While Air Task Force Afghanistan stood down in August 2011, there is a part of its history that seems to have been forgotten...perhaps deliberately. The part that was forgotten...that the RCAF operated Russian Mil-17 helicopters.
Almost immediately in Canada's deployment to Afghanistan, the CAF realized that it was missing the medium-heavy lift helicopter its NATO allies had. A large percentage of casualties in Afghanistan to the ISAF forces came from IEDs. One way to deploy troops to a location and avoid IEDs along the way was through strategic medium lift helicopters. Canada did not possess such a capability - having only deployed our CH-146 Griffon escort helicopters.
Then CDS Gen. Rick Hillier called for the Conservative Government to look at acquiring a medium-heavy lift helicopter to carry troops and supplies into combat zones in Afghanistan. A modernized CAF would require such a capability for all future deployments. The government agreed, and the search was on.
Almost immediately, the then Minister of Defence Peter MacKay announced that Canada would purchase the Boeing CH-47 D Chinook Helicopter. While it waited for deliveries of new helicopters, it would lease several from the US Military.
The lease agreement took some time to negotiate, and the leased CH-47's would not be immediately available - therefore Canada would need to find an interim solution.
That solution came with the Russian built Kazan Mil-17-V5 helicopters. In 2009 the Conservative cabinet quietly agreed to lease the "Hip" helicopters as NATO has code-named them for use in Afghanistan, according to a 2010 CBC news article.
The Mil-17-V5 is the export version of the Mil-8MTV-5. The cabinet agreed to lease 6 of these helicopters; of which the RCAF took delivery and operated 4, which was designated CH-178. The government was able to keep the deal quite until November 2010 when photos emerged of the Mil-17's flying in RCAF paint schemes for Afghanistan. The media began asking questions, and the government announced that in fact it was operating four of the helicopters as a stop-gap in Afghanistan, and had been since May/June of 2010.
|An RCAF identified Mil-17-V5 (CH-178) operating over Afghanistan in 2010. (#178405)|
The government had previously leased 6 civilian Mil-8s from SkyLink Aviation of Toronto. SkyLink is known to lease its fleet internationally for peacekeeping, and humanitarian purposes. This lease agreement started in November of 2008. Unlike these 6 civilian Mil-8's which were operated by civilian crews under strict rules. The Mi-8s were only used to transport cargo. While the Mil-17s were fully outfitted with weaponry and flown and crewed by CAF members into combat situations.
What happened to these aircraft after their use in Kandahar? There are reports that at least 3 of the 4 Mil-17s were airlifted top Graf Ignatievo Air Base in Bulgaria in August of 2011, with the Canadian markings covered in tape.
|An RCAF identified Mil-17-V5 (CH-178) operating over Afghanistan in 2010. (#178407)|
The archived RCAF Air Task Force Afghanistan webpage does not even acknowledge that the RCAF flew Mil-17s. It only lists the leased civilian Mil-8s under its Canadian Helicopter Force Afghanistan.
Also, on the RCAF's webpage, under its Historical Aircaraft no Mil's are mentioned or listed at all. Some would say that this is because the aircraft we leased. But the CT-156T Harvard II and CT-155 Hawk flown Moose Jaw are listed and they are leased.
The only visible mention of the RCAF's use of the Mil-17-V5 CH-178 was odly on Twitter by the RCAF in October 2016 during one of it's quiz Tweets; where it stated that the Mil-17's were flown by 427 Special Operations Air Squadron in Afghanistan.
The answer to yesterday’s quiz. The Mi-17-V5 helicopter was flown by 427 SOAS in Afghanistan. #CANSOFCOM pic.twitter.com/Ljju1dNWlo— Canadian Forces (@CanadianForces) October 14, 2016
So is misplaced pride the reason why the RCAF and CAF do not recognize the fact that it operated Mil-17s between 2010 and 2011? Or is it the fact that the CAF swore not to fly "Russian" aircraft? Or is it the fact that these were the first Russian aircraft operated by the RCAF that they are not proud of?
Either way, the RCAF operated Russian built Mil-17-V5s designated as CH-178's in Afghanistan, and it is not recorded anywhere on the Canadian Forces webpage that they ever existed.