Conventional Vs SOF Helos?

Here’s question we’ve heard several times in the months since last summer’s downing of a CH-47 Chinook in Afghanistan that killed 30 U.S. troops, including 17 Navy SEALs, and eight Afghan Commandos; would those men still be alive if they were traveling aboard an aircraft belonging to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment rather than a conventional Army Chinook?

The answer is a resounding no from senior Army aviators with both special operations and regular Combat Aviation Brigade experience, writes’s Mike Hoffman.

Army Col. Pedro Almeida, commander of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, commanded Task Force Falcon in Afghanistan. The aircrew that lost their lives that night was assigned to his command.

He explained that the crash, while tragic, never caused the special operations teams in Afghanistan to hesitate before stepping onto a helicopter flown by one of his aircrews.

“It was a huge tragedy for everyone involved but this is a dangerous business. I don’t think anyone out there who was involved in it has any misconceptions of that, and I don’t think anyone is changing and going back and peeling back and second guessing and saying we have to take a step back and go backwards,” Almeida said.

Col. John Thompson, commander of 160th SOAR, agreed. He explained that the crewmen who flew the Chinook that night had previously flown the same missions his pilots had.

At the critical moment, the aircrew didn’t matter. That night, the enemy got a vote.

“I don’t care what helicopter was flying that mission. That was a very unfortunate and tragic incident and regardless of what helicopter, they would have never survived the shot that it took,” Thompson said.

The Army’s top special operations aviation officer also supported the aircrew. Brig. Gen. Kevin Mangum, a former 160th SOAR commander, said special operators have not wavered in their support for conventional Army aviators.

“When someone challenged my boss and said, ‘Why in the world were those guys … just flying with Army aviators, they weren’t flying with the 160th?’ My boss … he about came unglued. He said, ‘What do you mean, just flying with Army aviation? Army aviators are the best in the world.’ We have the best army aviation in the world and we are proud to fly with those guys every night. We could not do what we’re doing without them,” Mangum said.

Click here to read the rest of Hoffman’s great piece.

19 Comments on "Conventional Vs SOF Helos?"

  1. brianckramer | April 4, 2012 at 4:56 pm |

    There is nothing a SOAR crew could have done differently in this circumstance, and RPG into the underside of a Chinook will result in a catastrophic event no matter what.

    In other situations though, SOAR pilots have an edge do to mission familiarity and slightly nicer toys.

    In the end, we're all on the same side and the end goal is the same for everyone.

  2. I almost find it offenseive that a General would waste his time in responding to this. Who was challanging this? Some pimple popping kid with an airsoft gun? Or did we really have military leaders who are stupid enough to question this one? Whats next? Do we cancel all military airlift because there is always a danger of getting shotdown? Sure its good to gets the facts after such a incident, but why question Army Aviation as a whole? If it was an accident from lack of training then ok, maybe you might have room to question this, but not a chopper that was shotdown from enemy fire.

    O well, maybe I just like to think more logically than others, but I fail to see any logic behind questioning this one?

  3. It would be great if this attitude would migrate to the larger conventional and special ops communities vs. being largely restricted to the aviation community.

  4. If they had used 2 blackhawks instead of 1 chinook, half of them might still be alive.

    A chinook is a "eggs all in one basket" approach to moving troops around. If one gets it, 30-40 people die. If a blackhawk gets hit, 6-10 people die.

  5. It wouldn't matter who flew the helicopter. This may not relate but remember back in 1993 in the Battle of Mogadishu that was 160th SOAR and they couldn't d anything (2 Black Hawks were shot down). Although that might be off topic, I think you have to get lucky and it depends on where you are at what time.

  6. I expected his article to be less about the pilot and more about the chinooks give then SOF birds have more countermeasures and the like generally. But in this case in wouldn't have mattered much anyway, not much you can do to stop an RPG.

  7. A Chinook is a big school bus that is painted green & flys. The thing IS a target for who ever is on the controls.

  8. Would an Osprey have improved the odds?

  9. If its a tight LZ, ten AH covering the area wouldnt be able to do anything also…

  10. DockScience | April 5, 2012 at 12:38 am |

    Time to place Israeli anti-rpg technology on rescue helo's.

  11. The blame game tactic by some in the Pentagon to get money for new helicopter doesn't hold water. It wouldn't have mattered what helicopter the SOF was in that night the Taliban had a fix on the flight path and nailed the helo. I always think the report saying it was a RPG was misleading and it may have been a SA-7 or Stinger that brought the Chinook down. Overall no helicopter made yet can be missile prof. Overall loses due happen and compared to Vietnam and Korea this war has been very very low. fact is Blackhawks and Chinooks have been good overall of getting men to and from the field and there really isnt the need to replace all of them now like some BIG military spenders want. Overall the Army is already upgraded Kiowas and Chinooks this fiscal year so retiring them all would be more problems then it would solve the 2030 plan they have is a good idea for industry to keep a eye on and save money this decade.

  12. Chinook needs a lot of modification!!!

  13. Justoneofthecrew | April 5, 2012 at 7:21 am |

    You just gotta love armchair warriors…

  14. It's no surprise that the Commander and Generals are going to cover their bhinds and say the type of bird didn't matter. Nor is it any surprise that armchair generals will go along with the code of cya – been there done that.
    It wasn't the greatest decision – period. I wonder where the CAS was? If none, it was a bad move to send in the school bus.

  15. Some missions are going to go sideways regardless of who is running it and what equipment is being used, etc. It's a war, the enemy has a say and our people get killed sometime. This Monday morning QB stuff is BS.

  16. My question is why in the world we aren’t developing active protection systems that can go on rotor craft. As I recall when Rafael was promoting there trophy system for the Merkava4 they made a small mention of it being adapted for aircraft, why isn’t the Army or any other service trying to acquire this technology, it would drastically improve survivability for these low flying aircraft that cant carry the amount of armor needed to stop an RPG. This was a said incident none the less

  17. Tribulationtime | April 5, 2012 at 2:40 pm |

    What the topic is?. Blame "conventional" pilots & helos?. Overconfident plus fog of war plus overconfident operator lead a disaster on Takur Ghar (Operation Anaconda). The same can be told about Operation Redwing when one help MH-47 was "rpg-down" with 19 KIAs. And Desert One, Granada seizure, even Geronimo kill added a ultra-secret-stealth helo crash landing. 160th pilots do it "special" better although I suppose not every insertion would be a "In hell landing"

  18. A well placed RPG round, with the right explosive charge can do some serious damage to ANY helicopter ever made. The rest of the discussion is rendered moot after that.

  19. Sending a Chinook into such an operation, was like painting a Bull's Eye on the side! "Never put all your eggs in one basket!" Attack helicopters should have been used in an operation like Red Wing's. Why wasn't support already in place and being used to provide visual coverage? The team never should have to expose themselves to call on a radio….

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