Medium-Lift Helicopters in Afghanistan – CASR Op-Ed
– February 2011
On Selling Off the Used 'D Model Chinook Helicopters in Afghanistan:
Procurement Contract Details
should worry Canadians, not Disposals
Stephen Priestley, CASR Researcher
Update: TF-Afg Air Wing stood down on 18 Aug 2011 but the CF's CH-147D
Chinooks have not been sold. This will appear ironic when viewing in hindsight DND's desperate scramble to
acquire Chinooks in the first place. (A TF-Afg Air Wing summary also shows that leased Mil helicopters carried
more cargo in Afghanistan than all CF rotary-wing aircraft combined.) The fate of the unsold Chinooks is
as follows: one damaged CH-147D will return to Canada (where it will presumably become a training aid for CH-147Fs);
the other 4 surviving CH-147Ds will be mothballed at the USAF's 309th AMARG (Aerospace Maintenance & Regeneration
Group), a storage and disposal facility (formerly AMARC) at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona.
A Canadian Press article by Murray Brewster on the pending sale of the five Canadian Forces CH-147D Chinook medium-lift helicopters in Afghanistan
caused a stir. It should but perhaps not for the reasons in the article. First, how did we get from a late start to
a sell-off so quickly?
How did we get here? The inevitable background bit on drawn-out Canadian helicopter buys
Canada has developed a reputation for protracted procurement decisions followed by lengthy delays in achieving
operational status whenever we buy military helicopters. Unfortunately, that tendency to
ignore urgency while fussing over details extended even to supplying the CF with used medium-lift helicopters
for use in Afghanistan. Eventually, the Manley Commission forced the issue – saying,
in effect, find helicopters to limit losses or bring CF troops home.
What followed would appear comic had Canadian soldiers not been dying needlessly on the roads of Kandahar
Province. The initial move from our Air Force and DND planners was an attempt to queue-jump in the Boeing
order book and speed up delivery of brand-new CH-147F Chinooks. That was a non-starter but it wouldn't have
mattered – Air Force planners once again proved incapable of resisting the temptation to platinum-plate what
was to be an off-the-shelf purchase. As a result, the final Kandahar 'Roto' has gone in and CH-147Fs announced
in 2006 won't appear until 2013-14.
At the time of the Manley Commission, Canadian soldiers bore the brunt of the fighting
in southern Afghanistan and were taking most of the casualties. It seemed reasonable to call on our NATO allies
to fill the CF transport helicopter gap in Afghanistan. Canada was able to call on the existing pool of NATO-ISAF
helicopters but, other than some preferred treatment from the Dutch (ironically using ex-CF Chinooks in some
cases) and Mi-17s provided by the Poles (and gracelessly brushed aside by DND officials), major NATO allies offered
Having discounted the CHAPS Chinook rebuild
program as an option, MND, Peter MacKay, tried to negotiate the lease of available US Army CH-47Ds.
Predictably, that too was a non-starter. Then, a year after the Manley Commission report, a deal was announced to purchase six used CH-47D model
Chinooks from the US Army. These aircraft (selected by the vendor) weren't exactly sprightly – the
oldest was built in 1965  – but these Chinooks were available in-country at the Kandahar
That was all two years ago and now the Canadian Forces combat mission in Kandahar is in its final phase. One of
the original six CH-147Ds was lost to Taliban ground fire in the summer of 2010. This aircraft was replaced
by another US Army 'D model Chinook. This time, a lease was possible. A good deal ? Who knows.
As usual, DND released no details to Canadian citizens.
Standard Mission Profile: Find the Thread; Lose the Thread; then Wander About in Circles
The main point of that CP article is that the five remaining CH-147Ds are up for sale only "two years
after taxpayers shelled out $282 million to buy them." That is true but it could be argued that this was a
modest investment in exchange for the lives of Canadian soldiers saved. There is another issue raised by that quote.
The purchase price for the original 6 CH-147Ds has been listed in the media as: $252M, $282M, and $292M. Why
the confusion? Because, as with that replacement CH-47D lease, DND never revealed the actual
purchase price let alone details of any terms to their contract to buy used Chinooks. That was this
article's take-home message.
Unfortunately, current debates on Canadian military procurement seem to quickly wander off topic. In this case, the
suggestion was made that the used CH-147Ds should be brought back to Canada where they could "bolster
the...hard-pressed search-and-rescue fleet". Any and all available CF aircraft can be pressed into searches but the
notion of backing-up mechanically- troubled CH-149 Cormorants with even more mechanically-complex
CH-147s is ludicrous. To make this bad idea worse, just use Chinooks that are 30 years older than
the Cormorant fleet.
Asked for comment, the Air Force stated that the CH-147D "would be expensive to keep". No kidding, whereas those
15 new, postwar CH-147Fs will be cheap to maintain? But, then again, who expects useful comments from Air Force
public affairs officers? Rather more revealing is DND itself which, true to form, refused to
provide any "rationale for ditching" the CH-147Ds.
Leave the CH-147Ds for Someone Who'll Use Them ... but Give Us Accessible Government
In the current climate, Peter MacKay and his many minions at National Defence Headquarters are probably quite safe
from prying eyes. Sure, at the time of the sale of the used Chinooks, it was broadly
hinted that those aircraft would be returned to the US Army. But where is the proof ? Have you
contracts? Nope, and neither has anyone else outside of NDHQ or the Cabinet. Ditto for the terms of the leased
Chinook replacement or, indeed, the purchase of 15 CH-147Fs and all the miscellaneous
contracts needed to support these new helicopters. The selling-off of a handful of 35-year old aircraft suddenly looks
like the least of our worries.
A recurring question in all this is why has the Government consistantly allowed DND to hide behind 'Operational
Security' and other security nonsenses to avoid releasing information of types routinely available to citizens of
other NATO nations? Canadians have repeatedly been promised open, accountable government by politicians of all
stripes. With a Federal election in the offing, perhaps it is time that Canadian voters start demanding
true accountability from its government. Once the election is over, it's too late. The existing veil of
secrecy serves both ruling politicians and the bureaucracy too well. And that is a detail well
worth sweating over.
 The NATO medium-lift helicopter 'shortage' was discussed ad naseum. In fact the Esercito Italiano
had 22-26 CH-47Cs on active service (with 10 more CH-47s in storage for spares). The Spanish and Greeks also had
Chinooks in service. They simply weren't willing to help an ally. [ Britain's Defence Secretary claims Italy
and Germany have reneged on promised funding for the Multinational Helicopter Initiative (10 additional
medium-lift helicopters for NATO-ISAF ).
 The helicopter in question was serialed 86-1651 by the US Army but its original serial was 65-8015 –
it as a CH-47A delivered in 1965 and then converted to CH-47D in 1986.