Magazine article National Defense

Army Rushes to Deploy Defensive Gear on Aircraft

Magazine article National Defense

Army Rushes to Deploy Defensive Gear on Aircraft

Article excerpt

The Army is rushing to field anti-missile systems for rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft, seeking to make up for cutbacks that practically zeroed out funding for aircraft survivability equipment during the past five years.

Funding for helicopters' defensive countermeasures had dwindled since 1999, when the Army launched a "transformation" effort to become a lighter and more mobile force. The so-called "legacy" aviation fleet of helicopters particularly took budget hits, as the Army shifted more funds to the next-generation Comanche scout helicopter and unmanned aircraft programs.

But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cast a different light on Army aviation, turning aging choppers such as the Chinooks into the darlings of the airlift fleet. About 600 Army helicopters operate in Iraq, including Chinooks, Apaches, Black Hawks and Kiowa Warriors, in addition to fixed-wing transports.

Protecting those valued aircraft and crews now has become a top priority and a politically sensitive matter, prompting the Army to reallocate funds in a hurry. A spate of helicopter shoot-downs in Iraq in recent months exposed the vulnerability of Army aircraft to small-caliber weapons and shoulder-fired missiles.

It is yet to be seen, however, whether the Army can deploy the defensive systems fast enough to make a difference in the near term. The Army estimated it needs $228 million over the next two years to pay for the survivability equipment, but none of this money is in the Army's budget request just submitted to Congress. It would have to come from supplemental appropriations or transferred from other Army accounts.

One of the Army's most knowledgeable aviators, Lt. Gen. Richard A. Cody, said that the shortage of survivability equipment on today's helicopters had been pointed out five years ago, in a report he wrote after the Kosovo air war, where the much-maligned Task Force Hawk of Apache helicopters was kept on the sidelines, out of concern that they would be shot down by Serbian surface-to-air missiles.

"Not much has changed since the report from Task Force Hawk," Cody said at a conference of die Association of the U.S. Army.

"When we started the transformation in 1999, we thought we had a 10-year window of opportunity, no peer competitor," said Cody. "Today, our current force is eating up all our money. We are in two big wars."

Defensive equipment against heat-seeking missiles is needed for both helicopters and Army fixed-wing aircraft, he said. Other "unfunded" aviation projects include upgrades to the Apache attack helicopters and purchases of additional remanufactured Black Hawk choppers.

To pay for the more immediate needs, the Army most likely will be redirecting funds from other programs, possibly Comanche, for which the Army allocated $15 billion over the next five years.

The estimated cost to deploy new defensive systems for Army aircraft in Iraq is $228 million--$78 million would be needed in 2004 and $150 million in 2005. That will pay to accelerate the production of the ATIRCM (advanced threat infrared countermeasures system) and the SIRCM (suite of infrared countermeasures). A senior Army official briefing reporters last month said that, so far, the service "reprogrammed" $28 million to pay for those new systems, but that it would seek "help from the Office of the Defense Secretary" or supplemental congressional appropriations for the remaining $200 million. As a last resort, the Army would take the funds from other programs.

Deliveries of new ALE47 chaff dispensers are planned for the Chinook fleet. The ALE-47 is intended to replace the antiquated ALQ-156 electronic warning system that is coupled with the M-130 dispenser. The first Chinook unit scheduled to receive the new dispenser is the Hawaii National Guard, said Cody. All C-23B Sherpa cargo aircraft and C-12 fixed-wing transports also will be getting the ALE-47. …

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