LONDON — The Royal Air Force is cranking up its Afghanistan withdrawal capabilities with the purchase and conversion of two BAE 146 jetliners for military cargo and passenger operations in theater.
BAE has been awarded a 15.5 million pound ($19.6 million) deal by the Ministry of Defence to convert the two commercial aircraft to a military configuration. The aircraft were purchased earlier in a separate 3.9 million pound transaction with commercial operator TNT Airways of Belgium.
Britain and its NATO allies are to withdraw combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, putting huge pressure on an already stretched RAF air bridge The airliner transactions are urgent operational requirements paid for by the Treasury rather than the MoD. The military requires delivery by March.
The RAF’s No. 32 Squadron operates two BAE 146s for VIP duties, including transporting the royal family. One of those aircraft has been active in Afghanistan.
In a statement, BAE said the two aircraft, which have large cargo doors, will be used to “augment in-theatre tactical aircraft numbers, particularly the Lockheed C130 Hercules force, during the upcoming extraction phase of the current Afghanistan campaign.”
The MoD has been considering retaining some of its aging C-130K fleet in service beyond the end of this year, rather than pensioning off the cargo planes as planned. The RAF will continue to operate the newer C-130J model for several years.
The actual conversion of the 146-200QC to military standards, including the fitting of defensive aids systems, is being undertaken by Hawker Beechcraft Services at Broughton, North Wales.