ISIL active in south Afghanistan
Jan 15, 2009

Operation Apollo
Canada’s Air Force has been a part of our country’s commitment to improving stability and security in the Persian Gulf region since October of 2001, immediately after the 9/11 attacks in the United States. CH124 Sea King helicopters accompanied a Canadian Naval Task Group that sailed to the north Arabian Sea in October 2001 to join a coalition fleet as part of Operation Apollo, the first Canadian deployment in the campaign against terrorism. Ship-borne Sea Kings performed a wide range of tasks in support of this operation including reconnaissance, replenishment, transport and escort.

Shortly following the Naval Task Group, in November of 2001, the Air Force deployed a CC150 Polaris long-range transport aircraft to the theatre of operations with about 40 personnel, including three flight crews and one air-cargo handling team. The CC150 detachment was tasked with medical evacuation, sustainment and re-supply, rapid delivery of operationally required items and movement of personnel. During its operational service the detachment moved approximately 3.5 million kilograms of cargo and more than 2,300 passengers.

In late December 2001, two CP140 Aurora aircraft with about 200 Air Force personnel, including flight crews and support staff, deployed to the region to provide reconnaissance and surveillance support to the maritime coalition forces. Over an 18 month period, these aircraft and crews flew more than 500 missions and logged more than 4,300 flying hours on Op Apollo.

In January of 2002, the Air Force grouped three CC130 Hercules transport aircraft into a tactical airlift detachment and deployed them with about 180 Air Force personnel to support coalition forces on Op Apollo. These aircraft and crews transported military personnel, equipment and cargo between a number of destinations in the theatre of operations, including Afghanistan.

Operation Athena
Op Athena is the name for Canada’s current participation in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) – conducted under the auspices of the United Nations – in Afghanistan.
In August of 2003, the tactical airlift detachment, formerly deployed on Op Apollo, was reformed as a tactical airlift unit and refocused its efforts to provide ongoing airlift support to Op Athena in Afghanistan. A few months later, more than a dozen more Air Force personnel deployed to Afghanistan as part of the first crew to operate the Sperwer tactical unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system in support of ISAF operations.

The Sperwer CU161 UAV has operated in Afghanistan since 2003, gathering information in high demand by NATO and ISAF.

Mission Support Squadrons
One of the key components of Air Force transformation was ­creating an Air Force that can deploy anywhere, anytime, and on very short notice. The idea began as a concept in 2004, and evolved to a working model when Mission Support Squadrons (MSS) were created at various Air Force Wings across Canada.

The MSS are deployed to the theatre of operations as formed units. These pre-formed units comprise people from 15 to 20 different support occupations such as supply, transport, engineering, administration, food services and communications, who deploy for up to six months at a time. The MSS members train and deploy together, rather than arriving in theatre as individuals pooled together from bases and wings across Canada. As one MSS team returns from theatre, another takes over. The MSS, which began deploying in 2005, serve with the Theatre Support Element (TSE), supporting operations in Afghanistan from a base in the Persian Gulf region.

The MSS in theatre ensures smooth operations at the TSE, keeping the lights on, utilities working and the kitchen ­running, issuing weapons and equipment, marshalling troops in and out of camp, ­orienting new arrivals and issuing water in the stifling heat.

Since 2006, MSS from 17 Wing Winnipeg, Manitoba; 14 Wing Greenwood, Nova Scotia; and 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta have been deployed to the TSE.

Joint Task Force Afghanistan (JTF-Afg)
JTF-Afg comprises all Canadian Forces assets deployed in Southwest Asia. As of January 2009, its established strength is about 2,830 personnel, the majority of whom are deployed on Operation Athena.

The Air Force geared up in 2008 to meet the ongoing and increased requirements to provide air support to operations in Afghanistan. Approximately 250 additional personnel and equipment were deployed for the stand-up of the Joint Task Force Afghanistan (JTF-Afg) Air Wing, bringing the total number of ­personnel to 450. The Air Wing commands all air assets in the ­theatre of operations including the CH147 D Chinook medium- to heavy-lift helicopters, the Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and CH146 Griffon escort helicopters. It also has command of the ­Theatre Support Element and Tactical Airlift Detachment.

Mirabel – Griffons from 438 Tactical Helicopter Sqn are loaded into a Globemaster for Afghanistan. Photo: SGt Paz Quillé, CF Combat Camera

Strategic & Tactical Airlift
In August of 2007 the Air Force’s first CC177 Globemaster III strategic airlift platforms also entered service in Afghanistan. The arrival of the Globemaster III was a welcome sight and it was soon tasked to support operations in Afghanistan with regular sustainment flights from Canada, as well as the semi-annual rotation of troops in and out of theatre.

CC130 Hercules tactical airlift began flying in Afghanistan in 2002. In July 2006, a Hercules conducted an historic airdrop ­mission – re-supplying troops engaged in combat operations for the first time since the Korean War (1950-1953).

Helicopter Airlift
When the need for integrated helicopter airlift for Canadian operations in Afghanistan was identified, the government looked to the future and moved to provide medium- to heavy-lift helicopters. This requirement was addressed in a phased approach. The immediate helicopter lift requirements of the Afghanistan mission were satisfied in 2008 when the Air Force chartered commercial Mi8 medium-lift helicopters.

For the medium term, six Chinook D-model helicopters, already stationed in Afghanistan, were procured from the United States Army, and Canadian crews underwent training for these ­platforms with U.S. instructors in 2008. These aircraft began ­operations in early 2009.

CH146 Griffon Helicopters
The Air Force began deployment of eight CH146 Griffon helicopters and associated crews to Afghanistan in December 2008 to serve as escorts to the Chinooks and conduct other essential missions in support of the Canadian ISAF mission.

To provide effective escort protection, these Griffons will be equipped with an enhanced weapon system.

To enable the Griffons to operate in the heat and altitude of Afghanistan, operational and engineering staffs identified non-essential equipment to be removed, thus allowing for additional essential mission equipment or greater fuel loads. This provides extended range and a greater safety margin for operation at higher altitudes.

Griffon crews have been conducting extensive training with the Canadian army units they will support in Afghanistan. This training includes aerial fire support and ­airborne control of other aerial weapon systems in direct support of Army personnel on the ground. Also, “hot and high” flying training took place at locations in the United States that replicate the conditions that exist in the Afghanistan theatre of operations. This training includes advanced tactics, night vision goggle use, mountain flying, and practice with aptly named ‘dust-ball’ landings that are commonly experienced in Afghanistan.

Bringing the six Chinook D-model ­helicopters on line in Afghanistan will ­provide significantly enhanced in-theatre mobility and flexibility for CF personnel. The CH146 Griffons flying tactical escort support to the Chinooks will provide an added measure of safety for all concerned.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
UAVs are flexible, highly valued assets that provide indispensable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. The new CU170 Heron UAV, which deployed to Afghanistan in late 2008, was leased on an interim basis to meet increasing demands until a long-term UAV solution is in place. The Heron provides a more ­persistent surveillance over a significantly larger area than the Sperwer did.

Wrap up
Since 2001, Canada’s Air Force has ably demonstrated that it continues to have the range of necessary capabilities to allow it to support Canadian Forces’ overseas missions. In Afghanistan, this means ­providing strategic and tactical airlift, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and helicopter tactical escort with modern and appropriate air assets and highly trained and committed personnel. Canada’s Air Force continues to be dedicated to the successful achievement of Canada’s Afghanistan ­mission.

Joanna Calder is a communications advisor with Air Force Public Affairs at National Defence Headquarters. She is a member of both the Reserve Force and the Public Service.
© FrontLine Defence 2009