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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Rotorcraft Report: 2010 Olympics Lacking Helicopters?

MILITARY

The Canadian Forces’ PR machine is backpedaling furiously, after top air officer Col. Christopher Coates suggested there might not be enough CF helicopters to provide security at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver while maintaining adequate air support in Afghanistan.

Speaking to the Canadian Press―Canada’s version of the AP―at the Canadian base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Coates said there would be "pressure" to balance both jobs at the same time. "The Air Force is going to be involved in the Canadian Forces’ response to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, just like the other parts of the Canadian Forces will," he told CP. "That’ll be a pressure for [the CF]...to deal with that. There’re all sorts of domestic pressures to support all sorts of operations within Canada."

Despite Coates’ statement, Canada’s Department of National Defense (DND) said there are enough helicopters to go around. In response to an interview request from Rotor & Wing, DND issued the following statement: "While there is an increased demand for land, sea and air support both domestically and internationally in 2010, the CF will meet all of its commitments in support of the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police]-led security operations for the 2010 games. While the 2010 games will be the CF’s top domestic priority for the winter of 2010, our standing commitments to the safety and security of Canadians elsewhere in Canada as well as to the mission in Afghanistan will remain undiminished."

One thing is certain: Canada’s Afghanistan helicopter contingent is anything but deep. Currently, eight CH-146 Griffons from the Edmonton-based 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, which is located close to the games site, is based in Kandahar. (The Griffon is the Canadian military version of the Bell 412EP). They are escorting six "pre-owned" Chinook-Ds being used for troop and equipment transport by the Canadian forces; Canada having sold its own Chinooks in the early 1990s as a cost-saving measure. Canada has also been relying on leased Russian-built Mi-8 transport choppers to carry equipment and thus help keep convoys off the road, where IEDs have caused many Canadian troop casualties. Canada will not have new heavy-lift helicopters, which would have been Chinook-Fs, by the time the Olympics begin. They aren’t expected to be delivered until 2012 with initial operations commencing in 2013.

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