The French Armed Forces last week heralded the year-long participation of three British Royal Air Force HC Mk 5 Chinook helicopters in French counter-terror operations in Mali, as the French government examines a possible future buy of the Boeing [BA]-made aircraft for heavy lift and other missions. 

An RAF Chinook helicopter demonstrating under-slung load carrying capacity in support of French operations last December in Mali (RAF Photo).

The three Royal Air Force HC Mk 5 Chinooks arrived in Mali in July last year to transport supplies and personnel for French and other military forces. The Boeing Chinooks, equipped with advanced avionics and the Boeing Digital Automatic Flight Control System, have helped sustain French combat operations and to keep troops off roads, where they are vulnerable to improvised explosive devices, according to the RAF.

Just two days after the French Armed Forces accepted the helicopters in July 2018, they were deployed on their first mission, according to the French government. A year later, on July 8, British Defense Minister Penny Mordaunt announced the extension of the HC Mk 5s’ deployment in Mali for at least another six months.

“These heavy transport helicopters have very high carrying capacity with the possibility of  carrying more than four tons of freight and about 30 equipped soldiers,” the French Armed Forces said last week in marking the anniversary of the Chinooks’ deployment in Mali. “The presence of the British detachment alongside the French soldiers reinforces the principle of inter-operable French and British forces through the realization of missions and joint training. The direct participation of the three Chinook helicopters in the missions provides valuable assistance and is a significant contribution to the effort made by France in the fight against terrorist armed groups in the Sahel. After more than a year of Franco-British partnership, these three Chinooks will have transported 7,052 soldiers, 475 tons of cargo and have more than 1,192 hours of flight across the Sahel-Saharan belt.”

Over the last year, Canadian CH-147F Chinooks under the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) have also provided medical evacuations of U.N. peacekeepers.

Some 4,000 French troops have been engaged in operations in Mali since 2013.

Helicopters have been a significant element of the French army’s counter-terror operations in Mali since Operation Barkhane — named after crescent-shaped dunes in the Sahara Desert — began in August 2014. Twenty-one helicopters — Airbus EC-665 Tigers, NH-90 Caimanes, SA-330 Pumas, H-215M Cougars, SA-342 Gazelles, and the Boeing Chinooks — have supported the operation.

Led by the French, Operation Barkhane also counts the G5 Sahel countries as participants: Mali, Burkina-Faso, Mauritania, Niger and Chad.