Bathélico, France’s helicopter battalion in Kabul
Part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), France now deploys a total of 11 helicopters at the Kabul international airport. The three EC725 Caracal and three SA342 Gazelle helicopters already on the spot for several months were joined in July 2009 by three EC665 Tiger HAP, and then two AS532 Cougar helicopters.
The expansion of France's helicopter corps resulted in the creation of the Bathélico helicopter battalion, nicknamed the "Musketeer Task Force". From the Gazelle and Caracal, to the Tiger and Cougar, these helicopters can handle a wide range of missions: fire support, logistics, medical evacuation, reconnaissance and surveillance, and even heliborne attacks.
Top-flight dispatch reliability
Except for the Tiger, maintenance services for all turbine engines in this fleet are covered by the Total Support Package (TSP) contract signed by Turbomeca (Safran group) and the French government in 2001. "This contract covers some 1,800 engines, with a contractual obligation to guarantee the dispatch reliability of 1,100 of them at any given moment," explains Alain Peltier, head of the TSP France department at Turbomeca. "Whether these engines are used on helicopters deployed in France or Kabul doesn't change anything for us, at least in theory. But we make a special effort to minimize the logistic difficulties inherent in this theater of operations some 6,000 kilometers from our maintenance shops. We send a replacement engine to Kabul as soon as needed, without waiting for the removed engine to be returned to France. This enables us to maintain a very high level of helicopter dispatch reliability, without having to send our staff over there. In other words, we focus on making sure our equipment is always available, and on ensuring smooth logistics." Turbomeca also offers local technical support, including a hot line and technical specialists who can advise the armed forces personnel in the field. "Our engines in Afghanistan are subjected to very difficult conditions, since the combination of heat and dust can be a lethal cocktail," adds Alain Peltier. "But we make use of the constant stream of operating feedback to continuously improve our engines."