El Salvador has sent a second aviation unit with three MD 500E helicopters to Mali, where they have taken over from the German Tiger attack helicopters operated on behalf of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
The mission announced the arrival of the helicopters on 11 December. They were delivered via Ilyushin Il-76 transport aircraft and unloaded at Gao, Mali, with the help of Canadian military personnel.
To operate the helicopters the Salvadoran Air Force has established a new unit, known as Gavilan I, and comprising 50 personnel. This takes over from the four German Tiger attack helicopters that were withdrawn earlier in 2018. The MD 500Es will support Canada’s CH-146 Griffon (Bell 412) and CH-147 Chinook helicopters with MINUSMA, with the MD 500Es and Bell 412s tasked with light attack and escort duties. The MD 500Es in Mali are armed with a combination of a 7.62 mm Minigun and a seven-shot 2.75-inch rocket pod.
MINUSMA said the MD 500Es will be used for day and night intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Night flying will be done with night-vision goggles (NVGs).
El Salvador has deployed MD500s to Mali since May 2015 when an initial three MD 500Es arrived in Timbuktu on 18 May that year. These aircraft are flown by the Torogoz IV unit in addition to a ground-based support unit at Timbuktu – in total, El Salvador now has more than 200 personnel deployed to Mali.
With the latest deployment, El Salvador now has the majority of its MD 500E fleet in Mali – it has nine aircraft in its inventory.