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Are Canadian Forces equipped for Afghan mission?

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D-n-A

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Thu Sep 29 2005

By Dianne DeMille and Stephen Priestley


In February, Canada will be sending an expeditionary force to the Pakistan-Afghan border to take part in combat under Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). The question is: Are the Canadian Forces fully equipped for this mission?
Defence Minister Bill Graham admitted in a Canadian Press report Sept. 14 that the forces won't have all the equipment that they need. "Heavy helicopters, for example -- we don't have any at the moment. They will be furnished either by the Dutch, the British, or the Americans, or by other allies."

According to the article, the last time the Canada participated in OEF, our combat troops "relied exclusively on U.S. Chinook helicopters to get them in and out of battle zones, as well as to resupply them. The arrangement proved unsatisfactory, with the [Canadians] inevitably shuffled to the bottom of the Americans' overloaded priority lists. On one mission, [Canadian personnel] began running out of food and water before they were resupplied."

Canada has no Chinook helicopters because the Mulroney government sold them to the Netherlands. Thus, the Dutch will be there on the Pakistan-Afghan border, fighting alongside us, killing Taliban resurgents, using our ex-Chinooks. Canadian Forces may have to beg for a ride.

Sometimes usable, necessary assets are more valuable than the money you can get from selling them.

Shortly after becoming Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Rick Hillier made the acquisition of medium-lift helicopters a priority. The aircraft he had in mind was the Boeing CH-47 Chinook. This is the workhorse troop transport and re-supply aircraft required for modern, highly-mobile warfare. The Chinook can carry up to 44 fully-armed troops, it can also sling cargo from up to three belly hooks. Ungainly as the Chinook might appear, its unusual features give it a distinct advantage in southeast Afghanistan. In the mountains along the border, the air is thin, and summer temperatures can reach 50 C. In such 'hot-and-high' conditions, turbine engines lose power and rotor blades claw for lift. Most helicopters begin to lose the stabilizing effectiveness of their tail rotors. The counter-rotating Chinook, however, has no tail rotor.

The twin-rotored configuration bestows other operational advantages on the Chinook. When troops use the aft loading ramp, the spinning blades of the rear rotor are safely high above them. The twin rotors also give the Chinook great stability. Skilled pilots can hover with only the rear landing wheels touching the ground to facilitate unloading. Chinook pilots in Afghanistan routinely use this technique to offload on uneven ground, or even onto rooftops.

Minister Graham announced that it was "unlikely, given the nature of military procurement, [that] we would be able to acquire anything" in time for the February 2006 deployment, beyond some isolated pieces of equipment. Indeed, much of the money for badly-needed CF equipment is coming from 'operational contingency' funds. This ad hoc approach to purchasing can get minor items of new equipment into the field quickly, but it is also a tacit acknowledgment that the "official" procurement system has broken down completely.

Money is not the biggest problem here -- it is timing. With a little over four months to go before Canadian troops return to combat, Chinooks are suddenly a priority. Air Staff have announced a plan to dispense with competitive bidding and speed up procurement of new aircraft -- including 20 new Chinooks. The trouble is, there are none to be had, not even for ready money. Everyone wants them.

Given that Chinooks are currently unavailable to the CF, what are the options before the February deployment?

First, temporarily use Canada's 15 CH-149 Cormorant search-and-rescue helicopters. The Cormorant is the closest in capabilities to the Chinook among aircraft already in service. These Cormorants are really utility transport helicopters adapted for search and rescue. As troop carriers, they could carry 30 fully-equipped soldiers plus crew. A powerful three-engined helicopter, the Cormorant can easily cope with 'hot-and-high' conditions and lifting heavy sling loads.

Canadian Forces crews are already fully trained on the Cormorant, so redeployment involves little more than a coat of paint and a tranfer of personnel. Canada owns these helicopters, so it is a simple command decision -- no need to run the procurement gauntlets of cabinet, Public Works, Treasury Board, etc.

The Cormorants, however, are having reliability problems and rapidly chewing through their parts supply. In addition, replacement helicopters would need to be found for search and rescue.

There may be no ready fix to the reliability problems. So, Defence could simply buy as many tail rotor bits, and whatever other spare parts we need, and just get the job done.

