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.

  • brianckramer

    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.

    • Anonymous

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

      Doubtful. Politicians send these troops to the pointless wars in Iraq and as Afghanistan has become.

      If the end goal was safe and alive troops, we would have been out of Afghanistan back when we defeated the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afgh. - 3 months after 9/11.

      • majrod

        YEAH! Leaving in Jan ’04 would have definitely kept the Taliban and AQ on the run!

        • JSM

          Plus, you can’t just just roll into a country, kick out it’s “governing body” (no matter how bad they are) and then leave again without ensuring stability after you’ve left.

          • blight_

            Karzai would’ve died within two months if we’d left early for the Iraq Adventure.

          • PMI

            Isn’t it funny how people forget that’s how the mess in Afghanistan got started in the first place?

          • blight_

            Meaning when the pro-commie guy knocked out The Last King, then got knocked off by the Soviets, who then got knocked off by the Muj, replaced with a shaky coalition that got pitted in a civil war, and then kicked out by the Taliban who were then knocked off by the US?

  • DGR

    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?

  • majrod

    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.

  • Brad

    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.

    • TMB

      Did the investigation report mention if blackhawks were even available? 30 troops require 3-4 blackhawks depending on how much gear they’re taking with them. Was the LZ big enough for multiple birds? The Chinook out-ranges the Blackhawk by 120 miles. Distance and time on station are factors too.

      • Guest

        Chinooks are also quite a bit faster.

    • DGR

      Its not logistically feasible to use 3-4 choppers every time when 1 will do the same job. You burn more fuel, need more pilots, need more spare parts, and you have to build bigger bases and everything that goes into building a larger base.

      The argument is not that we should use more blackhawks, but if using a different model Chinook would have mattered. And all signs, expert opinion and logic says it wouldn’t have mattered one way or another.

      • Josh

        Agreed, but also we mustn’t forget that a Chinook can do things Blackhawks can’t such as operate at extremely high altitudes. I don’t know where this took place exactly, but if it was high in the Afghan mountains it’s possible that a Chinook was the only bird able to get in and out of there with a large payload. Its two rotors give it much greater lift at high altitudes where the air is far to thin for single rotored birds.

    • blight_

      Also if the LZ is smaller and can only accomodate one helicopter, you have one helicopter on the ground and unloading with other helicopters buzzing around. With one Chinook, touch down, dismount and fly off.

    • Dockem

      I said the same thing a couple months ago. Does Vietnam and hot LZ’s ring any bells? They still keep doing the SOS. No one ever learns!

    • SXO

      You’re forgetting that Chinooks also handle the altitudes in Afghan better than Blackhawks.

  • Pat

    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.

    • blight_

      Good point. Durant was in Super 64, was in SOAR. I’m not sure if Wolcott was.

      Being in the Night Stalkers is no magic dodge-an-RPG pill.

      • Pat

        Yeah you’re right.

    • michael

      3 helicopters went down, but they dont show it in the movie. 3rd one crashed at the base. read the book

  • Andrew

    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.

  • tiger

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

  • Racoon1

    Would an Osprey have improved the odds?

    • blight_

      If you hit the helicopter while it’s on the hover or slow descent, probably not.

    • tiger

      It’s night, in the mountians, a fight went bad requiring the evac. Limited space for a LZ. Every kid with a Mosin Nagant would have taken pot shots at what ever you used. Some aircover to spray the area clean would have been nice.

  • sakitla

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

    • tiger

      They have the flir & night vision to shoot a guy in RPG range.

  • DockScience

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

    • William C.

      Several companies are making DIRCM systems which can fool even newer generation infrared guided MANPADS, laser warning receivers are also common too. Yet neither can fool an unguided RPG.

      • joe

        I suspect DockScience is talking about the active protection stuff (Trophy?) - which as I understand it is a sort of half CIWS/half Claymore thing.

        That was developed for Main Battle Tanks, though, so I’ve no idea if it’s weight/coverage feasible to fit such a thing to a helicopter, and nor am I sure it’s a great system to have on an transport which potentially has friendly infantry moving in close proximity.

        • blight_

          Or if multiple helicopters are in company and start firing off countermeasure devices which may cause FOD to neighboring helicopters.

    • Kestrell

      What about those cable fences that some tanks and APCs use as RPG stoppers? I’m assuming since they aren’t on helicopters, they won’t work. Why not?

      • TMB

        Weight and disruption of aerodynamics come to mind.

      • Riceball

        Weight and drag alone keeps that from being practical not to mention that there’s not a whole lot of real estate on most choppers to mount such a thing.

      • blight_

        Putting that stuff around the tail rotor?

        In any case, I thought the armchair accepted tactic was to use HE RPGs and exploit their self-destruct fuze to spray the target with shrapnel. In which case, the cage wouldn’t save you…

        Of course, a shaped charge in the right place will still do the deed, but a shaped charge requires a direct hit and to be at very close range. But using something with shrapnel is considerably easier…

        • TMB

          The Somalis fired almost 100 RPGs during the Blackhawk Down battle in order to bring down those two helicopters.

          • blight_

            If I recall correctly, they actually hit three or four helicopters, but only two went down in the city itself.

    • Amsyar

      Mr. Russell, Most excellent read my fienrd. Those oysters over the campfire, YUM! Steelhead in tidewater, that doesn’t happen much except for my wife as she has pulled them out of tidewater on more than one occassion while we were fishing for Sea-Runs. Fall salmon not far away Rich

  • Lance

    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.

  • Rohan

    Chinook needs a lot of modification!!!

  • Justoneofthecrew

    You just gotta love armchair warriors…

    • blight_

      Our solution is to nuke Afghanistan, because it won’t matter what kind of helicopter you use!


  • warspony

    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.

  • RLTW

    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.

  • sam

    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

  • Tribulationtime

    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”

  • Lemdagem

    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.

  • David

    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….