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 (TheyWorkForYou.com).

ER-MCV: Daily Mail begin to Cotton on

Begging a lift: A borrowed Mi-8 in Afghanistan
Begging a lift: A borrowed Mi-8 in Afghanistan

A Borrowed or actually technically a leased Mi-8 helicopter tales off from Lashkar Gar. This is the Picture at the top of a Daily Mail article that tells us the public that we are borrowing Russian Helicopters. Amazingly Associated Newspapers have been on this blog a number of times in the past week so they should have a good idea of the story.  I would assume they have in particular have been crawling all over the Defence of the Realm and EUReferendum blogs as they have been investigating and highlighting this issue for months.

They seemed to have missed out saying that one of the big brothers of the Mi-8, the Mi-26 crashed last Tuesday just after taking off from the British base at Sangin, presumably after delivering supplies, killing the six Ukranian crew and one Afghan civilian. No mention either on how dodgy the company is that leases these helicopters.

It just points out how bad our procurement of supplies for the Armed Forces is, how truly wasteful and how it is causing the deaths of Armed Forces personnel in Afghanistan as they wait to get the proper equipment.

If you want a good explanation of this have a look here at the Defence of the Realm blog and see how we are paying way over the odds for our helicopters and are taking truly awful decisions.

Now we are borrowing Russian helicopters to fight the Taliban | Mail Online.

Sir Jock Stirrup Says Helicopter Shortage Causing Casualties

‘Lack Of Choppers Hurting’

The head of the UK’s Armed Forces has admitted to Sky News that a shortage of helicopters is causing casualties on the ground in southern Afghanistan. Sir Jock Stirrup had just delivered a ‘shopping list’ of British troop requirements to Downing Street.

It will be hurting even more after the loss of ER-MCV the more than slightly dodgy Skylink Aviation MI-26 helicopter leased to the MOD. As Sir Jock says operating helicopters in Afghanistan can be a tricky business, especially if they are unarmed and unescorted in an Active area. More on ER-MCV here and here.

Sir Jock Stirrup Chief Of Defence Staff Says Helicopter Shortage Causing Casualties In Afghanistan – Sky News Video Player.

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.

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.