Defence Minister Peter MacKay says Canadian choppers will escort new Chinook transport helicopters next year.
The Bell CH-146 Griffon is the Canadian military variant of the Bell 412EP, a multi-use utility helicopter. The CH-146 is used in a wide variety of roles, including aerial firepower, reconnaissance and aero-mobility tasks.
The Boeing CH-47 Chinook is a versatile, twin-engine, tandem rotor heavy-lift helicopter. Its top speed of 170 knots (196 mph, 315 km/h) was faster than utility and attack helicopters of the 1960s and even many of today. Its primary roles include troop movement, artillery emplacement and battlefield resupply. There is a wide loading ramp at the rear of the fuselage and three external-cargo hooks.
MacKay: Newly armed choppers will provide escort for Chinooks - Nova Scotia News - TheChronicleHerald.ca (external - login to view)
OTTAWA — Canada’s own heavily armed helicopters will ride shotgun with new CH-47 Chinook transport choppers in Afghanistan, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Wednesday.
The eight modified CH-146 Griffon helicopters, which have been given weapons and extra sensors, will provide escort and protection, the minister told the House of Commons.
"They will add additional capacity in Afghanistan and will be put to optimal use, I can assure you," MacKay said later.
"These eight aircraft are great package to have in addition to the Chinooks that we’re taking possession of next year."
Acquiring battlefield helicopters to move troops and supplies between far-flung desert bases was one of the conditions set down for the extension of Canada’s military mission in Kandahar to 2011.
The Griffons have been equipped with Gatling guns in addition to their existing side door machine guns and armour plating.
The move announced Wednesday represents an about-face for the Defence Department, which had asked NATO allies to fill the escort role.
Both the U.S. Army and Dutch forces have flown armed escort helicopters — mostly AH-46 Apaches — out of Kandahar Airfield since 2006.
After the $282-million purchase of Chinooks was announced in August, a senior military planner said allies would be asked to protect them.
But defence sources said Canada’s request was rejected because the existing escort helicopters are already overburdened.
Getting access to an Apache "over there is like pulling hen’s teeth," said an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Aside from protecting the lumbering Chinooks, the Griffons will provide air cover for ground convoys and be on standby to evacuate battlefield casualties, the source added.
As many as 100 air force personnel, including pilots and mechanics, will be going with the armed helicopters.
Defence sources insisted that the CH-146s would perform a defensive role only — firing only when fired upon.
They would not be used by NATO as close air support for embattled troops caught in firefights, the way American Apaches have in the past.
Air strikes — by helicopters and jetfighters — that have killed innocent civilians have repeatedly outraged Afghan authorities. President Hamid Karzai said Wednesday he was willing to personally shoot down aircraft that have killed and maimed hundreds.
New Democrat defence critic Dawn Black said she was also assured by the government that the armed Canadian helicopters would be used defensively.
Speculation that the Griffons would be deployed overseas has swirled in defence circles for months.
Late in the spring, the federal government awarded a $25.9-million contract to L-3 Wescam Inc., of Burlington, Ont., to install an electro-optical and infrared sensor system on as many as 19 helicopters.
The air force has long wanted to send the Griffons into battle. Its initial proposal was made in December 2005 as the first battle group was preparing to deploy to Kandahar.
The proposal was rejected by former chief of defence staff, Gen. Rick Hillier, who noted that Griffons don’t perform well in the heat and high altitudes of Afghanistan.
Given the carnage of roadside bombings against Canadian convoys, Black said she’s mystified that the armed helicopters have not been deployed to this point.
"The safety of the men and women in the Canadian Forces must come to first if our government is asking them to take on this very dangerous work," she said.
The air force ran trials with armed Griffons, essentially civilian Bell 412s modified for military use.
Big transport helicopters, such as Chinooks, are vulnerable to attack by ground fire and rocket-propelled grenades when operating in war zones and usually travel with their smaller, armed cousins along for protection.
I wonder what the actual modified Griffons look like though. Probably very much the same, but I find the little things interesting.