Canada urged to acquire attack helicopters

AvatarBy Chris Thatcher | May 10, 2017

Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 36 seconds.

A Senate report is recommending Canada acquire attack helicopters as part of a program to replace its fleet of Bell CH-146 Griffon helicopters.

The recommendation was one of 30 issued by the Standing Committee on National Security and Defence May 8 in a report intended to address what the chair, Conservative Senator Daniel Lang, called “urgent capability gaps.”

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) has been analyzing options for either the midlife upgrade or complete replacement of its fleet of 95 CH-146 utility transport tactical helicopters. While various possibilities had been raised in briefings to industry and in interviews with media, attack helicopters were never mentioned as part of any plan.

Committee members, however, argued for more effective protection for the Boeing CH-147F Chinook medium- to heavy-lift helicopters, and for soldiers during combat search-and-rescue. It recommended the government prioritize the replacement of 55 Griffons with a military helicopter — the Griffon is a modified variant of the Bell 412 civilian helicopter that struggled in certain conditions during operations in Afghanistan — and add 24 attack helicopters.

The requirement for an attack helicopter like a Boeing AH-64 Apache was identified in discussions with allies, especially the Netherlands, which found the capability critical to its operations Mali, Lang explained in an interview with Vertical. Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago Photo
The requirement for an attack helicopter like a Boeing AH-64 Apache was identified in discussions with allies. Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago Photo

The requirement for an attack helicopter like a Boeing AH-64 Apache was identified in discussions with allies, especially the Netherlands, which found the capability critical to its operations in Mali, Lang explained in an interview with Vertical.

Canada, he noted, is “always looking to somebody else for assistance with [that capability]. If we are going to be self-contained as a military, obviously it is an area we have to look at.”

The report also recommended increasing the Chinook fleet from 15 to 36 helicopters “to support the needs of the army.” The Chinooks are essential to transport light infantry battalions and sustain troops throughout the battle space, and are steadily being integrated into the army’s force employment concept.

Among its other air force-related recommendations, which included immediate fighter jet and air-to-air refueling replacement, the Senate also urged the government to move forward with a proposal to upgrade and expand the fleet of Leonardo (formerly AgustaWestland) CH-149 Cormorant search-and-rescue helicopters by converting seven VH-71 airframes acquired in 2011 for spare parts into working aircraft.

The Chinooks are essential to transport light infantry battalions and sustain troops throughout the battle space, and are steadily being integrated into the army's force employment concept. Mike Reyno Photo
The Chinooks are essential to transport light infantry battalions and sustain troops throughout the battle space, and are steadily being integrated into the army’s force employment concept. Mike Reyno Photo

“The fleet of VH-71s should be modified to match the current capacity of the [Cormorants] and temporarily moved to the east and west coasts to provide additional support for search and rescue while the CH-149 are systematically upgraded,” the report stated.

Accepting the recommendation would increase the Cormorant fleet to 21 and allow the RCAF to eventually station seven on each coast and seven at 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario, which currently operates a fleet of less capable Griffons for search-and-rescue.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan also singled out the Griffon and Cormorant midlife upgrade projects for immediate attention during a speech intended to serve as a prelude to the government’s much anticipated defense policy review, expected to be released in the next two weeks before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a NATO heads-of-government meeting on May 25.

In an address to the Conference of Defence Associations Institute on May 3, Sajjan offered a frank assessment of the chronic underfunding of the military and highlighted several equipment programs on a growing list of unfunded projects desperately required by the Canadian Armed Forces.

“We are now in the troubling position where status quo spending on defense will not even maintain a status quo of capabilities,” he said. “Current funding has us digging ourselves into a hole, a hole that gets deeper every year. As a percentage of our GDP, we are spending less on defense today than we were in 2005.”

The Cormorants, he said, meet a critical need and require immediate investment, while the Griffons might have to be “phase out” if funding is not allocated for a modernization program because of parts obsolescence and problems with instrumentation that no longer conforms to North American airspace standards.

The Senate report, the second of two released by the committee in as many months, provided a roadmap to address the strategic challenges facing Canada and to grow defense spending from the current 0.88 percent of GDP to the NATO commitment of two percent by 2028.

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  1. Using an attack helicopter such as the Apache, or Eurocopter, could save us money. We could buy fewer fighter jets, and use the attack helicopters to fill the CAS and attack roles. We could have fewer jets, and use them only for air-to-air, and deep interdiction missions. Sounds alright to me.