Finding replacements for the search and rescue role is the easy part. Most other countries farm this work out to civilian contractors. (After all, as traumatic as it may be to be lost in the wilderness, or find oneself aboard a foundering ship, such events are not really threats to national security.) One of the major international suppliers of contracted civilian SAR services -- helicopters and crews (including SAR technicians) -- is CHC based in St. John's. As it happens, CHC also features in our next suggestion.

Second: Contract civilian medium-lift helicopters to fill in, until the Chinooks arrive.

When Canadian Forces were involved with the UN Stabilization Force in Bosnia, medium-lift was provided by Russian-made Mil helicopters under a lease organized by Newfoundland's CHC. When the mission in Bosnia came under NATO control, the leased aircraft were replaced by similar Mil 17 helicopters from the Czech Air Force.

Leased Mil 17s (and earlier Mil 8s) are already at work in Afghanistan. A "wet lease" is the typical arrangement -- ie: leasing the helicopter complete with flightcrew and fuel. Defence is fully familiar with such deals; it's how it was able to lease those enormous Russian-made strategic transport aircraft.

The upside: Immediate availability and general Canadian familiarity with the capabilities of the Mil. The very low cost of Russian-made equipment also means that such a lease will take only a minor bite out of savings for future Chinook purchases. The downside: The Mil is smaller than both the Cormorant and the Chinook. A realistic troop load for the Mil 17 is 24 combat-ready soldiers. The external sling load is only 3,000 kilograms -- two-thirds that of a Cormorant, and less than a quarter that of a Chinook.

There is also the uncertainty of civilian pilots going into a combat zone. Civilian Ukrainian and Russian aircrews flying into Sarajevo were willing to take almost unbelievable risks. But can such bravery be absolutely relied upon, even with a Canadian commander sitting in the 'jump seat'?

There is one other Mil 17 option with a Canadian connection -- a lease-to-own arrangement. Kelowna Flightcraft has helped develop a modernized version of this helicopter, the Mi-17KF, which features a fully western cockpit and rear-loading ramp.

These westernized Mi-17KF helicopters are produced in the Mil factory in Kazan, Russia -- a 3,000 kilometre flight to Kandahar. Compare that with the CF's two-day jet flights from CFB Trenton, doglegging through the Persian Gulf.

Obviously, at the end of the lease, Canada would gain the assets. Total purchase price is important to the cash-strapped Canadian Forces. Current prices for new Mi-17s are listed at just over $5 million US -- a fifth the cost of replacement Cormorants, a tenth the likely cost of Chinooks.

The third and final option is to follow the Air Force's advice and "hold out for the best."

The upside: the Chinook is the best medium-lift helicopter. One wonders why the Air Force sacrificed their Chinooks when Mulroney's hatchet men came calling. There were other less critical aircraft that could have been offered up.

The downside: In the short-term, this means relying on our long-suffering allies to transport Canadian troops in their Chinooks. When a procurement opportunity finally comes, global competition for Chinooks will be fierce and prices will climb. Maybe Defence will be able to buy new or rebuilt Chinooks before the shooting stops in Afghanistan. Probably not.

So, the immediate options before Gen. Hillier reveal a tough choice. He can (1) order a coat of tan-coloured paint for the 15 SAR Comorants, (2) lease (or lease-to-own) Russian Mil 17s, or (3) beg-and-borrow allies' Chinooks until the Air Force is completely happy with its latest shopping list. The purpose of an analyst is to present options (however meagre). It will be up to Gen. Hillier to make the final recommendation to the defence minister and his cabinet colleagues.

The real question is this: Are Canadian citizens content to send their Forces into one of the most dangerous parts of the world without adequate support equipment?
 

Cloud Cover

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That articles is so riddled with inaccuracies and half truths that it was not worth the time to read. Where did it come from? CASR?
 

KevinB

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Terrible article.

One just has to look at our pilots and what they have identified as the need - specifically the Chinook.

Just as I would be disgusted with someone armschairing my needs as a 031 - I am equally disgusted with doing the same to pilots
 

Teddy Ruxpin

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I'm left shaking my head.

The idea that we could somehow "contract" tactical aviation flying combat missions to a civilian contractor boggles the mind.  I'm sure Kelowna Flightcraft would love to see some of its helicopters return home full of 14.5mm holes - without getting into insurance and liability issues.  Moreover, how using clapped out leased Russian aircraft flown by foreign pilots (typically with a somewhat dodgy reputation) would contribute to our mission in Afghanistan is beyond me.  Give me a reliable ally any time.

