ER-MCV: Update – Ainsworth admits it was carrying our Supplies

Mi-26T, registration ER-MCV
Mi-26T, registration ER-MCV

Finally true to his name “Slow Bob” Ainswoth admits that ER-MCV the MI-26T helicopter that went down on 14th July was carrying supplies for the British Forces.

Ann Winterton (Congleton, Conservative)

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what supplies were lost when the Mi-26T helicopter carrying supplies to a British base in Afghanistan crashed on 14 July 2009; and of what nationality the crew members of that helicopter were.

Bob Ainsworth (Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence; Coventry North East, Labour)

The Mi-26T helicopter was carrying non-sensitive cargo, including food and fuel, when it crashed. The crew members were Ukrainian.

Perhaps the next questions should be has it or any of its sister craft been tasked with carrying troops and at what cost were the Ukranians bribed into operating this helicopter in such a dangerous area.

Will we also be paying compensation to the families of the Ukrainian crew and how can we ensure that the next time this occurs no civilian lives are lost by operating helicopters in this manner?

Also as a parting shot, why are we employing directly or indirectly dodgy companies that have been implicated in many scams over the past 10 years in many of the worlds trouble spots and whose safety record is not exactly up to scratch thus endangering both service personnel and Afghan civilians.

Afghanistan: Peacekeeping Operations: 20 Jul 2009: Written answers and statements (

ER-MCV: EU Referendum: Brown envelopes galore

ER-MCV at Lashkar Gar
ER-MCV at Lashkar Gar

This post by EU Referendum says what I have been thinking and looking at over the past few days. The operation creep is  worrying, had it started to become about moving troops as well? Did that happen, was it about to happen, will we ever know? Secrecy abounds.

The worry about attacks on Chinooks will be an ever present, what  it show is that the Taliban are looking for a big bit of Propaganda.

If you want to read about the dodginess of SkyLink try this article from Fox News

When it was raised in Parliament yesterday by the redoubtable Ann Winterton – the ONLY MPs who raised the embarrassing report of a British-chartered helicopter ferrying military supplies to a British base getting shot down by the Taliban, Miliband and Ainsworth did NOT want to talk about it. The full exchange is here.

Of course, there is every reason why they should not want to be up front. Not only was the prime contractor Skylink subcontracting the work to dodgy Moldovan gun-runners – in breach of the contract requirements – the Moldovans were subcontracting the operating of the aircraft to an equally dodgy Ukrainian outfit, which explains why six of their number were killed.

Moreover, as more details come in, it is now very clear that this was a deliberate Taleban ambush, mounted directly under the noses of the British, aimed at bringing down a Chinook – one of the main strategic aims of the Taleban. The unfortunate Mi-26 happened to wander along, in company with an Mi-8 MTV. Both took fire and the Mi-26 bought it. Bad luck on the Ukranian crew and bad luck for the Taleban. They wanted an RAF Chinook, and will keep trying until they get one.

As for Skylink, this is an aviation company that has no aircraft. It specialises in supplying aircraft in war zones for the UN and other tranzies like the EU, for NGOs and any shady outfit that happens to be passing with a dodgy cargo it wants moved in a hurry. It buys contracts top dollar, with brown envelopes passing freely. It is so corrupt that even the UN blew it out, until it bought its way back into favour by greasing the right palms.

The company then subs out the work down the chain to dodgy Moldavians, Ukrainians and the rest, mostly operating clapped-out ex-Soviet hardware with safety certificates that owe more to photoshop than they do any certifying authority, their aircraft banned from any and all Western airspace. These outfits work as a group, sharing and swapping assets when they get outed, forming and reforming companies, appearing and disappearing, and cropping up with new names and the same aircraft just as frequently.

These are the people that are working for the MoD, the contract carefully laundered through Nato to give plausible deniability, thus avoiding a Tory and media uproar when it was learned that the MoD was hiring dodgy ex-Soviet choppers to make up for capacity shortfalls.

The trouble was that the original arrangement was that the aircraft should serve the transport hub between Kandahar and Bastion. They were not permitted to fly into FOBs – that is military airspace, from which they were to be excluded.

However, once there, the mission creep set in and, with the desperate shortage of lift, the brief was extended to the aircraft uplifting into the FOBs like Sangin. The Ukrainians, desperate for cash, were squared off with generous bonuses and thus agreed to fly into hot war zones, where even RAF Chinooks will only fly with Apache escorts.

The MoD was happy, being able to release Chinooks and Apaches for operations, Skylink was happy with the extra hours and the bonuses, and the Ukrainians at the sharp end needed the money anyway. And hey! They are expendable.

