POGO Teams Up With McCain to Get Special Forces in Afghanistan More Helicopters

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Monday, October 05, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Believe it: photographs from the Project on Government Oversight that don’t show contractors behaving in a sexually crude manner.

Instead, in a letter circulating to senators during final debate on next year’s defense appropriation, POGO’s good government watchdogs urge support for an effort by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, to kill funding for unneeded C-17 transport planes in order to free up cash to purchase helicopters for Special Forces missions. Coming equipped with photographs of IED-ravaged MRAPs — the alternative to the helicopters for troop transport in Afghanistan’s hard-to-navigate terrain — the group’s Danielle Brian writes:

In particular, we are concerned, based on documents and photographs obtained by POGO and published in the press, that U.S. Special Forces in Pakistan and Afghanistan lack sufficient heavy-lift helicopters for “white missions” to recruit and train local antiterrorist militias and engage the enemy in remote areas.[1] Without these helicopters, troops must use land vehicles, which are vulnerable to improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The full letter, obtained by TWI, follows after the jump, along with photos:

Dear Senator,

As you consider the FY 2010 Defense Appropriations bill, we ask that you support Senator John McCain’s Amendment 2580 to strike funding for unneeded C-17 cargo planes. Appropriating $2.5 billion for additional C-17s diverts money away from more urgent national security priorities.

In particular, we are concerned, based on documents and photographs obtained by POGO and published in the press, that U.S. Special Forces in Pakistan and Afghanistan lack sufficient heavy-lift helicopters for “white missions” to recruit and train local antiterrorist militias and engage the enemy in remote areas.[1] Without these helicopters, troops must use land vehicles, which are vulnerable to improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Of the last eleven deaths among U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan, eight have been caused by IEDs.[2] We understand that there is a serious allocation problem with helicopter assets, therefore the problem could be partially solved by reallocation, a situation one former Special Forces General described as “really foul.” We have included photographs of land vehicles destroyed in missions that would have been otherwise been performed with helicopters, had the resources been available.

The Senate is well aware of how this mission directly impacts our national security: last June Defense Secretary Gates testified to the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee that we must increase our Special Forces capabilities, including buying more aircraft to support their missions.[3] Knowing this, we believe that spending $2.5 billion on unwanted and unneeded C-17s is unconscionable and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The Pentagon’s analyses have found that the 205 C-17s in the force and on order will sufficiently meet future airlift needs, even under the most stressing situations.

We urge you to support our troops in the field by supporting Senator McCain’s amendment to strike the earmark for C-17 spending from the FY 2010 Defense Appropriations bill.

Sincerely,

Danielle Brian

Executive Director

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chrisjay
Comment posted October 6, 2009 @ 6:15 pm

Good on McCain. Of course this is a no-brainer; the guy has been an idiot on most Afgh issues. Remember, he was on the 'Afghan Mission Accomplished' bandwagon in '02 and '03…


Joe Katzman
Comment posted October 6, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

What the letter never states, is precisely which helicopters you propose buying instead, and how many. Which makes the whole thing look like dishonest a bait-and-switch that results in no C-17s, and no helicopters.

On the other hand, “We support reallocating the $2.5 billion for C-17s to purchase 30 new-build MH-47G helicopters, which could be used by Special Forces and be available to help with Combat Search and Rescue duties as a stopgap for the canceled CSAR-X program….” THAT would have had real credibility.


Joe Katzman
Comment posted October 8, 2009 @ 12:23 am

I've since talked to POGO. Apparently, they ARE discussing a specific counter-proposal that would involve helicopter buys. With the budget hammering itself out in reconciliation, they don't have a lot of time, and indeed it would have been best for many reasons if they had come right out of the gate with something.

Boeing's MH-47G Special Forces Chinooks are the obvious choice, because Afghanistan's high altitudes and sometimes-hot weather both reduce lift (air is less dense). Which makes it hard to carry useful loads in helicopters like the H-60 Black Hawks. One reason you see a lot of CH-53s and CH-47s in theater, and far fewer UH-60s compared to Iraq.

Special Forces does use some H-60s, both MH-60Ks and HH-60 Pave Hawks. They also have a number of AH-6 “Little Bird” light helicopters, which performed so very well in Somalia during Blackhawk Down. The question is whether any of these models has what it takes for regular duties in Afghanistan, carrying full sensors, plus extra weapons, plus fully loaded Special Forces teams. HH-60Ms might, but that's an engineering question. What has to be acknowledged up front is that it is a question.

One out of the box alternative might be Eurocopter's Fennec (AS 550) helicopters. They did well in tests for India, which has high altitude and heat requirements of its own, and a civilian AS350 B3 version has landed on top of Everest.

These are light helicopters, which means they're not going to be heavily armed and armored. If SOCOM just wants a fast taxi service with good high altitude performance, which can keep its original military electronics (no CAAS cockpit), be fitted with a small surveillance turret and a GPMG, carry about 4 operators each, and be given to the Afghans after SOCOM is done…. well, they would be very reasonably priced. And American Eurocopter does have the UH-72A LUH production line in Alabama, which already builds civilian AS350s for sale worldwide.


restore_2_sanity
Comment posted October 17, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

why is the present administration ignoring its military? you see. there is a much bigger scheme than you can ever imagine.


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