The article's sadly typical of the claptrap generated by the "experts" out there.
 

Ex-Dragoon

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AoD71 said:
What do you guys think needs to be done about the issue?

Search the forums as there are main alternativies and ideas many have posted here.
 

childs56

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Guys civie contracting could work. Look at all the private contractors already over seas. How they would work flying our pilots into combat is another question. I know of a few civie pilots in BC that are army reserve members and given the chance they might fly one of these helos as a civie. so dont think that option is that far off.

The comment on Kelowna Flightcraft not wanting to see bullet holes in the helos (really no one wants to see holes in their Helo's). That is what the contract would be for and that is why the company would purchase their choppers to lease to us.(this is a generic statement). I will say this if a company leases their choppers and pilots to fly missions over seas the last thing they will be worried about is insurance on the aircraft or people. If the equipment gets destroyed they get a new one under the terms of the lease, if the people get hurt or die they and or their familys would be compensated for it. That is a business.

I flew in Hips over seas, I was impressed with the way the chopper flew and what it could do. As for comments on the foregin pilots and their dodgy reputation, well i seen some of the best flying come from them. Anyone who thinks zooming along the ground at 150Kts or  100ft off the deck and then the pilot thinking this is fun.  If that isnt dodgy then i dont know what is. (did i mention dodging trees and power wires). I know a few pilots whom like flying like thatand their not foregin, That is the thrill of it, doing the job. So ya the  foreign pilots are insane, but to me that is normal for them. they fly the envelope because that is their job and their passion.

The HIP is an excellant helo, how can we complain, we havent anything of a comparibilty in the same role.

Wait for the new wave of changes i think a few people are going to be miffed. and others out right repulsed. but like it or hate it we are a changing and units are deploying, even the ones that have not for a while. Good luck.

PS i would perfer a dodgy forgien pilot and their clapped out helo over walking any day. 
 
 

Teddy Ruxpin

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I violently disagree, CTD.

Civvy aircraft and pilots couldn't work under any circumstance, aside from the most benign "peacekeeping" operation.

How many civilian companies are willing to fly their aircraft on combat missions, which is what we're talking about here?  How many are willing to mount door guns?  How many are willing to modify their aircraft to mount the appropriate avionics and IFF systems, not to mention the communications?  What about armoured floors, etc..? Are civilian pilots trained for air assault operations?  Can they fly nap of the earth, fully blacked out, wearing NODs?

Ever see photos of what the Americans did with their Chinooks during Op APOLLO?  No civilian would endanger his aircraft or take risks the way the US Army does - risks that must be taken in the current operational environment.  What were the authors of this article thinking?  Have they read the news from Afghanistan?

Finally, as a soldier, I would trust our allies LONG before a mercenary flying a helicopter of dubious servicability and history.  Frankly, I've seen Russian and Ukrainian pilots (not flying helicopters, mind you) in action...I'd rather walk.
 

KevinB

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Teddy Ruxpin said:
Finally, as a soldier, I would trust our allies LONG before a mercenary flying a helicopter of dubious servicability and history.   Frankly, I've seen Russian and Ukrainian pilots (not flying helicopters, mind you) in action...I'd rather walk.
Hear, Hear.

 

Teddy Ruxpin

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An example of the Eastern Bloc's finest - Kabul, Jan 05 - something to bear in mind when discussing using similar "assets" to fly tactical helicopter missions.

The Russian IL-76 touched down almost 500m before the start of the runway, wiping out an old Afghan house.  The landing gear was completely ripped off, as can be seen in the photos.  The IL never touched down in Kabul, but instead proceeded to Dushanbe, where it "landed".  Weather at the time was perfectly clear.  Pilot error... and the guys at KAIA suspected alcohol was a factor.

Helicopters?  :rofl:
 

childs56

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A question then. How about civies fixing those machines over seas that you may be getting to fly in.