As long as the contract was piggy-backed off Nato, and thus totally deniable, no one had to be told and everyone kept schtum … including the Tories. And now, no one wants to talk about it. Says Ainsworth: “I do not want to trespass on to operational details.” You bet he doesn’t.

As for the Tories, having decided to make “helicopters” their cause celebre, the last thing they want to know is that the Taleban are parking outside the gates of British bases, waiting for an opportunity to down a Chinook. Rather shoots the Fox – to coin a phrase – about more helicopters saving lives.

So goes the conspiracy of silence. The British media … forget it. E-mails from special advisors? MPs’ expenses? Dead safe … nay problem. If you look too deep here, you don’t live.

Thanks  Richard saved me a nights work!

EU Referendum: Brown envelopes galore.

ER-MCV: Update on Status – Why all the Secrecy

ER-MCV at Lashkar Gar
ER-MCV at Lashkar Gar

A big problem I have with the crash of Helicopter ER-MCV and the loss of six Ukranian Crew and one Afghan civilian is why is there such secrecy about the deployment of this helicopter in Afghanistan?

The helicopter and its two stablemates have been operating for our Armed Forces in Afghanistan for some time and in addition Canada has on lease some six helicopters from the same company which they advertise quite openly. So why are we shrouding it all in secrecy?

Yesterday in Parliament Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): asked

Will the Secretary of State confirm whether the helicopter that is believed to have been shot down earlier this week, with the loss of eight lives, was a NATO helicopter, or was directly leased, if that is the right word, by the United Kingdom? I understand that it was a supply helicopter, and the insurgents may well have believed that it was a Chinook.

David Miliband: replied

I think that the hon. Lady is referring to the six Ukrainians who lost their lives when their helicopter was shot down earlier this week. I do not want to trespass on to operational details. I think that it would be better if we considered what we are able to say publicly about that incident, and then referred to the matter at the end of the debate. There is some information, but it does not quite tally with what she suggested. I suggest that we seriously take on board her inquiry, but right hon. and hon. Members will know that there are good reasons why we do not go into details here.

So why all the secrecy?

Onto the end of the debate.  Ann Winterton: asked

Is the right hon. Gentleman able to answer the question that I posed to the Foreign Secretary at the outset of this debate about the helicopter that had been contracted to the British?

Mr. Ainsworth: replied

We suffered the loss of a contract helicopter in the north of Helmand province and there were deaths as a result of that. I will write to the hon. Lady and give her more detail on it if she wants. I know that she often raises the issue of vehicles and that she has had a long-standing interest in the subject. People continue to say that there is a huge problem with vehicles. We have a suite of vehicles now, including Mastiff, Ridgback and Jackal. We also have the new tactical support vehicles—Wolfhound, Husky and Coyote—coming into province. It is cruel to pretend to those who have lost their lives that we will be able to stop our people dying by providing more helicopters or a suite of vehicles. Many Members have said that this afternoon, however. Even if we can get to the point where every single vehicle is available in every single location the length and breadth of the Helmand province for every operation, from time to time people will have to get out of those vehicles. They have to make contact with the people; they have to walk among them and win them over. That is dangerous work and it is cruel to pretend that we can remove the danger from the job that we ask our people to do.

So again why all the secrecy? What are we hiding?

Maybe the key to answer is in what was said in the article linked to above about the six helicopters leased by the Canadians from SkyLink Aviation. In the article it says that according to Colonel Christopher Coates, Joint Task Force – Afghanistan Air Wing Commander,  the addition of this new capability will

“get Canadians off the roads here in Afghanistan where they are exposed to all the dangers of this country – ambushes and IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and the other things that all Canadians are aware of.”

Maybe this why there is all the secrecy, perhaps it is the embarrassment at having to admit that with extra capability we can reduce the danger to our Armed Forces in Afghanistan.

Then again maybe there’s even more to it than that. Time will maybe tell.

House of Commons Hansard Debates for 16 July 2009 (pt 0011).

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Written Answers — Defence: Military Aircraft (20 Apr 2009)
John Hutton: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave on 25 March 2009, Official Report, column 424W. The UK currently supplements the NATO ISAF Contracted Air Transport with a national contract through SkyLink Aviation.

Written Answers — Defence: Afghanistan: Peacekeeping Operations (25 Mar 2009)
John Hutton: The Ministry of Defence uses helicopters provided by SkyLink Aviation through the NATO ISAF Contracted Air Transport (ICAT) contract to move freight. During periods of peak activity the UK supplements the NATO ICAT with a national contract providing medium and heavy helicopter lift.

