NATO~ISAF – Multinational Helicopter Unit
– Southern Afghanistan – April 2008
Turning the NATO Helicopter Trust Fund Scheme
into a Field Force:
How to Create a New ISAF Multi-National Helicopter Unit
Commentary by Lieutenant-Colonel James Dorschner (US Army
Reserve, Ret. ) 
Update: it was revealed in late Nov 2010 that Canadian Forces personnel
in Afghanistan were crewing leased Mi-17-V5s as CH-178s. DND has confirmed CF crews but little else. Serials are
known (178004-'007) and it appears that the 4 CH-178s have delivered CF troops into combat.
[Ed: At the Bucharest NATO summit, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown initiated an Anglo- French
scheme to create a new NATO Helicopter Trust Fund. This proposal is a variation on the
theme of NATO members sharing capital when they are unable or unwilling to commit equipment or troops to a
given deployment. Mr. Brown's scheme now has ten participants.
Lt-Col Dorschner has observed that potential aircraft for Mr. Brown's Helicopter Trust Fund are not restricted
to Russian-built medium-lift helicopters of 'new NATO'. There are under- utilized
Chinooks within NATO – both Greece  and Spain  have fully-modern CH-47D
Chinooks. Italy has CH-47s  but there are complications not the least of which is
There are also CH-47 opportunities outside NATO. Australia, with its fleet of Army Aviation 'Chooks'
and 'F models on order, is said to be onboard with Mr. Brown's Helicopter Trust
Fund. Another possible candidate is Singapore – the RSAF having 18 upgraded CH-47SDs.
For the purposes of this article, however, Lt-Col Dorschner will address the medium-lift heli- copter
strength of newer NATO members. How might such opportunities be taken up as part of the Helicopter Trust Fund to
create a new multi-national helicopter unit available to ISAF?]
ISAF Multi-National Helicopter Unit (IMNHU) – Envisioning a Scenario with NATO Mils
If enough money was pumped into the Helicopter Trust Fund for Afghanistan proposed by British Prime
Minister Gordon Brown – say US $75-to-100 million – NATO could establish a
helicopter wing with the International Security Assistance Force. This ISAF Multi-national Helicopter Unit or IMNHU
would require at least six medium-lift aircraft, support equipment and logistics at an in-theatre
Forward Operating Base (FOB), plus common training in Europe.
Currently, the United States, Britain, the Netherlands, and Australia all have Chinooks based at
Kandahar Airfield. These CH-47s are overstretched and it seems unlikely that others could be in-theatre by this
summer. The only NATO medium-lift helicopter available to augment the hard-pressed Chinooks are Mils. Older
Mi-8s require too much refurbishing and updating to warrant the effort. However, there are newer Mil Mi-17s in
Eastern Europe and in the Balkans.
Most recent of the Mils are ten new Mi-171Sh models  now being delivered to the Croatian Air Force –
the HRZ PZO or Hrvatsko ratno zrakoplovstvo i protuzračna obrana. These
aircraft are largely equipped with Western electronics. However , Croatian Mi-171Shs would still
require improvements to make them safe and survivable on operations in
The improvement list may include verifying and upgrading the defensive aids suite, installing additional ballistic
protection, crashworthy crew and cabin seating, and cargo handling gear. Two side-door machinegun mounts
would be required with another weapon on the rear ramp.
Aircrew should be issued standardized equipment. This would include: night-vision goggles, helmets, flight suits,
body armour, air crew vests and personal survival radios, and personal weapons. Ground Support Equipment
needs include: small tractors/tugs, ground power units, maintenance work stands, test equipment, tools and spare
parts, spare engines and rotors. 
What is the Simplest Approach to Creating a new ISAF Multi-National Helicopter Unit ?
The simplest approach would be either buying Croatia's ten Mi-171Shs outright or assuming ownership and paying
for a replacement order – similar to the deal by which the UK obtained six Merlin HC.3s [EH-101s similar
to the Canadian Forces CH-149 Cormorants] from Denmark and will then pay for six replacement Merlins
for Denmark from the makers, AgustaWestland.
