The Romanian Air Force will later this year send a contingent of IAR 330L Puma helicopters to Mali to support the United Nations’ Minusma mission there.
The helicopters will be used for search and rescue, transport and reconnaissance and will not engage in combat operations. They will replace the Canadian Air Task Force currently providing helicopters.
A total of seven Pumas will be allocated to the Mali mission after being upgraded by IAR Ghimbav to handle the tough operational conditions in Mali, which include extreme heat and dust. However, only four helicopters will actually deploy to Mali while the other three will be kept in reserve in Romania and used for training aircrews.
Along with the helicopters, 120 personnel will be deployed from late August, although the air unit will only become operational on 15 October. The mission will comprise of two six month rotations for a total of a year, according to the Romanian Ministry of Defence.
Romania’s defence minister Gabriel Les said three helicopters have already been upgraded and have received new avionics. The other four will be ready by October. Pre-deployment training is currently underway.
Canada deployed three CH-147F Chinook and five CH-146 Griffon helicopters (with one of each as a spare) as well as 250 personnel to the Minusma mission in Mali. The Chinooks are used to provide transport while the Griffons are used for armed escort and medical evacuation – they are armed with pintle-mounted machineguns. The helicopters became operational on 1 August 2018, a day after a deadly attack on a convoy, and took over from German Tigers and Belgian NH90 Caiman TTHs. They are due to leave on 31 July this year.
As of the end of January, Canada’s air task force had conducted six medical evacuation missions and flown more than 2 100 hours in support of Minusma. A CC-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft has carried more than 1.62 million pounds of cargo, flying over 850 hours in support of Canada’s Operation Prosper.
Romania’s decision to send helicopters to Mali was made in December 2018.