (BRH).