Wednesday, May 30, 2018

RCAF Griffons To Replace German Tiger Attack Helicopters in Mali

By: Daniel Maillet,
CAF Dispatch  

By August 2018 Canada will have "returned" to the United Nations Peacekeeping circle with some 250 members of Air Task Force Mali; which is expected to have two CH-147 Chinook helicopters and four CH-146 Griffons with door-gunner escort helicopters.

The mission is the deadliest of any United Nations peace operation, with 162 fatalities since it began in 2014.

Canada's deployment of an RCAF contingent is replacing the German Air Force's four UH-Tiger Attack helicopters and the Belgian Air Forces two NH90 medium-utility transport helicopters.

Image result for UH-Tiger Mali
Two German UH-Tiger Attack helicopters in Mali. 
The CH-147 Chinook is an upgrade for the Mali mission over the NH90. While the Chinook is slower and has a slightly shorter ranger - it can carry a much larger payload - more than double the payload of the NH90.

Canada's CH-146 Griffon Helicopters, on the other hand, are leading to questions about whether or not they can maintain the same level of security as the UH-Tigers. Prior to the Tiger's arrival in Mali; the Dutch Air Force had deployed Apache Attack helicopters as escorts. So the Griffon is a clear step-down.

Ted Campbell, a retired Senior Officer of the Canadian Armed Forces clearly expresses this concern. "[The] Griffon is a good helicopter and its crews, including the door gunners, are...much better than any aircrews anywhere on earth, but they do not have the “punch” of any attack helicopter." He goes on to say, "it is, of course, far to late to equip the Canadian Forces with attack helicopters for this mission."

Mr. Campbell is correct - here is a side-by-side comparison I compiled, as one does exist (because the Griffon is not considered by anyone except the RCAF as an "attack" helicopter)

Eurocopter UH-TigerBell CH-146 Griffon
Range: 800 kmRange: 656 km
Max Speed: 290 km/hMax Speed: 260 km/h
Ceilling: 14,000 ftCeilling: 20,000 ft
Max Takeoff: 13,000 lbsMax Takeoff: 11,900 lbs
Main Armament: 2x 30 mm (1.18 in) GIAT 30
Secondary Armament:  Multiple Options for
two outer hardpoint connections. This includes options for rockets and additional guns.
Main Armament: 2 x  7.62 mm M134D "Minigun";
or  2 x 7.62 mm C6 general purpose machine gun;
or  2 x .50 Cal (12.7 mm) GAU-21
Secondary Armament: None
Power Plant: 2 × MTU Turbomeca Rolls-Royce MTR390 turboshaft engines, 1.303 shp (958 kW) - EachPower Plant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6T-3D turboshaft engine, 1,250 shp (932 kW)

With the side-by-side comparison - it is clear that the Griffon, while it can operate a higher altitude, has little else in comparion to the UH-Tiger. The Eurocopter Tiger Attack helicopter is a far more versatile helicopter than the Griffon, and the twin engines make it far more powerful.

Image result for Griffon Door Gunner
Canadian Door Gunner sits back in his CH-146 Griffon helicopter over Afghanistan. Photo by: Sergeant Matthew McGregor, Canadian Forces Combat Camera© 2011 DND-MDN Canada
The Risks to RCAF Helicopters and Crew 

Additionally, something the Government of Canada is not highlighting is the very real risks involved in the Mali deployment. Last summer Germany lost a Tiger Helicopter, killing its crew of two.  This was not due to an attack by extremists, but an error in the auto-pilot settings.  This source of this error has not yet been located, but the Subsaharan climate could be to blame. RCAF Griffon pilots have experience in both Afghanistan and in Iraq, but the deserts of Mali are different than both those of Mesopotamia. Although General Vance considers the dry, dusty conditions of the terrain in Mali are similar to what the military has faced elsewhere.  Only four of the 160 fatalities have been associated with helicopter incidents. All of those had to do with mechanical failure of the aircraft and not with enemy or belligerent fire” according to Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance in an interview with Global News.

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