Canada will begin taking delivery of its new CH-147F Chinook tactical helicopter fleet in 2013. They will be based at the newly re-established 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, which is located at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, Ont., but is under the command of 1 Wing Kingston, Ont.
Canada’s tactical aviation force has been delivering air power to Canadians since it was established under the Canadian Army in the latter stages of the Second World War to observe artillery units from the air.
In the seven decades since then — and after several organizational changes that eventually brought it under the stewardship of the Royal Canadian Air Force — tactical aviation remains an integrated element of Canadian Army operations. More recently, it has also become an integral part of Canada’s Special Operations Forces.
Canada’s tactical aviation has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to adapt and transform to meet national and stakeholder requirements and to meet advances in operational equipment and technology. Our tactical aviation enterprise is currently enabled by a dispersed fleet of multi-role CH-146 Griffon helicopters located at squadrons across the country that are under the command of 1 Wing Kingston, Ont. (Editor’s note: 1 Wing’s Griffon helicopter squadrons are currently located at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, N.B.; CFB Valcartier, Que.; Saint-Hubert, Que.; CFB Borden, Ont.; CFB Petawawa, Ont.; and Edmonton, Alta.)
The reactivation of 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron and preparations for the arrival of 15 world class CH-147F Chinooks, which will have their home at 450 Squadron, located at CFB Petawawa, are driving yet another opportunity to re-optimize Canada’s tactical aviation enterprise.
The reference to tactical aviation as an “enterprise” recognizes the role that members of 1 Wing play as the functional core of our national tactical aviation expertise. It also recognizes the myriad other actors within the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Canadian Army, Canada’s Special Operations Forces, the Assistant Deputy Minister (Materiel) and industry partners that collaborate to shape and define the overall quality and quantity of Canadian tactical aviation air power capability.
As the Chinook is reintegrated into this complex enterprise, 1 Wing is already rebalancing — and may restructure — to ensure domestic and international requirements can be sustained as much as possible during the transition.
Domestically, as the Chinook comes online, 1 Wing must sustain its ability to integrate fully with the various Canadian Army brigades on a routine basis. Moreover, it must maintain its response capability from coast to coast to coast as part of Canada Command and Regional Joint Task Force operations, which help provincial or federal departments deal with national disasters and emergencies that outstrip local resources.
Given Canada’s expansive land mass and the inherent time required to transit helicopters when necessary, the geographical dispersion of existing 1 Wing squadrons must be sustained to ensure relevant response times remain achievable.
For planned events such as a G-8 summit or Olympics security, a critical mass of nationally available helicopter support must also be sustained.
Internationally, there is an obvious requirement to surge or sustain integrated aerial mobility, reconnaissance and firepower capable of operating in higher threat environments as part of Canadian Expeditionary Forces Command deployed task forces — similar to our recent Griffon and Chinook operations in Afghanistan. These international requirements also drive a need for an appropriately balanced mix of Chinook- and Griffon-enabled capabilities to ensure high priority capabilities are achievable.
Personnel must be fully trained and ready to deploy for missions and tasks, such as combat airlift with escort, ground convoy escort and firepower support to forces in contact with an adversary, aerial reconnaissance and casualty evacuation. Finally, all of the above must be supported by a sufficient number of aircraft and personnel to support operational training, maintenance, test and evaluation, and basic institutional needs. All of these requirements must be balanced as Canada’s tactical aviation enterprise paves the way for the return of the Chinook to the Canadian landscape.
The level of complexity in bringing the new Chinook into service and achieving its initial operating capability will challenge the enterprise to its fullest. Furthermore, the need to be ready for operational training as soon as the first aircraft arrives in Petawawa is yet another challenge to be orchestrated.
Nevertheless, medium- to heavy-lift helicopter/Chinook project activities are well under way with full enterprise engagement, planning and rebalancing proceeding in lock step to ensure that this significant investment in tactical aerial mobility for the Canadian Army and other stakeholders is operational as quickly as possible.
Quite simply, the return of the Chinook means a transformation of and change to the entire tactical aviation enterprise. This welcome change represents the next chapter in the long, distinguished history of Canada’s tactical aviation.
Col Whale is the commander of 1 Wing Kingston, Ont.