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Helicopters, again


We tend to try and step back from most news-related issues and post something that is a little more measured and thoughtful at a later date but once again the subject of helicopters have hit the news again in the political storm that is currently taking place around the taped conversation between Gordon Brown and Jacqui Janes so I thought a quick post on the subject might be worthwhile.

This is an incredibly emotive subject and coming so close to Armistice Day, a subject that is very tricky to blog, we are of course talking about a dead serviceman and his grieving family. We have a free press and free speech in this country so whilst we might find the Sun’s coverage a little opportunistic and exploitative the fact remains that it is newsworthy and in the public interest.

One might feel a little sorry for Gordon Brown, besieged on all sides but unfortunately, he is the author of much of his misfortune. Next week I am sure the headline will be ‘Gordon Brown steps on crack on the pavement: Outrage’

Since we started this blog our position has been that defence needs two things, more money and better spending and the helicopter issue can be neatly encapsulated in these two needs.

Would more helicopters have enabled Jamie to survive, who knows, certainly not us? I don’t want to pick over the bones of the conversation and over analyse it but others will likely do so but a quick look at some of the issues might be useful to others.

1. The Merlins that were brought back from Iraq are not sitting in this country but are at the US Navy’s facility El Centro in California undergoing their pre-deployment training, at least 4 of them anyway. Predeployment training is vital, it provides aircrew and ground crew with the chance to prepare for the unique challenges of Afghanistan. Each ground or air unit undergoes some predeployment training before going to Afghanistan. Whilst superficially similar to Iraq, Afghanistan is a completely different operating environment and the Merlins have been fitted with a whole host of equipment upgrades. This has been a complex and demanding task, coordinating equipment upgrades and training, training with the equipment upgrades.

2. Chinooks are such a scarce commodity that commanders have to balance competing needs and risks. If we could have all 10 Chinooks in theatre on permanent standby for use by the Medical Emergency response Teams (MERT), which comprises a number of specialist medical personnel and soldiers, then it would create such an inbalance so as to render other operations highly risky or impossible to complete. Numbers available therefore fluctuate depending on need but as a minimum, it has been reported that one is always available on a 24×7 basis. The Chinook is uniquely well suited to the task because it is fast and very spacious which means multiple casualties can be treated en route to the field hospital at Bastion.

What is absolutely 100% certain is that more helicopters would support a greater operational tempo.

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5 Responses

  1. One thing that sticks out in my mind is the fact that the US have dedicated HH-60G’s specifically to go and save lifes always on standby. For instance when the 5 British troops were killed by a rouge policeman and the BBC showed some footage of the chinook arriving i don’t suppose anyone else caught the HH-60’s coming in at the same time?

    In a wider sense more helicopters would save many more lives, the large combat logistics patrols would be less frequent and less urgent if supplies could be moved by air. Furthermore more helicopter assaults could take place arriving in large numbers anywhere allied forces please rather than giving notice and time to organise to fight the allied forces.

    I personally would much rather we set a time table to withdraw like every other nation has, not doing so is just plain stupid in my mind. Ideally i would like to see us out of Afghanistan as i’ve said in recent posts by the end of 2012, this would mean the end of 11 years of War which i think is enough.

  2. Counter-insurgency in rough terrain – you can never, ever have enough helo’s.

    The U.S. has always had the helo ambulance role well funded since Korea (think M.A.S.H.) and consider their Vietnam experience. Plus U.S.A.F. has had well funded Combat Search and Rescue capabilities. Google for Micheal Yon and look for his article on the “Pedro’s” – the Para-Rescue Jumpers who man the HH60’s. It’s all about the “golden hour” !

    Is it all Gordon’s fault ? Not entirely. The Generals seem to have been at least a little complicit in the “we have enough helo’s” debate, and uninformed and generally crass mass media coverage does not help anyone.

  3. For Afghanistan, helicopters are tacticaly useful, however having more chinooks than soldiers wont change the strategic picture even a little bit.

    Our aim, today, is to advance the Afghan forces enough for them to beat the Taliban.
    The Afghans have road bound trucks, without a secure road network, they’re completely ineffective.

    Being able to drop large numbers of troops anywhere at short notice is useful for killing Taliban, but to “win” the war we need the ANA and they need the roads.

  4. I am not sure, but the Afghan army air corps probably has more Mi 8 / 17 and Mi 24’s than we have Merlins !

    Donated by ex-Soviet bloc, eastern european nations or bought and paid for by U.S., really not sure of the numbers yet, but lets face it no amount of helo’s is ‘strategically’ going to fix 300 years of inter-tribal warfare ! But tactically they would help the boys on the ground right now (and we could have hired civvy contracted Mi 17’s years ago, like the Canadian’s do now …..)

  5. I agree with many of the points made in the comments, Afghanistan is a mess and will remain so in my opinion no matter what we do. I think we should withdraw as we never had the equipment or the will to carry out what needs to be done and many people have tried and failed in the past. Without trying to get too political the reasons for going there are and now for staying are at best lies and at the worst intentional deceit a bit of knowledge of current events and history will show you why.

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