I doubt that most of our Helos right now have proper IFF and all those guru electronic equipment you talk about. Can we install it on aircraft, YES. would a civie company do this, well actually yes, most of them already have better comms equipment then the CF does any ways.
I would figure that not every company would put in for a contract to add weapons to their aircraft and alow them to be shot up. So this would be a limiting factor for most. I am sure that their are more then a few companies that could and would provide the type of flying that is required over seas. Ever seen what some of those helicopter pilots in the bush can and will do every day they fly.  Helilogging up the side of a mountain is about as close as nap of the earth as one would go, and that is with a few thousand pounds underneath you. Forestry firefighting helos fly pretty good nap of the earth also.

The bottom line is if you deploy you will hitch a ride with who ever gives it to you,  To say that a civie copany could not provide helo support is a very narrow way to look at the way things look. You can train them for the particuler flying you want.  This would all be in the contract. To loose helos and get shot up well that would be part of the job. To call them mercs is up to you. We dont need the company to provide door gunners and such, i think we can fullfill that very well. We do need the quility of pilot that many civie companies have that we are lacking.

The thing is we will see in the future what happens. We may go civie or we may go military heavy/medium lift. then again we may still relly on our allies to ferry us around and be low on the priorite list for their chocks.  Who knows.

I come back to the first question about civies fixing those machines you may fly in? These civies are deployed over seas with the aircraft.

I am not trying to be an ass but we must look at the possibities of this in the future. I really dont like it all that much myself but it might be a reality one day soon.
cheers guys
 

Teddy Ruxpin

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CTD said:
A question then. How about civies fixing those machines over seas that you may be getting to fly in.

I doubt that most of our Helos right now have proper IFF and all those guru electronic equipment you talk about. Can we install it on aircraft, YES. would a civie company do this, well actually yes, most of them already have better comms equipment then the CF does any ways.
I would figure that not every company would put in for a contract to add weapons to their aircraft and alow them to be shot up. So this would be a limiting factor for most. I am sure that their are more then a few companies that could and would provide the type of flying that is required over seas. Ever seen what some of those helicopter pilots in the bush can and will do every day they fly.  Helilogging up the side of a mountain is about as close as nap of the earth as one would go, and that is with a few thousand pounds underneath you. Forestry firefighting helos fly pretty good nap of the earth also.

The bottom line is if you deploy you will hitch a ride with who ever gives it to you,  To say that a civie copany could not provide helo support is a very narrow way to look at the way things look. You can train them for the particuler flying you want.  This would all be in the contract. To loose helos and get shot up well that would be part of the job. To call them mercs is up to you. We dont need the company to provide door gunners and such, i think we can fullfill that very well. We do need the quility of pilot that many civie companies have that we are lacking.

The thing is we will see in the future what happens. We may go civie or we may go military heavy/medium lift. then again we may still relly on our allies to ferry us around and be low on the priorite list for their chocks.  Who knows.

I come back to the first question about civies fixing those machines you may fly in? These civies are deployed over seas with the aircraft.

I am not trying to be an *** but we must look at the possibities of this in the future. I really dont like it all that much myself but it might be a reality one day soon.
cheers guys

You have no idea what you're talking about do you?  To my knowledge, civilians do not ever repair CF aircraft, especially overseas.  I'm not 100% sure about the US Army's situation (especially vis a vis KBR), but don't believe they've turned this over to contractors in theatre either. We certainly DO have IFF and all the associated systems - and used them constantly in Bosnia.  Civvies have better comms equipment?  Like encrypted TCCCS and SINGARS compatible radios, I suppose... ::)

Edited to add this caveat:  I'm not Air Force and won't pretend to be an expert on aircraft avionics.  Therefore, I'll defer instantly on technical matters to any of the pilots who routinely post here.

Back in the days of yore, I worked in forestry and have some experience with civvy helicopters...(I'm from BC).  There is NO comparison to combat flying and any suggestion to the contrary displays a rather stunning ignorance of the operational environment in Afghanistan.  It is hardly "hitching a ride" - proper tactical flying - particularly heliborne operations - takes years of practice and outstanding equipment designed for that purpose.  The Americans (and some others, including Canadians) are expert at it...  Again, I know who I would "ride" with and who I wouldn't...
 

Big Red

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I haven't been to Afghanistan so I'm not going to speculate on what the CF needs for helo support on the new mission.  If they do indeed need heavier helicopters than the Griffin then what are the options? The government can purchase better helos or hire a PMC to provide airlift.  Neither of these is going to happen. Maybe we will just fly when nobody else has anything important to do and can lend an aircraft to their poor neighbours to the North.

