In Mali, Canada’s flying pick-ups are no replacement for European helicopters
|Canadian Forces door gunner keeps watch as his Griffon helicopter goes on a mission, February 20, 2017 in northern Iraq. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz|
For the last four years the German peacekeeping contingents, as well as the preceding Dutch, have struggled though the military and political quagmire of Mali with heavily armed, combat-proven attack helicopters operated by specially trained crews.
Quite appropriate for what is already considered the most dangerous peacekeeping operation attempted by the UN in its 73-year history.
But Canada does not own any attack helicopters. Instead our aging Griffon utility helicopters will be taking on armed escort responsibilities alongside our larger Chinook transport helicopters. Griffons were never designed to be an attack helicopter except in a pinch.
So the question needs to be asked: if Canada is expected to carry on and match the efforts of the Germans and Dutch will we have comparable capability in our improvised “armed” helicopters or will our next round of UN peacekeepers have to engage, yet again, in that perennial Canadian military tradition of sending our military into harm’s way with far less than what our allies might provide to their forces?
National Defence Headquarters, perhaps predictably, would not respond to my requests for information on any possible armament, sensor, and protective devices being installed on our 22-year old utility helicopters. However during the Afghan and Iraqi deployments , when Canadian troops were under the protective shield of US and allied attack helicopters and fighter aircraft, our Griffons were occasionally photographed carrying a door gunner positioned in the aircraft’s opening with a C-134 machine gun.
This haphazard, Vietnam-era “gun in the door” protection is quite consistent with the Griffon’s purpose. The Griffon is classified as a Utility Tactical Transport Helicopter. Its primary role, according to the RCAF website is “transportation of troops and material” making it more of a flying pick-up truck as opposed to highly agile flying tank that is a modern attack helicopter.
We should be concerned because, in Mali we will be away from the protective, largely U.S military shield that our military, not to mention the Canadian public, have come to expect in recent years.
So what did the preceding Dutch and German contingents in Mali have by way of armed helicopter escort? What level of armed, combat capability would our improvised, souped up utility helicopters have to match?
From 2014 to 2017 the Royal Netherlands Air Force deployed A-64D Apache attack helicopters to protect its assets. The Dutch Apache is armed with a 30mm automatic Boeing M230 chain gun that has a rate of fire of 625 rounds a minute. It also has a Lockheed Martin/Boeing AGM-114D hellfire air-to-surface missile with a range of 8-12 km. Also, depending on the nature of the threat, the Dutch Apache can also be mounted with Hydra 70 general purpose rockets and the AIM-92 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.
Equally lethal, the standard armament for the German Tiger attack helicopter, currently exiting Mali, include a 30 mm cannon with a rate of fire of 750 rounds per minute. The Tiger can also be equipped 8 HOT Trigat anti-tank missiles, and 4 Stinger or Mistral short range air-to-air missiles. Also standard for the Tiger are two pods carrying 22 SNEB 68mm rockets.
Also impressive are the defensive countermeasure systems that are fitted to these flying tanks maximizing their survivability and effectiveness. These include, on both the German Tiger and the Dutch Apache a radar warning receiver, laser warning, and a chaff/flare dispenser. Crew survivability is also enhanced through the armoured protection given them a chance to make it back safely even after taking on enemy fire.
Could it be that Canada’s modified utility-transport helicopters, being deployed to Mali, are fitted with comparable armament and protection? Since we all know what the answer likely is the question then has to be asked: what level of additional support and compensation for our military weakness and vulnerabilities could we demand from the primary peacekeeping contingents in Mali which today are Burkina Faso, Chad, Bangladesh, Senegal, and Togo?
With Germany and the Netherlands out of the conflict, and the United States disengaged, it is from these country’s militaries that we will have to rely on once Mali’s Islamic militants realize that America’s most humble and obedient military servant (Canada) is facing them with utility transports posing as attack helicopters.
Welcome back to peacekeeping Canada!
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