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troung
12 Oct 06,, 21:45
Britain forced to use private helicopters in Afghanistan

By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent

(Filed: 11/10/2006)

The desperate shortage of helicopters in Afghanistan has forced the Ministry of Defence to seek the help of a private helicopter company, the government has admitted.


Troops will be ferried around the country in Russian made aircraft, including the biggest helicopter in the world, if the £20 million deal is struck with the British owned company.
Military commanders in Afghanistan have for the last three months been privately demanding more helicopters to help defeat the Taliban and provide supplies to troops in remote villages.

Lord Drayson, the defence procurement minister, told the House of Lords that the Government was considering using an independent helicopter company to provide logistical support for the RAF. A proposal from Security Support Solutions Ltd to provide four Mi17 Hip and three giant Mi26 Halo transporters was being “seriously considered” by the MoD.


The company has the aircraft, flown by former special forces pilots, available immediately to carry troops, food and ammunition around the country including the volatile towns in northern Helmand province.
The MoD is also considering an offer from the Danish military to purchase six Merlin helicopters which its military are said not to want because of the high maintenance costs, defence sources revealed.

It is also thought that the RAF is short of medium lift helicopter pilots with many either on operations or resting between deployments.
Lord Drayson admitted that there was a shortage of helicopters in Afghanistan.

He was asked by Lord Astor, the shadow defence minister, following the Prime Minister’s promise that commanders would get “whatever they need to defeat the Taliban”, would the MoD consider using an independent helicopter company as the RAF’s were “on their last legs”?
"Yes we are considering such an avenue,” Lord Drayson said. There were a “number of commercial very active programmes at moment looking to address our helicopter capability”.

Pressure is also being put on Nato to come up with the funding for the helicopters as the majority of its troops are in parts of Afghanistan less deadly than Helmand province where the British are based.
Commanders are currently relying on the RAF’s eight Chinook helicopters that have been very heavily used ferrying troops and supplies while coming under enemy fire.

The Russian-made helicopters are specifically designed for use in Afghanistan’s “hot and high” conditions with the Mi26 able to carry 100 combat troops or 20 tons of equipment.

Lord Drayson admitted that military planners had underestimated “what we were up against in Afghanistan” but despite that the “courage and dedication” of British troops had “inflicted a massive defeat on the enemy”.

He said the military’s decision on the future helicopter programme two years ago had not taken into account the nature of “enduring operations in Afghanistan”. "That has put pressure on helicopter capability. The question is not how we got here but what we are doing now. We are making robust efforts to improve our helicopter capability.”
Cash from the Treasury was “absolutely not” a problem, he added. “Nothing that has been asked for has been refused.”

The military was also “doing everything we can” to bring into service eight special forces Chinook helicopters that have never been flown after they were certified unusable following mechanical changes made by engineers.
The proposal for a quick resolution to the helicopter problem was made by Mike Pearson, the director of SSS, after talking to commanders in Afghanistan and in London.

Once these helicopters are deployed they will make an immediate difference to troops on the ground, Mr Pearson, a former paratrooper, told The Daily Telegraph.

“These aircraft are not on the shelf, they could be with the military today releasing the RAF helicopters for military operations. They are also designed to work in the difficult Afghan conditions where they deployed during the Soviet era.”

The company said the helicopters had been “Westernised” and European engineers would carry out all maintenance. A MoD spokesman said when new equipment was necessary “we leave no stone unturned to give the front-line the support that it needs”. "We are exploring a number of possibilities to improve helicopter force levels although no final decision has been taken,” he added.