To say that there are no private companies with pilots that have much more combat experience than anything the CF has to offer is absurd.  Companies exist that have experienced pilots, heavy lift capability, and firepower that the CF does not have.
 

KevinB

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Big Red true - but I can not see the Canadian public accepting us being forced to hire BlackWater to perform our combat aviation. 


CTD - your way offbase when stating that civie companies have pilots of better quality than the CF.  VERY VERY few countries have pilots specialized on low level night avation operations.  As Teddy already alluded your out of you lane on comparing what civilian pilots and military pilots do.

  Perhaps you could offer some background on yourself to provide illumination as to your experience etc. that is giving you the knowledge to makes these recomondations?  From where I am sitting it looks like your the owner of a civilian aviation company with some unused birds...

 

George Wallace

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CTD

All I can say is, with those ideas that you are spouting, some ignorant bureaucrat is going to take them as gospel, and cost saving, and then implement them, resulting in needless death to our troops.  You are way off base here.  I may tend to agree that some Ex-CF Helio pilots may be filling roles in Civie Companies, but don't get into equipment.  Don't even compare Civilian flight with Military.

Your comment on equipment losses and their replacement was totally asinine.  "They will be replaced as per the contract".  By whom?  Do you mean that the Civie Company will replace their downed aircraft out of pocket; or out of our pocket (Cdn Tax Dollars)?  I can't see a Civie Company upgrading any of its' aircraft to military standards, and adding on armour, for any short term contract and then not be able to employ these aircraft after the contract is done.  Too expensive and not good business sense.

I have never had any faith in the quality of any Warsaw Pact equipment, including aircraft.  Quality is something I would want in any vehicle that I was being transported in, be it manufacture, maintenance, or operator/driver/pilot.
 

Teddy Ruxpin

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Big Red said:
To say that there are no private companies with pilots that have much more combat experience than anything the CF has to offer is absurd.   Companies exist that have experienced pilots, heavy lift capability, and firepower that the CF does not have.

Big Red:  I was arguing against a Canadian or War Pac contractor.  I realize that there are PMCs with very experienced pilots (I've worked with GRS, DynCorp and a couple of others many times and will leave my personal opinion/attitude out of this discussion) but (1) there's NO way the Government or public would accept the optics of the CF hiring a PMC and (2) what I said about equipment shortfalls still applies, regardless of the quality of the PMC.  There aren't many PMCs flying Chinooks and GW reflects the attitude of many serving members when referring to Russian equipment - particularly from a third source.
 

teddy49

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"You have no idea what you're talking about do you?  To my knowledge, civilians do not ever repair CF aircraft, especially overseas.  I'm not 100% sure about the US Army's situation (especially vis a vis KBR), but don't believe they've turned this over to contractors in theatre either."

Virutally all US rotary wing maintenance and repair for OIF is done by private contractors in theatre.  I can't remember the name of the company but I talked to some of the guys who worked for it in the DFAC in Camp Cooke, Taji.  It's not KBR though.  A guy I worked with at KBR was also an aviation mechanic and applied to them from in theatre.  I don't know if he got the job though.

"How many civilian companies are willing to fly their aircraft on combat missions, which is what we're talking about here?  How many are willing to mount door guns?  How many are willing to modify their aircraft to mount the appropriate avionics and IFF systems, not to mention the communications?  What about armoured floors, etc..? Are civilian pilots trained for air assault operations?  Can they fly nap of the earth, fully blacked out, wearing NODs?"

"Your comment on equipment losses and their replacement was totally asinine.  "They will be replaced as per the contract".  By whom?  Do you mean that the Civie Company will replace their downed aircraft out of pocket; or out of our pocket (Cdn Tax Dollars)?  I can't see a Civie Company upgrading any of its' aircraft to military standards, and adding on armour, for any short term contract and then not be able to employ these aircraft after the contract is done.  Too expensive and not good business sense."

I'm not saying yeah or nay to the idea.  I'm sure that the Canadian public would be dead set against it.  As well as DND.  But it is technically possible.  I'll try and explain how, using KBR as an example.  And before you fire up the flame throwers, I know helicopters are more expensive than trucks, but trucks are what my experience is with, so that's the example I'm using.

