Home' Defence Review Asia : DRA March/April 2010 Contents Sagem Strix sight situated almost in line with the rotor head. As a German
Eurocopter engineer said before: “The Tiger is not intended to be a flyer’s
sweetheart first, but a gun platform. Therefore, it’s the gunner who’s entitled
to hold the top position!”In reality it appears that the EC 665 Tiger is both
a fantastic machine to fly and a superb firing platform, according to the first
reports coming from Afghanistan.
HERE COME THE MOUSQUETAIRES
Task Force Mousquetaire is the name given during the autumn 2009 to
the French Bataillon d’Hélicoptères set up in 2007 in Afghanistan to provide
airlift, reconnaissance and fire support to the 3,750 troops deployed
by Paris within ISAF. Manned by 136 personnel, it is based at Kabul
International Airport (KAIA) with eleven rotorcraft: three EC 665 Tiger,
three SA342 Gazelle Viviane, three EC 725 Caracal and a pair of AS 532
Cougar helicopters. All belong to ALAT, the French Army Light Aviation
unit, except for one Caracal which remains part of the French Air Force.
With the exception of the one from the French Air Force EH 1/67 squadron
from Cazaux, the Caracals all belong to the ALAT 5e RHC from Pau as do
the two Cougars ; the Gazelles are those of the ALAT 3e RHC from Étain-
Rouvre. To be precise, the three EC 665 Tigre HAPs despatched to Central
Asia belong to the Bataillon de Reconnaissance et d’Appui which is one of
three batallions making the 5e Régiment d’Hélicoptères de Combat (RHC)
from Pau. All are recent fully operational Standard 1 machines delivered
from Eurocopter’s Marignane assembly line in early 2009 : mainframe serial
numbers 2023 (F-MBHP), 2024 (F-MBHO) and 2025 (F-MBHQ).
TF Mousquetaire is organically attached to Regional Command East
(RC-E) based at Bagram AB and comes under the direct control of
Task Force La Fayette (the French military contingent in Afghanistan)
headquartered at FOB Morales Frazier in the Kapisa valley, East of Kabul.
Main missions assigned to TF Mousquetaire, by order of importance, are:
reconnaissance and scouting with the Gazelles, direct fire support and
close combat attacks with the Tigers, airlift and tactical transport using the
Cougars and Caracals, and Medevac using whatever is at hand for the job:
Cougars for day missions, Caracals for night sorties. For their daily task,
six machines are on constant 24-hour Quick Reaction Alert at KAIA: two
Cougars or Caracal with a medical team and one commando squad; two
armed Tigers and two recce Gazelles.
KAIA is situated at 1,800 metres (about 6,000 ft) and summer
temperatures in the Afghan capital frequently reach 40°C (or 100°F) while
winters are freezing cold. Moreover this region of the world is characterized
by extremely dark nights (Levels 4 and 5) which make use of night vision
equipment (NVG) mandatory for aircrew during their nocturnal sorties.
The only positive from an operational viewpoint for TF Mousquetaire is that
its area of responsibility is rather small with no likely action zone situated
beyond a 20 min. reach, the 280km/h (150 kt) speed of the Tiger being very
useful in these circumstances. However it is one of the most mountainous
regions facing ISAF airmen with peaks over 15,000 feet nearly all around.
This is done by always flying different and unexpected routes, at full speed
in the nap of the earth. Lt Col d’Argaignon said that no French helicopter
yet has recorded any enemy hits, with the single exception of a near miss on
a Caracal during a night combat egress in the Surobi valley when inboarding
commandos saw a Taliban-launched RPG-7 grenade explode just behind
the tail rotor. Luckily both machine and men survived unscathed.
All these machines operate in a very demanding
theatre which can be summarized as “hot, high
and dusty”, in short just what rotocraft pilots
usually hate to deal with...
If the air threat from the Taliban has been
virtually non existent so far, according to Lt Col
d’Argaignon, French helicopter crews are still
wary not to attract enemy light rifle or machine-
gun fire -- and above all RPG shots which
have been so detrimental to other allied forces
operating in Afghanistan.
Tiger in hot & high conditions.
Credit: Thomas Goisque
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