Written Answers — Defence: Afghanistan: Peacekeeping Operations (17 Jun 2008)
Liam Fox: …operations, for what reasons his Department changed supplier for civilian air transport for the International Security Assistance Force in southern Afghanistan from the Mesopotamia Group to Skylink.

Written Answers — Defence: Afghanistan: Peacekeeping Operations (2 Jun 2008)
Des Browne: The company providing the new contract is Skylink. UK troops have never flown in the aircraft provided. The contract continues to be funded from NATO common funding and the UK continues to contribute a 12 per cent. share to that funding. Currently all assets used by the contractor have been rotary wing.

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport: Nottingham City (24 May 2005)
Graham Allen: …as possible to see the large increase in the numbers of people using public transport in our city. I should be pleased to meet him at the Nottingham East Midlands airport, where he could use the Skylink bus service, part of our integrated transport system, which has had a threefold increase in usage. When he does that, will he also consider whether the kick-start bus support grant could be…

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ER-MCV: Update on Status – Hired by MOD not Nato

ER-MCV at Lashkar Gar
ER-MCV at Lashkar Gar

Interesting comment left by one reader as follows:

Interesting speculation here. ER-MCV was under contract to UK MOD. Asset not declared to NATO. Logistical resupply only. UK and NATO troops are not authorized to fly on aircraft without ballistic protection and Self Protection Suites. This asset strictly moved cargo…cargo supplied largely by British Forces. Can’t comment of the specifics of the mission that day. Asset and contract was managed in theatre by SkyLink Aviation Canada. I don’t see comment from them or anyone asking them questions.

So the asset was not directly on hire to Nato but directly to UK MOD if this is correct and not declared to NATO so working purely for the British.

Good to here that Troops were not authorised to fly on the helicopter but  the proviso of ballistic protection and Self Protection Suites could mean that it has been used and we may have been lucky.

According to Wikipedia Skylink Aviation are

SkyLink Aviation Inc. is a Canadian based international aviation group that specializes in Project Management, Air Charters, Aviation Support, Aircraft Maintenance, Air Courier, Executive Air Charters as well as Flight Planning and Clearance Services.

SkyLink launched 25 years ago and is in the business of transporting people and cargo, whether leasing a helicopter for food distribution and relief programs or chartering the world’s largest aircraft (AN-124) around the world.

SkyLink Aviation has also performed rapid deployment of peace keepers and international humanitarian aid, including food and equipment, during war, major disasters and pandemics for clients such as the United Nations, World Food Programme, USAID, United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (Homeland Security), IOM, the Canadian Government, the Red Cross, the Italian Interior Ministry and other national governments and various NGOs.

SkyLink Aviation is a Member of: HAI – Helicopter Association International; HAC – Helicopter Association Canada; CDIA – Canadian Defence Industry Association; IATA – International Airlines Travel Association.

According to this presentation the  UK Ministry of Defence has leased 2 MI-8 MTV’s and 1 MI-26 from SkyLink Aviation. The Canadians also have six MI-8’s chartered to them from SkyLink.

Yorkshire Ranter has an interesting post on SkyLink and the crash of a MI-8 in Iraq back in 2005.

It gets murkier and murkier as we learn more about what is going on.

Helicopter ER-MCV – Pecotox owned, Nato Contracted – It’s role?

ER-MCV at Lashkar Gar
ER-MCV at Lashkar Gar

Some digging around has established a couple of things about the above helicopter and the firm that runs its.

First the company Pecotox has a number of issues concerning it’s shady history particularly its operations history in the Congo and where it got some of it’s fleet. Nice to see that Nato can pick on a suitable company to hire assets from. Obviously they were the ones that came in cheapest, especially since they were/are banned from EU airspace.

The company name  Artic Group Ltd on the side of the helicopter also seems to have dodgy connections to do with arms brokering and perhaps other types of activity’s. The website for TransArms, the Research center for the Logistics of Arms Transfers has this to say on it’s mission page about an aircraft run by Artic Group Ltd:

This Ilyushin 76-T, registration number ER-IBV (formerly RA-76521), manufacturing number 3423699, belonging to Artic Group Ltd and operated by Jet Line International and Aerocom, was variously used between 2003 and 2005 by the U.K. Ministry of Defense and the U.S. Department of Defense for operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq. Jet Line International’s aircraft have been frequent visitors of airports in Africa Great Lakes region, as well as Ostend, Maastricht, Prague-Ruzyne, Bratislava, and Tiraspol (in the separatist Moldovan region of Transnistria

Now that’s a strange list of places that this aircraft went to. I wonder what it was doing?

