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Afghanistan helicopters: readers respond

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 14 July 2009

The FactCheck mailbag bulged with responses to our piece on helicopter numbers. Here's a selection of your views.

FactCheck article

A 3 has to be a pretty generous score for the PM and his MoD briefers!

The underlying issue is airborne troop carriers to avoid creating predictable route patterns on the ground and exploiting intelligence/target opportunities that surprise the enemy i.e. seizing and holding the initiative rather than being (necessarily) defensive moving away from bases on foot or in road vehicles.

So, do not confuse hours with helicopter numbers and types. Apache has effectively replaced fixed wing close air support and has no passenger lift. It is also the biggest new arrival. Lynx can barely carry six fully equipped troops and is maintenance intensive. Chinooks are too few. In other words our one time lift to create military mass is minimal. A commander often needs all his buses to come at once not to depend on one an hour to the same place for 24 hours (predictable again!)

Merlin is 'on its way' but its procurement was RAF-led when the Army, envisaging just this type of operation, always wanted Black Hawk because of size, agility and risk - if it is safe for big helicopters then more Chinooks is the better answer still.

So, candidly, I hold the PM guilty of arguing off the point to create a favourable impression at significant variance with the operational and tactical actuality.

Many of the helicopters used in the theatres of war are repaired at Lasham, Hants. In this part of the world (Hampshire) one therefore hears reliably-sourced rumours of the amount of damage they suffer which goes unrecorded i.e. suggesting that they are far more vulnerable to attack than the MoD is prepared to admit e.g. by RPGs and small arms fire.

This also implies that many are out of action at any time. Time in service also imposes its own programme as helicopters require to be brought home for service and re-fits. The impression one has is that actual helicopters operational is a small proportion of the total said to be available. I do not have numbers or details and everything is anecdotal but appropriate time spent investigating might be worthwhile.

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Ask anyone who has served in Afghanistan. There are not enough helos available to the Army:-
1) To move troops from A to B to surprise the enemy. Vehicle convoys are targets for IEDs and prediction as to where the troops are moving.
2) Not enough Apache attack helicopters available. Much more effective for CAS (Close Air Support) than fixed wing.

There may have been increases in the number of helos available in the last year, but it was from a low base, and is still totally inadequate.

Best estimate is that there are currently 20 Chinooks available for operations at any one time. It should be 50. The addition of Sea Kings later this year will be inadequate, they can not carry an adequate payload.
Jim, London

The lack of Heavy lift Helicopters in Afghanistan stems from years of under-investment in this type of equipment. Apart from the aircraft there has been an inadequate investment in aircrew, ground crew and other support.

As a result infantry tactics are limited and ground troop numbers have to be increased. There is always the suspicion that the MOD and hence the Government assesses the cost of ground troop losses and this is weighed against the costs of providing high cost assets. Why nobody has raised this in Parliament poses the thought that this is a factor in MOD thinking. Not the first time that such a concept has been employed. Cf Christmas Island Tests.

More lies from the man who mechanically offer condolences to the families at the beginning of PM questions each week, only to follow it up with exaggerations and lies when the results of his government's policy equal more deaths and more sorrow. I'd be surprised if he can sleep at night.
NB, London

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