Going Dutch, if we go at all
This drives me completely nucking futz:
Some of the Chinook heavy-lift helicopters buzzing around the main coalition base in southern Afghanistan should look vaguely familiar to the Canadian soldiers deployed here: that's because the Dutch air force choppers used to belong to Canada.
The Chinooks were sold to the Netherlands in the 1990s as part of a defence cost-cutting measure and now the more than 2,000 soldiers in the Canadian battle group have to make do without the transport helicopters one pilot describes as "awesome machines."
1st Lieutenant Harry, a Royal Netherlands Air Force pilot who would not give his last name for security reasons, laughed when asked whether there was any chance the Canadians could get their helicopters back.
"I would prefer to keep them, thank you," he said with a smile. "They are very useful aircraft. In fact, the Netherlands is buying six more new ones.
"It's an awesome machine."
The idea that Canadian troops have to beg a ride on choppers we used to own and fly ourselves is enough to make my blood pressure spike. Not to mention the fact that we're forced to throw good money after bad refitting Sea Kings as troop transports to meet our domestic needs as a stopgap until we buy new.
Push the procurement, Minister O'Connor. And don't settle for medium-lift - we already have enough underpowered helicopters in the inventory, and sure as God made little green apples, the CF would ask a medium-lift chopper to pull heavy-lift duties. It's just not worth the aggrevation to try to cut corners on this one. And really and truly, renting from civilians is just plain embarrassing, not to mention extremely limiting from a tactical standpoint. (You gonna ask a civvie to fly combat missions? Yeah, didn't think so.)
So, what are our options for heavy-lift VTOL?
Well, first off, from a performance standpoint, the CH-47D (I'm not even going to get my hopes up over the Super-D or -J models, although...drool...), updated Chinook is the obvious and heavily-favoured candidate. The H-53 Stallion / Pave Low family of choppers is also a proven platform, and upgrades will be available longer than for the Chinooks. It would make our Cold Warriors cringe, but the massive Russian Mi-26 (Halo) is also an option, although a long-shot.
Tangential to this discussion, but as a point of interest, both the USMC and US Army are developing next-generation heavy-lift choppers. The Marine project works off the existing H-53 design, but the jump in projected specs is impressive. The Army Joint Heavy Lift initiative starts from scratch. Needless to say, neither would be available in the short-term for Canadian needs...but again, it's fun to dream. More practically, the Marine project should factor into our long-term considerations regarding the H-53.
Given last year's aborted three-in-one idea for purchasing new aircraft, I bet the heavy-lift chopper bid specs are in a filing cabinet somewhere close to Rick Hillier's office at NDHQ, available for review by our new MND within about thirty seconds should he ask. Dust them off. Pitter patter, sir.