Canada will send military helicopters to Eastern Europe in 2024, in what Ottawa is calling its first “persistent” deployment of tactical aviation to the continent in some 20 years.
Ottawa’s top defence leaders, including defence minister Bill Blair and chief of the defence staff General Wayne Eyre revealed the plans on 15 December while on a visit to Latvia.
The rotary asset deployment will begin in the summer of 2024 and will include four Bell CH-146 Griffon utility helicopters and an unspecified number of Boeing CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift rotorcraft that will arrive in 2025.
The vertical-lift aircraft, along with pilots and support crew, will be assigned to the NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battle group stationed in Latvia.
“Canada is making a meaningful contribution to Euro-Atlantic security,” Blair said from the Latvian capital Riga on 15 December. “The additional measures that I announced today will significantly increase the capabilities of the Canadian-led, multinational battle group in Latvia, further boosting NATO’s defence and deterrence posture.”
The upcoming mobilisation of air assets marks the first time in roughly 20 years that Canada has “persistently deployed” tactical aviation capabilities to Europe, according to Blair.
The last instance came when Canada was supporting NATO’s post-Cold War operations in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Canada’s 85 CH-146s have been in service with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) since the 1990s.
In 2022, the Canadian government announced an C$800 million ($598 million) contract with Bell for Griffon upgrades that will extend the fleet’s service life to 2031.
The programme includes upgraded cockpit displays, more capable engines and modernised avionics. The upgraded CH-146 fleet is projected to reach full operational capability by 2027.
Ottawa currently has roughly 1,000 personnel deployed to the so-called “Eastern Flank” of NATO on security and deterrence missions. Blair says Canada has committed to more than double its NATO force commitment to 2,200 personnel by 2026.
Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, RCAF crews flying Boeing CF-188 Hornet fighter jets have partnered with Romania to support the Western military alliance’s air policing mission.
On the ground, Canada leads the Latvia eFP battle group, which includes forces from Albania, the Czech Republic, Italy, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.
Canada contributes the battle group leadership, in addition to ground combat and logistical support troops, who will be aided by the rotary aviation assets Ottawa has promised.
The Canadian Department of National Defence also plans to procure modern air defence systems for the Latvia battle group.