Air Transportation: Canadians Fly Russian In Afghanistan

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November 20,2008: Canada has begun using six leased Russian Mi-8 transport helicopters in Afghanistan. This is a stopgap until Canadian troops receive six leased U.S. CH-47F helicopters next year. The Mi-8s are being flown by retired military pilots, some with experience flying in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Russia is developing a replacement for its 40 year old Mi-8 (export versions are called Mi-17) transport helicopter. The new helicopter is the Ka-62. The Mi-8 is about twice the size and weight of 1960s era American UH-1, but only hauls about 50 percent more cargo (about 2.6 tons). However, the Mi-8 has a larger interior, and can carry 24 troops, versus a dozen in the UH-1. The UH-1 was replaced by the UH-60 in the 1980s, while the Mi-8 just kept adding better engines and electronics to the basic Mi-8 frame. But the UH-60, while weighing as much as the UH-1 (4.8 tons), could carry as much as the 12 ton Mi-8. However, the Mi-8 costs about half as much as a UH-60, and the larger interior is popular with many users. Nearly 3,000 Mi-17s have been exported.

The 6.5 ton Ka-62 can carry 2.7 tons. This can include 14 passengers (or ten fully equipped infantry). Like the Mi-8, the Ka-62 can also be equipped with weapons. The Ka-62 will be easier to maintain, safer to operate and more reliable than the Mi-8. First flight of the Ka-62 took place this year.

Last year, Canada set up a deal to lease CH-47 ("Chinook") helicopters to support their combat troops in Afghanistan. Getting some CH-47s to lease proved difficult. These helicopters are in great demand, because of their ability to move troops and cargo quickly and safely across combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Canada is getting six of the older CH-47Ds next year. This is actually a lease/purchase that will cost about $50 million per helicopter. In support of this, since last March, over a hundred Canadian pilots and maintainers have been training in the United States. Canada has also got on the waiting list for sixteen new CH-47Fs, which they should receive in about five years. The 22 ton CH-47D can carry up to 12 tons, or 55 troops. Cruise speed is 220 kilometers an hour and sorties usually last no more than three hours in the air.

The first CH-47s entered service in 1962, able to carry only five tons. Some 750 saw service in Vietnam, and 200 were lost in action. Between 1982-94, 500 CH-47s were rebuilt to the CH-47D standard. SOCOM operates 31 MH-47Ds and Es, which have additional navigation gear. These are being upgraded to MH-47F standards, and the fleet expanded to 61 helicopters. As a result of all this, the CH-47 will end up serving at least 75 years. The CH-47F upgrades and new builds will not be completed until 2018. That means a lot of these helicopters are tied up being rebuilt, while the others are working hard to support troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of these helicopters are then sidelined for extensive maintenance, in order to keep them operational until they can get the CH-47F upgrades done.

The Canadian military has, for years, tried to buy these helicopters, but new CH-47F's cost about $35 million each, and Canadian legislators didn't want to spend a lot of money on new military helicopters, at least not in peacetime. But with 4,000 Canadian troops in Afghanistan, a new sense of urgency developed. The helicopters  enable Canadian troops, and supplies, to be moved more quickly and safely (avoiding roadside bombs).

 


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