KBR own virtually nothing.  They are a giant employment agency with a contract to provide services to the US Army.  But the US Army provides the equipment.  What happens when KBR needs fuel tankers, they first try and lease them from a third party.  If they can get those trucks to come with drivers who get paid a pittance compared to what an expat would make, so much the better.  If not then they have a personnel processing center in Houston that can enroll 800 people a week.  They can get drivers.  So they get the trucks, and shell out for the lease but then they forward the bill to Major Smudley, Rock Island Arsenal who pays them out under the terms of the LOGCAP III contract.  Then they up armour the trucks with Kevlar blankets that the US army has already paid for and have their new drivers, clad in body armour and helmets paid for by the US Army, drive them to Iraq.

If they can't lease the trucks, then they wander down to the mercedes truck dealer, I think it was the one in Dubai, and ordered 300 Actros 3848 T-bunk tractors for delivery as soon as possible to their yard in Kuwait.  Again send the bill to Major Smudley at Rock Island Arsenal.  They only did that once.  After that they started dealing with Daimler Chrysler directly.  So then the US Army was the proud new owner of 300 Mercedes trucks.  Which after they finished uparmouring them, the army ended up driving because nobody from KBR would drive them.  Possibly the worst designed armour kit in history, they were death traps literally, but that's another thread.  But do you see a pattern developing here.  So getting back to leased trucks the leasing company knew what the trucks were being used for and charged lease rates in accordance, so they paid the truck off in about 3 months.  If it got blown up after that, it was paid for and the the army bought themselves a shiny new pile of slag.  If it got blown up before that point, the army still paid for the slag pile, so at worst the broke even on the truck.  This also saved time in aquiring the assets.  Don't get me wrong, the army was never suprised by the bills they got.  There is an administrative process for this, but versus the army's procurement procedures it's extremely streamlined.

I'm not saying it's not expensive and without it's downsides, like ending up with a bunch of trucks and trailers that you don't really have any use for after the whole thing is wrapped up, but it is technically possible.  The company who provides the helicopters doesn't actually need to have any helicopters, they just have to know someone who does.  And having a rolodex full of pilots doesn't hurt either.  I know that the CDS would probably rather walk from Kabul to Kandahar naked with "Cadomite" tatooed in Diri and Pushtu on his butt, than institute a scheme such as this one, but it is technically possible.  I'm tired of people saying it wouldn't work.  As they say in racing, speed costs money, how fast do you want to spend. 

As far as getting civilian guys to do it, I got into the truck for every mission for 7 months after hearing a briefing that went something like this.

"We've got IEDs at 20 alpha, 22 alpha, 26, 32, 38, junction vernon and sword.  Small arms fire, at 22, 28, Sword by Abu Ghraib.  Suspected VBIED was spotted on Tampa between Vernon and Taji.  Sword is closed now to enemy action, but we're hoping it's open by the time that we get there, If not we divert to BIAP."

Before I left KBR, that was pretty much what every briefing for my last month sounded like.  Just because the guys weren't in uniform doesn't mean that they didn't beleive in the mission.  They still get in their trucks and do it and it's cost about 85 KBR drivers their lives.

And as far as the assertion that the CF would posses any more competence than people in the civilian world in a comparable trade, like flying, is ignorant.  There are some very competent people in the CF, but there are more competent people in the Civilian world.  They have to be, otherwise they get fired.  Besides how many Chinook and Kiowa drivers did we lose when we got rid of those air craft.  I'm betting that you could get a bunch of them into Afganistan for 15 large a month.  And you can recruit from other nations.  What about retired Danish chinook drivers, or retired Brits?  Americans, God Forbid?  How long does it take to teach an ex German Super Stallion pilot to fly a Chinook.  Or a Sea King pilot.  Surely flying in a contractor Tac Heli squadron in Afganistan can't be any more dangerous than flying a CF Sea King in the last 15 years.

Sorry for the small novel, but it's my $0.04
 

childs56

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Teddy you said it better then me.

One last thing their are still alot of Vietnam Pilots flying the hills in coastal aviation, i am sure elses where.  How many helo combat pilots do we have in the CF???????
 

George Wallace

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:brickwall:

I've read the last two posts and some of what was said was relatively true, and a lot more was pure crap. 
 
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