OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will overcome a critical shortage of military transport helicopters in Afghanistan by buying six used machines from the United States as well as leasing six Russian-made aircraft, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said on Thursday.
Canada has no transport helicopters in Afghanistan and, in MacKay’s words, has been reduced to “hitching rides with allies.” Canada has 2,500 troops in the southern city of Kandahar on a mission that is due to end in 2011.
Ottawa will buy six used Boeing Co Chinook helicopters from the U.S. government for a sum not exceeding C$292 million ($278 million). The aircraft are already in theater and will be available for operations by February 2009.
In addition, Canada will lease six Russian-made Mil Mi-8 helicopters for a year for up to C$36 million, depending on how much they are used.
“These helicopters will mean less use of convoys to move and resupply our troops and bring humanitarian relief over dangerous terrain, and (they) better protect our soldiers against (bomb) attacks,” MacKay told a televised news conference in Saint-Hubert, Quebec.
Ottawa has already committed to buying 16 medium- to heavy-lift Chinooks, which are due to be delivered in 2012.
MacKay also said Canada would spend C$95 million over two years to lease unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles (UAVs) from MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.
Canada will send an extra 250 soldiers to Afghanistan to help operate the helicopters and UAVs.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson