The U.K. Royal Air Force (RAF) Chinook helicopter fleet will receive a potential $648 million upgrade $408 million upgrade for RAF Chinooks in Afghanistan to include an approximately $203 million contract giving the whole Chinook fleet a significant boost by fitting a more powerful engine, enabling the Chinooks to operate more effectively in the hot summers and high altitudes of Afghanistan.

The cockpit enhancement program will see Boeing [BA]as the prime contractor, working with Thales UK and Vector Aerospace, which has long experience of Chinook maintenance and upgrade work. The new 714A engines, which will also be fitted by Vector Aerospace will be manufactured at Honeywell [HON] in the United States.

The new modern, fuel-efficient engines also mean that despite being more powerful, the fleet will be able to fly further without refueling and spend longer supporting the front line, before needing re-servicing.

In addition, Chinook pilots will also benefit from improved visibility, under a potential $445 million contract to fit Thales’glass cockpits, which will improve the capability of the aircraft under demanding low light conditions.

Speaking at the home of the Chinook fleet, RAF Odiham, the Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, Quentin Davies said: “The Chinook is the cornerstone of our helicopter support effort in Afghanistan. These improvements will increase its capability and ensure it can play an even more valuable role in supporting our forces and NATO coalition allies in tackling insurgency in Afghanistan. Upgrading the Chinook is part of a series of improvements to our battlefield helicopter force and is powerful evidence of our commitment and determination to give our Forces the very best equipment.”

Flight Lt. Dan Padbury, Chinook pilot on 27 Squadron based at RAF Odiham, who is currently flying Chinooks in Afghanistan, said the new engines also are a benefit: “It’s early days, but the new 714 engines have already performed as anticipated and will certainly increase our operational capability in theatres such as Afghanistan. Having flown a Chinook fitted with the new engines, I noticed a marked improvement in performance.”