Second the role of the helicopter in Afghanistan appears to be rather much of a mystery. From my previous entry we learnt that:

Tokorenko (the owner of the helicopter)  said. According to cited source, the helicopter was not hit by a missile as said earlier, but by a grenade launcher. “The helicopter transported food and water that the crew had to throw to the population of Sangin city, Helmand province. The helicopter was hit when the crew was going to detach the food and water in order to send it to the ground. The grenade hit the rotor and as a result the aircraft lost the power and crushed”, added the cited source.

Now if we look at the photograph above we see ER-MCV at Lashkar Gar HLS. And it looks like it has been taking on supplies from British Forces. I found one comment on one of the forums that indicated that it was being used to supply the FOB’s but no other confirmation. What is completely unlikely is that Nato or the company would allow the helicopter to deliver Food and Water to civilians in the manner described using this helicopter. It is completely illogical and just downright dangerous.This type of aircraft is not suited for this type of mission.

What is more likely is that the aircraft was coming into Sangin and was targeted by the Taliban. It being a civilian aircraft it would have minimal protection from even small arms fire and certainly from what is described as a grenade launcher.  There are reports that the Taliban claimed to have shot down a Chinook in the area and if they had done this it would have been a huge propaganda victory as well as a setback for the allied forces.

I am still worried that with the lack of helicopters available inside Afghanistan that this helicopter could have been used to transport Troops and wonder if this is why the government has apparently tried to stop discussion on this aircraft in the papers. It is a death trap for any combat situation and could have resulted in huge loss of life.

We may hear of more developments over the next few days.

This Ilyushin 76-T, registration number ER-IBV (formerly RA-76521), manufacturing number 3423699, belonging to Artic Group Ltd and operated by Jet Line International and Aerocom, was variously used between 2003 and 2005 by the U.K. Ministry of Defense and the U.S. Department of Defense for operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq. Jet Line International’s aircraft have been frequent visitors of airports in Africa Great Lakes region, as well as Ostend, Maastricht, Prague-Ruzyne, Bratislava, and Tiraspol (in the separatist Moldovan region of Transnistria

The Strange tale of Helicopter ER-MCV

Mi-26T, registration ER-MCV
Mi-26T, registration ER-MCV

Let me just say this first

If this helicopter has been used for carrying our Armed Forces then this is a betrayal on the highest scale of our Troops. If it has then at the least Ainsworth should go and in reality it should be Brown who carries the can.

Yesterday buried amongst the news was the story of a crashed helicopter near the British base in Sangin. Not a big story as no British or American forces had been killed only seven “others” (6 crewmen and an Afghan child on the ground).  The story was picked up and apparently tossed aside by the big boys in the UK, the BBC had this to say

The passengers were all civilians on board a private aircraft, a spokesman for Nato-led forces said. It is not clear what caused the incident.The helicopter crashed near Sangin military base in Helmand. The district governor, quoting locals, told the BBC it had been shot down by insurgents. Reports say those killed included contractors working for foreign forces.

Basically a bit of a none story as it didn’t affect the allies, or so it would seem, but nothing is that simple, as it seems that the helicopter was actually working for NATO taking supplies and perhaps more to British Bases. Could it possibly have been used to ferry British Troops?

This is one of those helicopters that according to Gordon Brown and Bob Ainsworth are providing us with all the extra helicopter hours.

According Defence of the Realm:

The additional machine was leased via Nato, operated by a Moldovan charter company, Pecotox Air, which has been banned from EU airspace for safety reasons and which has been implicated in arms trafficking.

These embarrassing details would not have emerged but for the unfortunate incident yesterday when it was reported the helicopter, a giant Mi-26T, registration ER-MCV (pictured above), was shot down by the Taleban a mile from the British military base in Sangin.

Misleadingly, the AP report (link above) cited the Moldovan operator claiming that the aircraft had been “ferrying humanitarian aid” when the crash took place, a detail quickly corrected by Reuters which had Western forces confirming that the helicopter had been “bringing supplies to a British base at Sangin.” According to the Los Angeles Times, it was contracted specifically to supply British forces.

So now we have a helicopter leased by Nato and helping to supply the British base at Sangin, a helicopter leased from a company implicated in arms trafficking so nothing dodgy about that, As Defence of the Realm explains:

Although The Times, in its report, falls for the “humanitarian aid” story (and misspells the charter company’s name), with a moment’s reflection the implausibility would be obvious. The aircraft was reported as being leased by Nato, an arrangement which was flagged up in October 2007, as a means of relieving the chronic shortage of helicopter lift in theatre.

