Chinooks not returning to Canada after Afghan mission
A Canadian CH-47D Chinook battlefield helicopter takes off from undisclosed forward operating base, west of Kandahar after dropping off troops Friday Feb. 20, 2009. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Murray Brewster)
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Six aging Canadian Chinook helicopters that have become the pride of the air force in Afghanistan may not be headed to the scrap heap when the mission is over but they are not coming home either.
The CH-47D Chinooks, purchased from the United States with a price tag of $292 million a couple of years ago, have done yeoman's service since they began flying here early last year.
But with a plan to purchase 15 brand new CH-47F Chinooks there will be no need to bring home the aging fleet.
"Believe me, the value of those aircraft cannot be diminished. They will not be scrapped," explained Defence Minister Peter MacKay as he wrapped up a three-day visit to Afghanistan.
"We will turn them over. Most likely they'll go back to the company (Boeing) for resale. Possible consideration could be given for the purchase of the new F models that we will receive," he added.
The purchase of the new Chinooks will cost $2 billion plus an estimated contract value of $2.7 billion for 20 years of in-service support.
"We are, as you know, contracted to buy new Chinook aircraft so we'll be swapping them out but it is yet to be determined the fate of those particular aircraft. They will not come back to Canada," said MacKay.
MacKay couldn't say if Canada would receive credit from Boeing to offset the nearly $5 billion cost of the new Chinooks. He said there is little doubt that the current Chinooks will find a new home.
"There's still discussion on what the specific outcome of these discussions with Boeing will be" he said.
"There could be consideration given for new ones or there may be another country interested - in fact I'm led to believe there are a number of countries who are interested ... in buying those particular aircraft."
Gen. Walter Natynczyk, the chief of defence staff, said the 47-D models are fine right now but would create a host of problems if Canada tried to return them home.
"They have been invaluable. And while we're here we have the priority in terms of all the spare parts," he said.
"The moment those aircraft leave this theatre they will no longer have that kind of priority for spare parts. So maintaining them to the high level that we have here would be very difficult."
MacKay and Natynczyk kept a remarkably low profile during their visit to Kandahar and a number of outposts in the province.
MacKay said he is always impressed with the job that Canadian soldiers are doing in Afghanistan but he said there is no thought being given to any change in current plans to wrap up the mission.
"Let me be crystal clear - we will live and respect the parliamentary motion which calls for an end to them military mission in 2011, a ceasing of combat in July of 2011 and a complete withdrawal from Kandahar province in December of that same year," said MacKay.
"While I absolutely respect and admire what our soldiers have done in the mission, I am also duty bound as is the government to respect Parliament. We're here fighting for the preservation and promotion of democracy. We have to respect the democracy of our own country."