Canadian American Strategic Review



 A  Modest

In Detail

DND 101
Sea King

DND 101

Background  —  CF Helicopter  –  CH-124  Kandahar Troop-Carrier?

Sea King Troop Carriers for Kandahar?  –  a 'Bad Penny' Returns Yet Again
You can't keep a juicy rumour down. Media reports are suggesting once again that that some of  Canada's geriatric Sea King shipboard  helicopters might  be deployed to provide support  for CF troops in Afghanistan. The response from the Air Force is: "We're not sending Sea Kings...what's going to be decided in the future, I can't speculate on". Since that was exactly the sort of denials made to journalist received prior to Leopard tanks going to Kandahar, skittishness in the media is understandable. But let's remember what started all these rumours.

When the CF  began planning for its 2005 deployment to Kandahar,  it was immediately obvious that Canadian air support – particularly transport/supply helicopters would be completely lacking. A CF medium/heavy lift helicopter was planned but still some ways off. In the absense of an acceptable alternative, planners mused about using Sea Kings in-theatre but,  by the summer of  2005, the CDS had nixed this idea on the grounds that the old CH-124  lacked the needed 'hot and high' performance. What Gen. Hillier really wanted was the Boeing Chinook. This aircraft is in demand and  the Air Force made it clear to Boeing that it wasn't interested in rebuilt Chinooks.  As CF casualties mounted, a lease arrangement was attempted but Boeing declined in September of 2006. An in-theatre exchange was arranged (with the Dutch) but the urgency rises.

"...If you need me, let me know, gonna be around ..."
Adding to the confusion  was  the  return to service of  five Sea Kings  refurbished as CF  troop carriers. With Canadian troops engaged in combat but DND still far from aquiring Chinooks, the media assumed that there must be a connection. When these newly refurbished Sea Kings trained with troops about  to deploy to Kandahar, this link seemed even stronger. However, these 5 Sea King were already spoken for.

The CF has used their shipboard Sea Kings on occasion as ad hoc troop transports (and convoy escort missions in Somalia). But the 5 troop-carrier conversions were not meant  for operational use. These are interim aircraft to proof ship-to-shore ferry operations by Canadian special ops troops  –  indeed, such missions are to be tested in November 2006.[1]

Commando Prescedents for the "Army's" Sea Kings
Further afield,  Sea Kings are widely used for carrying troops. To augment  Royal Navy Sea King  transports, the British converted obsolete ASW Sea Kings for the role in exactly the same manner that  the CF did with its CH-124B-2 – out go the old avionics, in go seats. Some claim that CF Sea Kings would be suited to a supply role in Kandahar. [2] But, while some allies use Sea Kings for that role in Afghanistan, DND contracted Mi-8s instead. Perhaps just as well considering the age of the CF's Sea Kings!

[1] Four of the Sea Kings will practice ship-to-shore operations from the USS Gunston Hall, a USN amphibious assault ship, The exercise is intended to expose the CF's high-readiness Standing Contingency Task Force to amphibious operations (accompanied by US Marines)
[2] In a CP article (Aging choppers headed to Kandahar?, Murray Brewster, 25 Oct 06), former CF helicopter pilot, Col (Ret'd) Larry Wha, is quoted saying that "the aircraft is very capable of operating in that environment" while voicing concerns about  the CH-124's armament and  levels of  protection from ground fire. Sea Kings routinely carry door-mount C6 machineguns and defensive aids suites can be fitted.

Photo Credits — troop-carrier side view: Stephen Priestley, other images: Canadian Forces / Dept. of National Defence (except as noted )