Photos: British Chinook helicopters join NATO battlegroup for Winter Camp

British Chinook CH-47 support helicopters currently deployed in Estonia are joining the country's NATO enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroup to take part in Winter Camp, an annual two-week exercise led by the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF).

As this year's Winter Camp gets underway, the Chinook helicopters have been transporting French mountain commandos and practicing unusual underslung-load maneuvers with NATO Battlegroup Estonia's attached engineering squadron, according to a press release.

Underslung loads involve the helicopter using a winch and cargo hook system to lift and hang equipment attached underneath the belly of the cab and transport it distances of up to 750 kilometers.

For the first time in Estonia, the CH-47 practiced moving a No. 12 Close Support Bridge (CSB), which is 13.5 meters long by 4 meters wide and weighs 6.6 metric tons.

The bridge itself can support all types of armored vehicles used by the Estonian battlegroup, from a French Viking and British Mastiff to a Danish Leopard 2 main battle tank, allowing the battlegroup to easily navigate boggy Estonian terrain.

This also means that military personnel can seamlessly operate without affecting civilian bridges or roadways.

According to Maj. Joshua Conway, commanding officer of the 3 Armored Engineer Squadron, seeing this novel work being conducted is highly rewarding for everyone involved.

"This work expands our technical expertise and provides additional options to commanders on the ground as we support the maneuver of ground forces," Conway said.

"This exercise is an excellent opportunity for our crews to carry out unusual and interesting tasks in a challenging environment," added Flt. Lt. Rosie Spencer, Joint Helicopter Support Squadron. "It was great to work with Royal Engineers with a complex underslung load. Certainly for me and my team out here, it was a load we haven't done before."

The bridge is typically laid by the Titan armored bridgelayer. The Chinook's bridge lift and maneuver capability, however, is particularly useful in Estonia, where flat, wetland topography can be prohibitive to heavy tank movement; it provides land forces speed and agility in reaching otherwise inaccessible areas, rapidly opening alternative routes in the rear for resupply.

The Boeing CH-47 Chinook is an American-developed tandem rotor, heavily-lift support helicopter that can be operated from land or ships into a diverse range of environments. The helicopter may be armed with miniguns and a machine gun and is fitted with self-defense equipment allowing it to operate across battlespace.

Chinooks are used primarily for trooping, resupply and battlefield casualty evacuation (casevac).

Winter Camp (Talvelaager) is an annual two week-long multinational exercise hosted by the 1st Infantry Battalion of the EDF aimed at bringing together the combined arms capabilities of NATO Battlegroup Estonia and the 1st Infantry Brigade.

Also incorporated into this year's exercise will be a surge of troops from the French Army as well as the deployed Chinooks from the Aviation Task Force (ATF) of the Royal Air Force (RAF).


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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