NATO About to Lease Troop Helis for Afghanistan?
An Oct 24/07 report in Canada’s Globe & Mail claims that: “NATO plans to rent helicopters to resupply front lines and remote bases in southern Afghanistan – an unprecedented move that could reduce ground casualties even as it exposes the unwillingness of major European allies to send their choppers into dangerous, Taliban-infested areas.” Which may be partly explained by US Secretary of Defense Gates’ remarks, in a recent European speech:
“As it stands today, non-U.S. NATO nations have more than 2 million men and women in uniform, yet we struggle to maintain 23,000 non-U.S. troops in Afghanistan. This is partly a function of how NATO militaries are organized, and partly a matter of resources – but it is mostly a matter of will and commitment. The same is true for equipment and other resources. Consider that earlier this year the U.S. extended its Aviation Bridging Force in Afghanistan in Kandahar [DID: 20 CH-47 Chinook helicopters] because the mightiest and wealthiest military alliance in the history of the world was unable to produce 16 helicopters needed by the ISAF commander. Sixteen.”
While European defense budgets are low, this is a case of forces being available, but not provided by member states. Charters have already been used to try to fill some of those gaps, but this would be a new step…
Italy, who has Europe’s largest Chinook fleet (22-26 + 10 storage) has sent 2 to Afghanistan, for use outside of combat zones. Spain’s 18 Chinook “HT-17s” and Greece’s 15 CH-47Ds have also been notable by their absence. Other medium or larger helicopters able to operate in the hot-high altitude conditions of Afghanistan have also been scarce, with forces on the ground depending heavily on US, Australian, British, and Dutch Chinooks.
In response to NATO’s failure to meet promised commitments, charter airlift has been used to fill in for both basic helicopter supply flights and light aerial cargo flights within Afghanistan and central Asia. The US Department of Justice is also reportedly charters Russian Mi-17 helicopters to enforce its poppy eradication policies.
On the other hand, the charter of helicopters for battlefield transport duties is highly unusual and strewn with obstacles – as Britain found out when it investigated a public-private partnership approach to supply its future fleet (they ended up upgrading their Puma helicopters instead).
Given the market presence of the various options in global charter fleets, and the relative availability of the type on a rapid-acquisition basis, it seems most likely that NATO will end up chartering Mi-17s as battlefield transports. If it does, it will be interesting to see what insurance arrangements are made, and who will fly them.
- Globe & Mail (Oct 24/07) – Beleaguered NATO set to charter helicopters: decision would help protect Canadian troops
- CASR (October 2007) – Medium-Lift Helicopter -Mil Mi-17 (V5) Hip-H. Specifically addresses charter issues and likely costs.
- DID (Oct 30/07) – Saudis May Go Russian As France Loses Out. If the Saudis do indeed have around 150 Mi-17s and Mi-35 attack helicopters on order, rapid Mi-17 buys may become difficult.
- CASR (March 2007) – Sciroccos in Springtime? Substitute Chinooks for SW Afghanistan: Italian Chinooks in South West Asia and the Esercito CH-47 Fleet
- DID (June 30/07) – On The Verge: Canada’s $4.7B Program for Medium-Heavy Transport Helicopters. which won’t be available until at least 2010, and possibly later. Canada had sold its CH-47 Chinook fleet to the Netherlands in the 1980s, and its other helicopters are either too old to safely fly battlefield support, or too small to carry any kind of load in Afghanistan’s “hot and high” conditions.