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Old 12-26-2003, 04:44 AM
thedrifter thedrifter is offline
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Cool A Present for Our Combat Aviation Troops


A Present for Our Combat Aviation Troops

By Ralf W. Zimmermann

Despite the countless victory speeches and political backslapping, U.S. troops will continue slogging it out with the Taliban in Afghanistan and pesky Iraqi insurgents for quite some time.

While holiday care packets, letters of encouragement and morale phone calls will be important during the holiday period, I?d also like to urge the brass and spend-happy Congress to remind Santa not to forget about critical war-fighting and survival equipment our men and women need to return to their loved ones in one piece.

Recent discussions were mainly focused on the need for flak jackets, vehicle splinter-liners, deadlier rifle ammo and flares for protection against surface-to-air missiles for aircraft.

One issue has, however, long been overlooked: adequate protection for our heavy transport helicopters, the good old CH-47 Chinooks, against direct ground fire, especially from rocket-propelled grenades. Yes, the old ?S***hook,? as it?s lovingly called by many GIs, remains the workhorse for our combat troops ? especially in the high elevations of Afghanistan. The two-rotor CH-47 carries its 18,000 pounds of cargo from sea level as far up into the mountains, as you can breathe and fight.

A warrant officer friend recently told me that his combat loads in Afghanistan included no less than 55 infantrymen at about 130 knots groundspeed. Compare that to the much more modern UH-60 Blackhawks with the maximum capacity of a 12-man load under only ideal conditions. Operating in high altitudes, the Blackhawk earned its new name of tired Catfish from the crews of the aerial Greyhound buses. Why? It simply couldn?t keep up.

Unfortunately, while the Army?s planners and operators came to rely more and more on the Aviation?s Greyhound bus department, it also became clear how vulnerable the CH-47 was to ground fire.

For self-protection in Afghanistan, the quite huge CH- 47s carry two M60D/24, 7.62-mm machine gun both sides and a non-standard M60D/24 for its back ramp. Admittedly, the M60D is better than throwing rocks but has a very slow rate of fire. Because you can almost watch individual bullets fly towards the target, it requires exceptional gunnery skills to hit anything, especially when your chopper is in a hover with dust and debris blowing all around you.

It?s reassuring to know that some of our experienced door gunners know their business. My Warrant friend tells the story of his flight engineer who, with a steady hand and sharp eye, nailed a Taliban suicide maniac with a well-placed M60D Z-pattern. But he was quick to add that Ed the engineer had the reputation of being Houdini behind the machine gun. His solution, based on many hours of combat flying: Let?s give our guys better weapons. I say we should!

Options to increase the protection for this vulnerable transport are readily available. Our crafty British allies have already implemented one of them with success. They mounted a version of the Vietnam-proven ?Mini-gun? on their heavy transport choppers. Electrically-fired, modified versions of the gun can deliver up to ten thousand rounds per minute, depending on the caliber (5.56mm or 7.62mm). Yes, that?s lots of ammo going down range but the high volume of bullets allows even an average trained door gunner an excellent chance of sweeping ambushers of the flying beer can?s tail.

Why haven?t we done anything? Beats me!

My Warrant friend tells me that he and other combat aviators have been asking for a Chinook armaments upgrade since 1991. In 1996, a group of Fort Rucker aviators, many of them Blackhawk drivers, submitted an improvement request, which was actually endorsed by Brig. Gen. Burt Tackaberry.

Sadly, higher bureaucratic priorities, such as which color beret to wear on what particular day, overtook the necessities to plan for real combat. To this day, nothing has happened, despite the arm-waving and screaming by the men and women who fly the heavy combat loads in their lumbering Chinooks against an increasingly more capable enemy.

So, since I?ve received so many letters from the aviation community and their families, I would like to submit a collective Christmas wish to Washington. While we?ve already committed the American Taxpayer to bail out Iraq and Afghanistan with over $87 billion bucks and the defense authorization is rising to all-time astronomic heights (including development of mini-nukes), I believe we can afford to address the plight of our transport aviators.

Tell Santa to drop off a few Mini-guns to adequately protect our chopper crews in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thanks in advance!

Contributing Editor Lt. Col. (U.S. Army, ret.) Ralf W. Zimmermann is a decorated Desert Storm veteran and former tank battalion commander. Since his retirement, his columns have regularly appeared in Army Times and other publications. His recent novel, ?Brotherhood of Iron,? deals with the German soldier in World War II. It is directly available from and through most major book dealers. Zimm can be reached at or via his website at


SSgt. Roger A.
One Proud Marine
Once A Marine............Always A Marine.............
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