One thing we know, Nato is not a humanitarian organisation. It most definitely does not charter helicopters to distribute aid – not least because the NGOs and aid agencies have their own budget for this work and would object to such efforts being associated with the military. However, it is obvious why Pecotox Air would want to mislead, as it would not want it widely known that it was delivering military supplies to British bases.

The fact that “unsafe” gun runners should end up supplying “Our Boys” is a story in itself. For several years, this blog has advocated that the British government should charter civilian helicopters directly, having been made aware of a number of reputable companies who could supply Russian-built helicopters – including the Mi-26 – upgraded with European avionics and flown by security-cleared ex-military crews.

However, such were the objections raised within the MoD – and especially by the RAF, which argued on safety, operational and security grounds against permitting civilian aircraft into military airspace – that, although the government relented briefly, it turned down a long-term arrangement. Instead, it chose to throw its lot in with Nato and charter an aircraft through this source.

By this means, the government was able to distance itself from hostile media and the political fall-out, with the Conservatives strongly against the use of such machines. Going through Nato also by-passed RAF objections.

In taking this option, however, the government lost control over the selection of the contractor, which was managed by Nato in Brussels on a lowest-bidder-wins basis. As a result, British taxpayers ended up paying for a helicopter operated by a company banned from the airspace of EU member states on safety grounds, with a record of gun-running, the machine flown by a Ukrainian crew, possibly of uncertain loyalty.

Whether a better-equipped machine would have evaded the Taleban attack is moot, but one suspects that this machine would not have been equipped with the latest defensive aids (which have proved extraordinarily successful).

How many supplies have been lost – and the cost – has not been disclosed, and probably never will. But at least Bob Ainsworth will no longer have to conceal the identity of his “secret” machine. It now lies a charred wreck, with seven dead as a testament to a very dirty war.

So now we have a scratched helicopter and seven lost lives, a dodgy operator and very few stories in the newspapers.

So time to think about a few questions, we have here a major asset a helicopter that can carry 20 tons of supplies or up to 150 soldiers. What else was it being used for at a time when we are sorely lacking in this type of asset. Almost definitely it was helping us resupply the Sangin base, but what else was this civilian helicopter transporting in times of need. According to this report from BASA press in Moldovia (where the company who operates the helicopter comes from):

Two Moldovan experts, representatives of the State Civil Aviation Agency, investigate the circumstances of the aircraft accident in Afghanistan, where a helicopter operated by the Moldovan air company “Pecotox-Air” crushed.

Leonid Tokorenko, the director of the air company “Pecotox-Air”, told for BASA-press that the experts had been in Afghanistan since Monday, July 13, when they started a technical control of the helicopter. “They will participate in the examination of the accident circumstances together with international and Afghanistan experts”, Tokorenko said. According to cited source, the helicopter was not hit by a missile as said earlier, but by a grenade launcher. “The helicopter transported food and water that the crew had to throw to the population of Sangin city, Helmand province. The helicopter was hit when the crew was going to detach the food and water in order to send it to the ground. The grenade hit the rotor and as a result the aircraft lost the power and crushed”, added the cited source.

None of the six members of the crew, all of them Ukrainian citizens, survived. “The bodies of five members were pulled out by peacekeeping soldiers and transported to the air base. The body of the sixth member has not been pulled out yet as the fuselage was destroyed and the gun shots continued at the place of the accident. Currently, several Taliban extremist groups claim that they are responsible for the accident”.

According to Tokorenko, the expenses for the transportation of the bodies will be covered by the Moldovan air company. “The bodies of our colleagues will be transported to their native place by Saturday, July 18”.

The accident occurred at 8:00 a.m. (local time) in Afghanistan: the helicopter MI-26 with the registration number ER-MCV was hit by a grenade launcher. The helicopter was operated by the Moldovan air company “Pecotox-Air”. It was on a humanitarian mission under the aegis of the Joint Forces of Afghanistan. There were six members of the crew on board, all of them Ukrainian citizens.

So according to this they were delivering food and water to civilians. This is highly unlikely for a NATO operated helicopter, but it gives us more detail about how it was shot down, happily this is not likely with the military versions which would be significantly better protected against this type of attack.

So the real likelihood is that it was helping to relieve road convoys to Sangin, particularly as there has been heavy fighting in the region, but the big question is if it has been used to carry British or other Allied troops. If it had been used for this then we have put the lives of our soldiers under severe threat, as this is a civilian type of of the Mi-26, it has, as can be seen, very little armoured protection and is just waiting to be shot out of the sky.

If it has been used for carrying our Armed Forces then this is a betrayal on the highest scale of our Troops. If it has then at the least Ainsworth should go and in reality it should be Brown who carries the can. I await further developments on this story.