The following quotes are taken from the official British government response made to the latest House of Commons Defence Committee findings and questions on how British forces are managed, prepared and used operationally. These comments are from the Fourth Report of Session 2010–12 on Operations in Afghanistan published July 17, 2011. The government’s response to this report was published Oct. 17, 2011.
“Going into Helmand was not dependent upon the withdrawal from Iraq although there might be pinch points such as logistics and helicopters.”
One man’s ‘pinch point’ is another man’s ‘severe lack’ of helicopter lift. During the initial phases of the British Parachute Regiment’s into Afghanistan, support was thinly spread, especially when the Regiment was forced to defend isolated and widely located Platoon Houses around northern Helmand Province, each of which became a mini-Alamo, cut off and far away from friendly troops and road re-supply, and relying sporadic Chinook flights, often into ‘hot’ landing zones (LZs).
“Commanders on the ground have sufficient helicopter flying hours available to them to complete the core tasks they have been given.”
How do you decide how many flying hours is enough? Fighting a war rarely aligns to pre-set through life maintenance costs set when the platform was being acquired. The British AH-64D Apache force, when deployed to Afghanistan in 2007, quickly exceeded (by a long way) the hours that had been set prior to deployment. Again, what is a core task? Daily re-supply; troop repositioning; medevac of the wounded?
“The UK operates in Afghanistan as part of a coalition and capabilities such as helicopters and close air support are a pooled resource, tasked by ISAF. There is no ‘reliance’ as such of UK troops on the helicopters of other countries. UK troops will often be supported by other nations’ helicopters and vice versa.”
This presumes there is an equality of helicopters supplied by other ISAF nations. Until the U.S. Marine Corps entered Helmand Province as part of the surge, the next most populous force to the British were the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNAF), but their Apaches were based at Taren Kowt in Uruzgan Province, and Kandahar airfield, largely supporting activity in their region. Canadian Forces, a valued partner and key player, suffered greatly in terms of re-supply and casualty evacuation in the time before they were able to field helicopter support of their own. Tasking one nation’s helicopter resources to support another nation’s urgent need has been somewhat of a headache for most of the time in Afghanistan. It is not simply a matter of calling another base and saying: “We have troops in contact—a TIC—all our aircraft are busy, so could you send one of yours over in the next 30 minutes?” One example can be found in an incident that occurred in September 2006 when British troops walked into a minefield near Kajaki Dam and several were injured and in critical need of extraction. The aircraft required were American HH-60s with hoists, but going through the NATO release authority to get the aircraft would, they were told, take several hours. One section of the report is listed below because I’d like to get feedback from other national military operators on the points made.
Recommendation 19. We are not convinced that UK Forces yet have access to sufficient helicopter hours. We recommend that, in response to this Report, the MoD set out how the new helicopters delivered into theater have impacted on the availability of helicopter hours, any outstanding delivery of helicopters and how much reliance and use we are making of helicopters from the USA and other countries.
The MoD has always focused on the capability being delivered in terms of helicopter flying hours that are available to commanders on the ground…. This allows us to take into account not just the number of helicopter airframes in theater, but also other issues such as the number of crews, spares and maintenance provision. This is how we have managed to deliver a 140 percent increase in the flying hours available from a doubling of the number of helicopters. [It goes on to say that since November 2010] there has been no additional helicopter capability delivered to theater, but the pool of suitably equipped helicopters that could be deployed to theater has been expanded. … The MoD will continue to keep the availability of hours under review, taking into account factors such as military demand, platform capability and wider fleet sustainability. From time to time this may require changes to the mix of airframes available but we will always ensure that commanders have sufficient flying hours to complete the core tasks they have been given.
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