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Helicopters and Money

Helicopters and Money

In a recent article The Ruxted Group said: “At a minimum The Ruxted Group believes we need four brigades – that’s 35-50 armoured (tank), reconnaissance, artillery, engineer, signals/electronic warfare, infantry, aviation, medical, intelligence and logistic support units.” Another recent article, in the mainstream media, highlights one critical aspect of the current capability deficiencies: a transformed Canadian military needs more and different helicopters.

Canadians appear, from the polling we have seen, to want the Canadian Forces to go to some of the world’s most difficult places, like Sudan, and, once there, do some very difficult things.

While there is considerable room for debate re: what kind of units might we need- and, once again, we remind readers of some words of wisdom from a former US Secretary of Defence: “ go to war with the Army you have.  They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” - Donald Rumsfeld, 8 Dec 04 - it is quite clear to us that, for nearly all of the possibilities we can imagine, we will need to have dedicated rotary-wing aviation in support of deployed land forces: helicopters – lots of them.

The Government of Canada has already recognized this and is negotiating to buy some new CH-47 Chinook transport helicopters. That’s a good first step.

Even with the best pilots, whom Canada has, transport helicopters are vulnerable. They, rather like the merchant ships in the Battle of the Atlantic, need protection – armed helicopters of some sort. Such helicopters can do much more than defend the transport helicopters – they can recconoitre and surveille, bring highly accurate direct fire to bear on a wide range of targets, even heavy tanks, and they can use their instrinsic manoeuverability to get to the fight faster in support of our troops when other ground units may be challenged by unforgiving terrain.

There are some tasks for which a large helicopter is ill suited, at least, inefficient. Canada also needs lighter, agile, general-purpose, utility type helicopters suitable for tactical troop and cargo movement, casualty evacuation, and various other tasks. Canada has the CH-146 Griffon helicopter but it currently has limitations regarding unrestricted operations in hot climates and at high altitudes – just the sort of conditions where some strategic problems are likely to occur.

One of the important characteristics of aviation is flexibility. Helicopters are not much limited by terrain and they move relatively quickly. That means that they can accomplish different tasks in far away places. A utility helicopter, for example, can rapidly switch between delivering troops, evacuating casualties, and delivering cargo, often within the same mission. Similarly, helicopter units are multi-functional:  supporting combat operations overseas they can fly Search and Rescue missions in Canada or peacekeeping and disaster relief operations anywhere in the world.

In Ruxted’s view, Canada needs a holistic helicopter replacement programme to acquire, operate and maintain:

•   New shipborne helicopters for the navy – this is underway, at long last; and
•   New helicopters, of several types (cargo, utility, fire support) -- armed as required to support the army in combat operations – this part of the programme is just beginning and must continue the development of a balanced, capable rotary-wing force.

The key element is, as always, money.

We expended $790 Million to buy 15 Cormorant Search and Rescue helicopters. We are going to pay:

•   $5,000 Million to buy 28 CH-148 Cyclone shipborne helicopters; and

•   $4,700 Million to buy 16 Chinook helicopters.

What we can see is that, at current price/inflation rates, it costs about $225 Million to buy (both aircraft and necessary support infrastructure) and maintain/sustain each large, complex helicopter. According to the authoritative Federation of American Scientists, for a Chinook, these “total cost of ownership” figures are consistent with (10 year old) US data. The same source says that the total cost of ownership of a UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter or an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter is likely to be higher.  There are, to be sure, alternatives to those two ultra-modern and costly machines. The United States Marine Corps, for example, flies the less expensive, but also less capable, UH-1N Huey and AH-1W Cobra helicopters – updated versions of proven but Vietnam war era machines.

The Ruxted Group does not advocate one aircraft or another, but it does call for billions and billions – a few tens of billions – of new money to be spent sooner rather than later on new army aviation capabilities – armed/attack and utility helicopters, at least. Without that new money to buy those new capabilities the Canadian Forces will be unable to do many of the good things Canadians want them to do. To that end we repeat our call for a budget boost: a big boost and soon, please.


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