  2. Here in Norway we have the 412 SP/HP, maybe we can bay some of the CH 146 Griffons, the army needs more helicopters.

  3. Canada can replace the Griffons with an upgrade Griffons version (applying learnings from previous version) in that sense Mirable jobs wont be jeopardize…also Canada may “lease” the mothballed Apaches Longbow AH.1 from UK; using them in BATUS add some skis, and the Helicopters will still belong to UK but we may use them any time

    1. I say strike a deal with Bell helicopter who built the Griffons. We are going to buy AH-1Z, but in exchange, they have to allow us to build that in Canada….or at least part of it to keep the jobs in Mirable.

      US Marines are replacing their AH-1W fleep with the Viper so their producing capability may not meet the requirement of Canadian government and giving us the perfect opportunity to build it just in Canada.

  4. I think having attack helicopter for canadian troops would be completely unnecessary and would never replace bombing sorties with the jets as this is most of what we do. considering Canada used the griffon to provide CAS in Afghanistan, The next logical choice would be the UH-1Y who can is based on the Huey as the griffon and can serve Utility, Attack role and CAS. This with the F-18 follow the multi use concept that canada aim.

    1. Yeah lets use UH-1Y like in vietnam, Enemy totally won’t have weapons that can harm it. Man don’t the UH-1Y and the CH-146 have the exact same capabilities and job. Amazing right.

      1. Well the USMC still use it as an attack helicopter and just upgraded it. In Vietnam the us used the UH1B and C with about 12 generation down the line i don’t think you can compare the situation. Full glass cockpit, hellfire missiles, Warning system against threats flare and chaff automatic dispensing 2 times the payload even with all the electronic inside.

    2. I disagree. I think Canada could start using Apaches and would be a good replacement for the Griffons.

  5. Canada needs to start building our own Military assets. How many western nations depend on other Nations to build their Military needs? Activate a new avro arrow program that our less than intelligent government scrapped years ago.

  6. What Canada needs to do is establish a minimum amount it will spend on defence so the funding is stable and we don’t dig ourselves into a hole again. 1.5% GDP is probably reasonable and should satisfy our NATO commitments.

  7. Canada very much needs to upgrade the RCAF tactical helicopter fleet. Our Griffons, which are commercial Bell 412 EP’s with an IFR package and some other kits, are in my opinion; weak in hot and high performance, comparatively speaking poor lifters, and are relatively slow with a VNE of 140 KIA. But to be positive, they are fairly reliable and pretty robust.

    I would ask the Canadian government to look at the Bell UH-1Y and the AH-1Z package. I don’t know a whole lot about these 2 machines except for what Wikipedia and a handful of other articles say but what catches my eye is the 85% components compatibility between the two types, and my assumption that they could both be built here in Canada.

    On paper, the UH-1Y is a huge upgrade over the CH-146. Hot and high performance, lifting ability, speed, range, troop capacity are all increased. Significantly in some areas. The AH-1Z provides a huge increase in firepower, sensory equipment and speed over the Griffon while giving support to ground forces or acting as an air escort . When s__t hits the fan, I’ll take the AH-1Z over a Griffon any day.

    Furthermore, I would argue that we do need attack helicopters because while the Griffon was more or less effective against the Taliban in Afghanistan, we shouldn’t assume this aircraft in this configuration will be as safe or effective against future combatants having higher technology weapons, better organization or more funding. Canada needs more adaptable, modern helicopters to protect our country and to succeed in future U.N. missions while protecting our military service personnel.

    As well, I would hope and support the Canadian government in acting on the advice of the Senate report and move to increase the number of Chinook helicopters and convert the purchased VH-71’s to SAR Cormorant helicopters. We could most certainly use more of these 2 types. Also there was an article written at about a light scout helicopter based on the Bell 429 which, i think, should be given more consideration for the RCAF.

    Lastly I would say it’s pretty easy to sit here, criticize, and say “Spend More!!” because as one area of budget goes up another must go down and these helicopters cost billions just to buy. So I’m just putting it out there and saying, no i dont think I’m crazy, but that in order for all these purchases to go through, I would be willing to pay more in taxes because I think our military needs this equipment and a whole lot more. Not trying to start a debate, just saying I wouldn’t complain, much..

  8. Canada should buy or obtain a helicopter gunship platform, we can’t keep using CH-146 as a gunship which it wasn’t designed for in the first place. The Canadian military should take a good hard look at acquiring either a Bell AH-1Z Cobra, AH-64 Apache Westland Longbow or a Eurocopter Tiger

  9. Canada should consider Sikorsky’s UH-60M/S-70i with the armament kit (guns, rockets, Hellfire). Much less expensive than an Apache or Cobra and still usable as a multimission aircraft with 11 pax capacity.

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