Attrition: Two Down, Ten To Go

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September 2, 2009: Britain has lost another one of their CH-47 Chinook helicopters in Afghanistan, the second one in two weeks. The latest loss was due to a hard landing, which did not injure anyone. But one of the rotors was damaged, and the helicopter had to be destroyed to prevent the enemy getting their hands on it. Last month another Chinook was tagged by some ground fire as it rose to leave some troops it had just delivered. One engine burst into flames, and the pilot brought the burning helicopter down safely (for the crew) about 500 meters from where it had taken off. The source of the ground fire had, in the meantime, been taken care of, and another CH-47 came in and picked up the four man crew from the damaged (and burning) chopper. A fighter came by later and put a 500 pound smart bomb on the badly damaged (too badly to salvage) CH-47, to keep any useful gear out of the hands of the Taliban.

These were two losses the British really couldn't afford. That's because, while the British have one helicopter for every 700 troops, the Americans have one for every 200. British commanders believe they need (based on American experience) about fifty helicopters. The British government has promised more, but there are only about a dozen (now minus two) CH-47s over there.

The CH-47 is the best helicopter for use in Afghanistan, having proved itself able to deal with the dust and high altitude operations better than other transport choppers. The CH-47 has been engineered, over the years, to deal with the dust. The first CH-47s entered service in 1962, able to carry only five tons. Current models carry more than twice that. Some 750 CH-47s saw service in Vietnam, and 200 were lost in action.

Between 1982-94, 500 CH-47s were rebuilt to the CH-47D standard. SOCOM operates 31 MH-47Ds and Es (which have additional navigation gear.) These are being upgraded to MH-47F standards, and the fleet expanded to 61 helicopters. As a result of all this, the CH-47 will end up serving at least 75 years. The CH-47F upgrades and new builds will not be completed until 2018. New CH-47Fs cost about $35 million each, just for the bare aircraft. The CH-47F is more durable and easier to maintain than the CH-47D, and most D models will be upgraded to the F standard. Right now, everyone wants more CH-47s (used, refurbs, new, whatever), and there are not enough to go around. So the loss of even one is keenly felt.

 

 


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