Friday, February 17, 2006

Going Dutch, if we go at all

Babble on.

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.

Babble off.


At 11:52 a.m., Blogger Mark said...

What can you say except

At 2:49 p.m., Blogger Chris Taylor said...

I am such a cynic when it comes to DND procurement. We have such a history of speccing GM, testing Ford, and buying Yugo.

Pave Low would be awesome, but they'll never go for it. They'll steal some high-time birds from the CH-149 Cormorant program, refit them as transports, and call that heavy lift.

I expect they'll do the same for strat-lift; instead of buying some battle-tested C-17s, I'll bet they buy a bunch of old A310s from some charter airline and call it strat-lift.

Keep your fingers crossed for the good stuff. I hope the Hon. Gordon "Per Diem" O'Connor proves me wrong.

At 3:01 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Yes, Chris, you're a hopeless cynic, but with good reason given CF history.

I, on the other hand, am a hopeless optimist. When it comes to the CF, I'm like Charlie Brown, and the Canadian government is Lucy with the damned football.

Hopefully our recent change of government has replaced Lucy with Peppermint Patty, and none of us will have to end up on our ass wondering how we could be so stupid yet again.

At 4:34 a.m., Blogger BBS said...

I'm afraid I'm with Chris on the helos. I wouldn't be surprised to see some form of bastardized Cormorant. I am holding out hope on the strategic airlift though.

At 9:35 p.m., Blogger John the Mad said...

Tiny Holland has heavy chopper airlift capacity provided to it by Canada. Canadian soldiers, in harm's way, have no chopper airlift capicity. When they do get it, it will be refitted Sea Kings that once hovered over the ark of the covenant in the time of Abraham.

I'm with Mark.



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