years decades ago, when I was a young major, I was posted to National Defence Headquarters (known to us as either Fort Fumble or Disneyland on the Rideau) to join the branch of the staff that was responsible for army operational equipment requirements. Our job, our boss, a gunner colonel, explained, was to figure out what deficiencies existed in the army in the field and then specify, in “performance” terms what was needed so that the engineers and procurement specialists could buy what we needed. The other key aspect of our job was to identify and fight (bureaucratically) for the money necessary to rectify the deficiency. It was a little more complex than that but, at its base, it was all about correcting deficiencies.
I suspect that the forthcoming operation is Mali is going to highlight a couple of key deficiencies in Canada’s army aviation community.
We are, I guess, going to send a mix of large Chinook cargo and smaller Griffon utility helicopters to Africa. One way of “seeing” those aircraft is like this:
The Griffon helicopter has only slightly more than ½ the operating range of the bigger, faster Chinook for which it is supposed to act as armed escort.
That didn’t matter much in Kandahar where distances were all well within the Griffon‘s operating range ~ the whole province is only about 300 km X 400 km, but it might matter a lot in Mali where distances are much greater ~ 1,500+ km X 1,750 km ~ beyond even the Chinook‘s range. The Chinook is a high value target for insurgents and terrorists: it needs an armed escort force. Our Canadian Griffon aircraft are good, given their technical capabilities and limitations, and their crews ~ pilots and door gunners ~ are amongst the very best in the world, but they may not be up to this job.
What I think Canada needs, if we are going to be serious about army aviation are:
- Yet more Chinooks ~ we only have one squadron of 12 machines plus a few maintenance and test aircraft and I fear that this mission, unless it is very short, is going to shorten the service life of those aircraft; and
- Attack helicopters to, among many tasks, fly proper escort for the Chinooks.
What kind of attack helicopter?
As with the replacement for the CF-18 I don’t know … and I don’t know for the same reasons: I’m neither a pilot nor an aeronautical engineer and I’m not privy to the latest technical intelligence nor to accurate cost data or performance specs or much of anything else that a team of pilots and engineers and financial analysts would need to make a good decision.
Here, however, is a list of some available attack helicopters with some limited data:
Attack helicopters are complex, expensive and I suspect, very politically sensitive. I also believe that attack helicopters are, often, paired with armed light observation helicopters which would, therefore, also need to be procured. Given this government’s evident lack of interest (based on the last few budgets) in defence I doubt there are several billions of dollars lying about loose for attack helicopters.
The Trudeau regime very quickly pulled the high cost/high performance CF-18s out of combat against Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS in the Middle East but now they are going back in the air business in Mali. They, the prime minister, the PMO, the cabinet and so on may think that flying cargo helicopters is a fairly safe mission but they forget that helicopters like the Chinook are far less agile than jet fighter and these things are all over the place, in the hands of rebels and terrorists …
… and they can be deadly against big helicopters. The Russians provided thousands and thousands of these weapons to Syrian forces; many were captured or stolen by or simply sold to Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS and they have moved on to other radical Islamist terrorist groups.
I do not believe the Trudeau regime thought this mission to Mali through; neither, it appears, do many of our key allies; I think they are just trying to put a check into a “promise kept” box … they must be getting pretty desperate to be seen to have kept at least one promise and this, telling the Canadian Forces to go somewhere and deliver supplies to others must have seemed like a safe bet.
My guess is that it isn’t safe, at all, and further, I’m also guessing that this mission will expose a serious deficiency in Canada’s defences and the military staff will be emboldened to talk about it … no matter how much their political masters try to shut them up.