Less than three years after establishing an Air Wing in a combat zone (Afghanistan), Canada is seeking buyers for the Wing's major asset, five recently purchased CH-47 medium transport helicopters. Canadian troops are leaving Afghanistan later this year, and the government feels there is too little use for the CH-47s in Canada, nor any likely use for them in future peacekeeping operations. Canada spent over $250 million to buy six CH-47s for use in Afghanistan, and one was later lost to ground fire.
The Canadian Air Wing has six leased Russian made Mi-8 transport helicopters, five U.S. made CH-47 transport helicopters and eight Canadian made CH-146 armed transports to escort the larger choppers. The Wing has about 450 personnel form aircraft maintenance and support.
A primary function of the choppers was to keep Canadian troops off the roads, where half the casualties have been suffered because of roadside bombs. Previous to the establishment of the Wing, the 2,500 Canadian troops had much less access to helicopter transport than their American or NATO allies fighting in the south. This was the first time, since the Korean War (1950-53) that Canadian forces had established an Air Wing in a combat zone.
The 22 ton CH-47F can carry ten tons of cargo, or up to 55 troops, and has a maximum range of 426 kilometers. Its max speed is 315 kilometers an hour. Typical missions last no more than three hours. So far, no other NATO country in Afghanistan has expressed any interest in buying the five CH-47s, so they may return to Canada after all. Canadian aviation officials believe the CH-47s would be too expensive to maintain, even if used for search and rescue operations in Central Canada (especially in the Rocky Mountains, high altitude terrain similar to Afghanistan.)