Taking over control of the Croatian Mi-171Shs would provide ISAF with a capable core force of six aircraft. The
remaining four aircraft would remain at an Operational Training Base (OTB) in Europe where the follow-on IMNHU
detachments would conduct pre-deployment training. Commonly-trained detachments could fall-in for successive
rotations through 2011 if needed.
The four OTB aircraft would also constitute spares to ensure there is no loss of capability in Afghanistan should any
IMNHU helicopters be lost or require evacuation for maintenance.
Experince and Training — Manpower to Crew the ISAF Multi-National Helicopter
How would the IMNHU be staffed ? Croatian crews have considerable experience on Mils – the type having
been in service almost from the inception of the HRZ PZO, some personnel having worked with Mi-8s
(HT-40) while still with the former Yugoslav Air Force (JRV). Other new members of NATO have similarly
experienced personnel but not necessarily newer Mils. This raises the possibility of the IMNHU complement
composed of multi-national personnel.
For example, Croatian and Hungarian personnel could take the first IMNHU rotation. Czech and
Slovak personnel could take the next, with subsequent rotations by other candidates
with Hip [Mi-8 and Mi-17] experience. That list includes Finland, Bulgaria, Ukraine, the Baltic states [
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania], Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Macedonia.
A standardized IMNHU detachment pre-deployment training and work-up program of about twelve weeks could
take place in Croatia with assistance initially from Czech instructor pilots, maintenance personnel and a NATO
tactical helicopter Operational Training & Liaison Team.
A mountain flying training phase for the IMNHU could take place in neighboring
Given the timeline required to deploy the initial rotation of Croatian Mi-171Shs – which would have difficulty
getting adequately prepared before late autumn of 2008 – there may be a need to deploy an all-Czech
Mi-171Š detachment sooner. If deployed this summer, the initial Czech detachment could also establish the FOB
while developing standard operational procedures. The operational procedures for Afghanistan could then
be applied back at the Croatian OTB.
A cadre of Croatian and Hungarian personnel from the first multi-national rotation could visit the Afghan FOB
for in-theater familiarization with the Czechs. And that is the key advange of this approach. Each IMNHU
multi-national rotation would be followed by the next in a seam- less progression. Such an ISAF
Multi-National Helicopter Unit scheme is patently 'do-able'.
 Lt-Col Dorschner was with the US Army's Military Intelligence Branch ( Special Forces and
Special Operations Forces). Currently, he works for Jane's Defense Weekly as a Special
Correspondent. Previously, Jim outlined the possibilities of the CHAPS program for the CF.
 Greek Army Aviation (Eliniki Aeroporia Stratou) has 15 CH-47s in service with 4 TEAS
(Tagma Elikopteron Aeroporias Stratou). Nine are Italian-built helicopters now brought up to
CH-47DG standards. The other seven "Sjnoyk" are recently-delivered CH-47SDs. The new "Super
'Ds" were ordered specifically because of their improved 'hot-and-high' performance.
 Spanish Army Aviation (FAMET) has 18 CH-47D Chinooks or HT.17s in service with the Batallón
de Helicópteros de Transporte V at Madrid. These helicopters were all modernized in the US between
1991 and 2002. In the past, 'La Cinco' has been deployed to Kurdish Iraq.
 The Esercito Italiano has at least 22 CH-47s in active service. However, these are CH-47C models which
are undergoing an upgrade to full CH-47F standards at a rather leisurely pace.
 Mi-17 is the designation for export versions of the Mi-8. These Mil helicopters are built at two different
plants in Russia – Ulan-Ude which calls its latest variant the Mi-171Sh (Mi-171Š in Czech), and Kazan
which builds a roughly similar updated Hip model designated Mi-17V-1.
 Of course, aircrews would have to be trained in NATO/US personnel recovery procedures [JP 3-50, the Joint
Doctrine for Personnel Recovery] and registered in appropriate data bases.