Procurement: Canada Catches Chinooks


August 9, 2008:  Last February, Canada set up a deal to lease CH-47 ("Chinooked") 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. 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.

Canada is getting six of the older CH-47Ds before the end of the 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 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 (by the end of the year), a new sense of urgency developed.

So in the meantime, Canada has leased eight slightly smaller Mi-8 helicopters from an East European firm arriving in a few months, for one year of service. The leased choppers can only carry freight, except in emergencies, when they can also carry Canadian troops. Britain is under tremendous political and media pressure to do the same.



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