LONDON — Denmark is planning to deploy its Merlin tactical transport helicopters to support operations in Afghanistan in 2014.
The plans, subject to government approval, will see two helicopters supporting coalition troops in Helmand Province working alongside the British Joint Helicopter Force operating from Camp Bastion. The Danish Air Force Helicopter Wing, based at Karup, has for the past two years been developing a training program to deploy the aircraft, but issues with helicopter serviceability and building up flight hours have proved challenging.
Now according to senior officers in the wing, crews will begin the final preparations this year and could deploy in July 2014. “We are now very positive toward the future of the Merlin,” said Lt. Col. Henrik Kanstrup, the wing’s chief of operations, speaking at the International Military Helicopter Conference in London on Jan. 31. “Previously we suffered with spare parts and we had problems with the engines, but now we regularly have eight or nine green [serviceable] aircraft available for operations.”
Denmark uses 14 Merlins for search and rescue as well as troop transport. Until recently, Merlins earmarked for the SAR role were partly painted yellow to improve their visibility while the troop transports were painted green, however the entire fleet is being pooled to increase availability. As part of the build-up of experience for Afghanistan, two Merlins will take part in Exercise Pashtun Jaguar, a mission rehearsal exercise that tests U.K. troops prior to deployment. This will take place later on in February, while later in the year two Merlins will be sent to NAS El Centro, Calif., to conduct hot-and-high flying and brownout training.
Several Danish pilots have already experienced life on the front line, flyingEH101s in Afghanistan as part of an enlarged exchange program that started when the U.K. purchased six Merlins from Denmark in 2007. Further preparation for the deployment will come with the installation of door guns and a podded electronic warfare system.
The Danes plan to use Terma’s Apache Modular Survivability Equipment, which was originally designed for use on the Apaches of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Denmark bought several of the pods and fitted them to theirAS550 Fennecs that were deployed to Iraq. The pods were fitted to pylons formerly used to fit air-to-ground missiles. Tests have shown that the Terma pods will also work effectively with the Merlin fleet as well, and are capable of dealing with threats as large as SA-18 shoulder-fired missiles.
Work is underway to find a new electro-optical system that could be fitted not only to the Merlin but also the AS550 and Denmark’s threeCL604 Challenger multi-mission aircraft used for VIP transport and maritime patrol.