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The modernization of Type Mi helicopters: step by step

(BRUSSELS2) Launched at the initiative of France and the United Kingdom last May, the project to make “helicopters available” is developing slowly but surely. The initiative is original – we can never say it enough – because it is common to the two security organizations (NATO and EU) and aims to make more helicopters available, in particular those of Russian manufacture of the “Mi type” (Mi 8, Mi 17…) which equip most Eastern European countries. In fact, these machines are often unsuitable for use in theaters of operations outside Europe. Not that they are out of use. But simply, they have not been designed and equipped for use in rugged, desert terrain or do not have the latest equipment necessary for multinational operations.

The “trauma” of the difficult generation of Chad/Afghanistan forces

As a seminar held in Prague under the Czech Presidency on 3 February showed, most European countries are interested in this initiative, in one way or another, either because they need helicopters , either because they want their fleet to be modernized, or also for industrial reasons. Everyone - both in NATO and in the EU - still remembers the "difficult generations of difficult forces both in the ISAF operation in Afghanistan and the EUFOR operation in Chad". One " real trauma »… Martin Bartak, the Czech Deputy Minister for Defense, also underlined the “ need for maximum complementarity and cooperation between the two organisations, both at the political level and with regard to capacity development”. Among the topics discussed at this seminar, the availability for operations, feedback from current missions (EUFOR, IFAS), technical and logistical solutions and finally the establishment of a multinational pool of helicopters "of type Mi” for international operations.

Private contracting, a false solution

This seminar was useful for taking stock of the initiative and drawing certain lessons from the past, in particular the limits of recourse to private contracting for operations in risk areas. The Irish who used this type of contract to
the "Eufor" operation in Chad thus had the unpleasant surprise of discovering, on the ground, that their private partner was not authorized to carry out certain missions, in particular troop transport (see also:
Two Irish helicopters banned from missions?). This drastically limited the use of these helicopters when “Eufor” lacked them. Similarly, private contracting to cover certain tasks such as medical evacuations often comes up against a limit: “private pilots cannot/willing to carry out evacuations in conflict zones,” says a specialist in these issues.

Train men, modernize equipment

The “Helicopters” initiative, launched in May 2008, covers two aspects: people and equipment. First of all, it is a question of perfecting the training of pilots and their ability to fly in certain conditions (mountains, desert, etc.). A first training session took place last September in the French Pyrenees (with Czech pilots), another is planned for the spring in the Alps in Gap (with Czech, Hungarian and Polish pilots). Secondly, it involves renovating certain helicopters by adding the equipment necessary for operational flight outside Europe (night flight, flight in the desert, mountains, shielding, electronic equipment, etc.). 3 Czech helicopters have already been refurbished. About 150 helicopters, of the Mi type, would be likely to be modernized, a priori. But the funds available are limited.

A little “fair” funding but many contribute

The “Trust Fund”, set up at Shape (NATO), is currently endowed with around 20 to 26 million euros (depending on whether we take into account the sums arrived or promised) of which around 10 million euros have already been spent. A very modest sum when we know that the renovation of a single helicopter costs several million euros (approximately 4 to 7 million). Around ten countries – members of the EU or NATO – have already contributed: the United Kingdom (€7,5 million), France (€5 million), Norway (€2 million), Turkey (€2 M€), Australia (2-3 M€), Finland (0,5 M€), Iceland (0,5 M€), Estonia and Lithuania (between 20 and 50 euros, the contribution may seem symbolic but it corresponds proportional to the contribution of other States).

Several States (Germany, Cyprus, France, Norway, Netherlands, Ukraine, etc.) are also contributing in kind to this initiative, through the training of pilots, the provision of training areas (mountainous in the Alps or Pyrenees, or deserts like in Djibouti), the provision of equipment (flight electronics, etc.) or industrial skills (Ukraine in particular has these skills).

The operating principle of the Trust Fund is that of any fund. The country requesting funding submits an application. The funding member countries of the Fund – as well as the NATO Agency and the European Defense Agency – meet and decide to retain the project and release the necessary funding, taking into account restrictions on use (caveat). Some countries have in fact laid down “caveats”, for example that the money be reserved for certain actions (example: training) or prohibited for others (example: no use in Afghanistan).

Towards a helicopter pool

An inventory of the “helicopter” initiative will be presented at the next NATO summit, in Strasbourg-Kehl, at the beginning of April. Hoping that the Heads of State and Government decide to move up a gear. The objective is, in fact, to be able to create a unit of multinational helicopters, of the Mi type (Hip according to the NATO code), capable of taking part in NATO and EU missions. The Czech Republic, decidedly very motivated by this project, has applied to take the role of leader in the working group of this HIP Helicopter Task Force (or HHTF). It should be noted that the Czech engine manufacturer LOM Praha is the only company to be approved by the Russian manufacturer Mil to carry out the modifications, transformations on these helicopters.

(photo: Czech Ministry of Defence)

Nb: article published with other details for Europolitics

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).