A different sort of self inflicted wound: Canada’s helicopter follies

The category of promises made but, maybe, not quite kept, might be where we might put Team Trudeau‘s UN peacekeeping mission to Mali, according to a report by Melissa Kent ar2009-0059-08-tnon CBC News site. Ms Kent says that UN officials do not believe that Canada will be able to keeps its promise if it send only two green giant Chinook transport helicopters and four, smaller and only lightly armed Griffon helicopters because “”A helicopter is not like a car. They have planned maintenance,” said a UN official familiar with the talks. ”Therefore, in order to have two available on a daily basis you would need three” … [and] … The UN will meet with a delegation from Canada on Wednesday to discuss the mission’s operational requirements, including the availability of two transport helicopters on a daily basis, the official told CBC News … [further] … Germany, which Canada will be replacing in Mali, deployed four NH90 transport helicopters to make sure it had two operational on a daily basis. But that may have had more to do with the fact the NH90 is so new and had never been deployed into the desert, the official said … [but] … The Chinook, on the other hand, is a workhorse that’s been in operation for decades. Its quirks and reliability issues in harsh conditions are well known.

I don’t know enough about helicopter maintenance to say how many (more than two) are necessary, but I do know that all aircraft maintenance involves lots of “down” time for inspections, routine replacement of some parts, overhauls and other, routine, scheduled  maintenance procedures. We’ve all, I’m sure, flown on commercial airliners often enough to understand that “snags” are routine and may take anywhere from 15 minutes to days to resolve. IF we did, indeed, promise to to have two Chinooks available (almost) all the time then I’m quite sure that we will need to send three or four. Ditto, I suspect, for the armed Griffon escort machines.

My guess is that the commitment to Mali was made by politicians and senior political staffers aided, somewhat by officials from the Foreign Affairs department and with some inputs from the Canadian Forces. But I suspect that, as is normal, no one, including the high ranking admirals and generals in our bloated military HQs bothered to ask the colonels and warrant officers in the aerospace engineering and maintenance branch what was really needed … the “master of the universe” who wear combat uniforms in their big, carpeted, air conditioned offices so that they will “feel operational” rarely bother to seek expert advice ~ they just assume that the logisticians and engineers will clean up after them.

The UN is not impressed with the armed Griffon as a combat escort for the Chinooks which will be attractive targets, especially when they are on the ground being loaded or Screen Shot 2018-04-24 at 09.02.27unloaded. “El Salvador will provide ground troops with aerial cover … [Melissa Kent says] … The small Central African [she meant Central American ~ sloppy editing] nation is supplying six U.S.-built MD500 attack helicopters — two air-cover units consisting of three helicopters … [and] … One of the units has been in Timbuktu in the country’s north since 2015. Another trio will deploy in July and is expected to work alongside Canada at the UN mission’s base in Gao, in northeast Mali … [but] … The UN would also like to ask Canada to allow the Griffons to do double-duty as light transport helicopters, with El Salvador providing the escort. That is also expected to come up at Wednesday’s meeting.” It is beyond embarrassing when a small, poor Central American nation must be asked to provide second rate attack helicopters (they are, actually, just armed versions of a fast “scout” (reconnaissance) helicopter) because d31b0643ef14edebd06f4d8e77240fb9successive Canadian (Conservative and Liberal) governments have been too afraid of public reaction and too damned unconcerned about equipping the military to provide the Canadian Forces with modern army aviation ~ our Griffons entered service over 20 years ago as utility helicopters. Generations of defence ministers ~ Conservative and Liberal, going back to the late 1980s when I know, with 100% certainty that an operational requirement for an attack helicopters made its way, part way, through national defence headquarters before dying somewhere around the minister’s office ~  need to hang their heads in shame … so do generations of admirals and generals who didn’t speak out, at least after retirement. It’s a bloody disgrace.

I was told, a few years ago, by a (retired) senior civil servant, whose word I take as gospel on such matters, that the very words attack helicopter (rather like assault rifle) cause politicians to run and hide. It isn’t the cost that bothers them, he said, it is the AH_61“image” the very words conjure up in the minds of constituents and no one wants to try to correct the nonsense that most constituents believe. Even if the (too many and too highly ranked for our tiny military force) Canadian admirals and generals could agree amongst themselves where an armed or attack helicopter might fit into their various “empires” and even if a modest cheap one was available, it seems that Canadian officialdom cannot cope with the idea, much less the actual machine.

Ms Kent’s report concludes that “Germany, meanwhile, will continue to have soldiers in Mali providing ”intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance” confirmed Peter Neven, a spokesperson at the German Mission to the UN. But the country’s helicopter contribution will come to an end June 30 … [but] … Canada has said its aerial task force won’t be operational until August … [and] … Sources within the UN’s peacekeeping department have said contingency plans are already in place, and that arrangements have been made with private contractors to fill any operational gaps that month … [and, further] … ‘‘I hope they can come to an agreement, so there is no gap between the Germans’ departure and the arrival of the Canadians,” said the head of MINUSMA, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, during a media briefing at UN headquarters earlier this month.

So, Team Trudeau, which dithered about this mission for two years, thought it was being clever in picking a (seemingly) safe and cheap UN mission ~ one sincerely hopes there will be no flag draped coffins coming home from Gao. But now, we, Canada, are be lectured by some UN bureaucrats because we don’t have the “right” equipment ~ NOT Team Trudeau‘s fault ~ we need to get El Salvador to provide that, and we are not sending enough of what we do have, and even that will be late ~ which is Team Trudeau‘s fault. Too little, too late, it’s amateurish … for shame!


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