in Defence / Features

Helicopter woes for MINUSMA

Posted 24 May 2017 · Add Comment

A little-known UN mission in Mali celebrates its fourth anniversary this month. Since the deployment began, the multidimensional integrated stabilisation mission in Mali (MINUSMA) has been working to help stabilise the situation after a Tuareg rebellion in 2012, followed by a jihadist insurgency, led to the French military being called into action. France's Operation Barkhane (originally Serval) continues to battle with jihadi fighters while MINUSMA tries to keep the peace. Alan Warnes reports.

While the Malian armed forces and the French are employed in counter-terrorist missions, the UN tries to go about its work.
But, as the outgoing Danish MINUSMA commander, Major General Michael Lollesgaard, said in one of his farewell speeches in early January: “The UN doesn’t have an overall counter-terrorist mandate – but we need to protect ourselves.”
MINUSMA comprises more than 45 member countries; some contribute troops and others, like the US, provide funding. Whether that will continue under the new US president is unclear. That could be one crisis.
Right now, a lack of helicopters is another crisis. They play a big part in the MINUSMA operation, assisting with logistical requirements, escort duties and security.
MINUSMA operated 16 military helicopters in mid-2016. However, that number is now looking unlikely to be sustained.
The Indonesian Army has withdrawn its three Mi-17 helicopters, which had been present since the operation started. And this loss has been compounded by the Royal Netherlands Air Force announcing in July that it would withdraw its four AH-64D Apaches and three CH-47Ds. They have been there since May 2014, operating out of Gao to support ground troops. Their departure will leave a big gap in MINUSMA’s reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering capabilities.
The Dutch have lost eight peacekeepers during the operation, including both crew of an AH-64D that crashed in March 2015. Four Dutch soldiers have also died in accidents and two were killed in a mortar-firing exercise last July.
Losing the Dutch and Indonesian contingents leaves MINUSMA with three El Salvador Air Force MD500C armed helicopters and three Bangladesh Air Force Mi-171Sh utility helicopters.
“We will definitely have some operational shortfalls once we lose the helicopters,” General Lollesgaard said, adding: “The helicopters act as a powerful deterrent against attacks on UN peacekeepers.”
The situation has been partly alleviated by the German Government. It announced, on January 11, that it is planning to send four NH90 medium transport helicopters and four Tiger UHT attack helicopters to Mali in the spring for the MINUSMA mission.
The NH90s will be used for transport tasks, including the evacuation of wounded personnel. The Tigers will provide security. They come armed with the Panzerabwehr Raketensystem (PARS) 3 LR fire-and-forget missiles, as well as HOT 3 anti-tank missiles and 70mm (2.75in) air-to-ground rockets in 19-tube Forges de Zeebrugge (FZ) pods.
Unlike France’s HAP version, which is also operational in Mali, operating from Gao as part of Operation Barkhane, the UHT has no integrated gun turret. However, a 12.7mm (0.5in) calibre gun pod is fitted when necessary.
The UHT also has a mast-mounted sight, which incorporates second-generation infrared and CCD TV cameras with a range of 11 miles (18km).
Both the NH90 and Tiger were previously used by Germany in Afghanistan. However, the NH90 encountered difficulties in operating in ‘hot and high’ conditions.
The Ghana Aviation Unit (GHAV) in Bamako has been providing a C295 airlifter since September 2014. GHAV airlifts MINUSMA personnel and cargo to locations rather than taking it by vehicle. Being less dependent on risk-prone convoys is a priority, particularly travelling through the deserts of northern Mali.
The unit also carries out the important job of medical and casualty evacuation, often flying to remote and inaccessible areas.
In late February 2016, a Royal Norwegian Air Force C-130J and 70 personnel deployed to Mali. When the Norwegian detachment ended, on November 23, Lieutenant Colonel Hans Martin Steiro, who headed the force said: “We transported large amounts of cargo and lots of staff around the country in a relatively short time. To reach some areas in the north, it would have meant going by convoy, which could take up to five or six days, while we only spent hours.”
It meant early mornings and late nights and there were a lot of sorties. “We flew about 200 missions for the UN during our stay, which involved transporting more than 550,000kgs and over 15,000 passengers during 800 flight hours. We also have a capability like no other in MINUSMA – we can drop loads by night and day.”
On June 20 last year, officials from Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Portugal and Sweden signed a Letter of Intent to establish a two-year long rotation of military transport aircraft, which will run until the end of 2018. The cooperation will provide air transport services based on six-month rotations.
General Lollesgaard was pleased with this innovative way of fulfilling his need to move heavy loads around the country. “It’s a good model because, what we see in the United Nations now, with complex operations, is the need for special capabilities that many countries, such as the African countries, do not have. We can now use the capabilities that countries have available. Small countries cannot operate such contributions over a longer period. This rotation model is ideal and means they can now contribute to the UN.”
He sees further opportunity to expand this model to other MINUSMA capabilities.
 

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