ISLAMABAD — A Pakistan Army Mi-17 Hip transport helicopter crashed July 11, killing five people.
According to the military’s Inter Services Public Relations, the helicopter crashed at Skardu Airport in the mountainous Gilgit-Baltistan region in the north of the country. In addition to the five dead, three others on board were injured.
No cause has been ascertained.
The Mi-17 is the Army’s most capable and versatile transport helicopter, and has proved to be highly adept at handling all but the highest of peaks in the more mountainous regions of the country. It has been crucial in providing rotary airlift for ground troops in operations against the Taliban in places like Swat and South Waziristan.
Brian Cloughley, a former Australian defense attaché to Islamabad, said, “The loss of any helicopter is a most serious matter for Pakistan. The entire fleet of some 400 is stretched, and the [internal security] situation in the west of the country is most demanding on rotary hours, with the Aviation Corps finding it increasingly taxing to effect maintenance.”
The age of the helicopter fleet is a growing issue, he said.
“There has been no compromise in servicing, of course, but given the age of much of the fleet, there is a problem in keeping them flying in the numbers necessary to meet operational requirements,” he said.
“The Pumas and Mi-17s are a most important link in the logistics chain in the rugged terrain of the north and west, and replacement of even one of them will be difficult,” he said.
Pakistan’s military has sought more utility and gunship helicopters to replace those that are increasingly worn out through the high operational tempo they are forced to maintain. It has sought surplus helicopters as aid, and also examined the option of purchasing heavy-lift helos such as ex-Italian CH-47 Chinooks, or AH-64 Apache or AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter variants from the U.S.
Due to politics and the severe financial situation in the country resulting from its mismanaged economy, however, these plans have not materialized, and Pakistan has been left with an aging rotary fleet.