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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 (IMNHU)


Commentary by  Lieutenant-Colonel James Dorschner  (US Army Reserve,  Ret. )   [1]
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 [2] and  Spain [3] have fully-modern CH-47D Chinooks.  Italy has CH-47s [4]  but there are complications not the least of which is politics.

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 [5] 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  Afghanistan.

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. [6]

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 Unit

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  Slovenia.

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'.



[1]  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.

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

[5] 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.

[6] 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.