Procurement: Canada Seeks To Lease Salvation

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February 4, 2008: Canada is seeking to lease Predator UAVs and CH-47 helicopters to support their combat troops in Afghanistan. Canada currently has 21 Sperwer UAVs, but these are not as capable as the U.S. Predator, which can stay in the air twice as long, is more reliable and flies higher. Predator can also carry missiles, to hit targets that might otherwise get away. The Predators cost three times as much as the $2.6 million Sperwers, and the Canadians don't want to buy a bunch of them just for the Afghanistan operations (which might end, at least for the Canadian troops, in a year or so). The U.S. manufacturer of the Predator, General Atomic, is currently selling all the Predators it can produce. Israel has some similar UAVs, and seems a more likely source of leased aircraft. But the Canadian commanders have seen the Predator in action, so the Israelis have a tough sales job ahead of them.

Getting some CH-47s to lease may be even more 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. Moreover, the largest user, the U.S. Army is in the midst of refurbishing its fleet of CH-47 transport helicopters. That will produce a fleet of 513 CH-47F helicopters (including 397 rebuilt CH-47D choppers, 55 new ones plus special versions.) The program makes the rebuilt machines good for another twenty years of service. The F model CH-47 has up-to-date digital communications, is easier to maintain, and cheaper to operate. The 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 2.5 hours.

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 upgrade rebuild. Canada might have a better chance if they bought new Chinooks. Such a deal has been in the works for years, but new CH-47F's cost about $35 million each, and Canadian legislators don't want to spend a lot of money on new military helicopters.

A possible alternative for the Canadians may be leasing Russian helicopters. This is a second best situation, since the Russians don't have anything quite like the CH-47.

 


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