Send comments to:   We have space for most, but not all comments.   Let us know if you want us to include your organization and e-mail address.  Some letters may end up as content elsewhere in G2mil.  Avoid political comments, this is a weapons, warfare, and tactics website.

Dump the Comanche

Thank you so much for a well written article on the Comanche and its increasingly dubious utility recently.  I'm from Australia and I've been following the progress (or lack of it) of this machine in earnest since I first saw the black mockup in mid 1990.  I must admit I was initially impressed but after it was selected in 1991 as the new LH copter and the redesigns, delays and costs 'spiraled' the doubts started to set in .

Perhaps if the Army and Boeing/Sikorsky had kept to the original schedule and the planned IOC in the mid/late 90's it may have been alright, but I agree with the tenor of your article and consider the time has come to pull the plug before too much money and time is wasted on this project.  Plainly speaking, my main concern with the Comanche now is that events, threats and technology have overtaken it and yesterdays machine and idea is irrelevant for today and the future.

From an Aussie perspective, we originally had the Comanche on the list to replace our Army Kiowa scout copters, but fortunately we opted out when the delays etc. set in and finally selected the Eurocopter 'Aussie Tiger' where the first ones will IOC next year here. Better late than never but I shudder to think how much more we'd have to wait and pay if the 1991 idea of the 'Aussie Comanche' had gone ahead.

I was particularly impressed by the argument of modern conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq where American and Australian's have fought in knocking over the Taliban and Saddam's lot in which many copters have been downed by gunfire to RPG's. (we've not lost any copters yet).  I never considered an explosion in the Comanche's internal weapon bays from an external hit detonating a Hellfire. Thank you for that elucidation, a most persuasive argument indeed.

Finally, as a friend and well-wisher its quite dismaying to see the U.S whittling away time and funds on a stack of near useless defence projects over the years.  Of the current 'generation' I've been watching for over 15 years now as they've crystallised and its disheartening to see the F/A-22, Comanche, V-22 and a few others eat up huge funds but simultaneously become increasingly irrelevant.  I fear our American mates are becoming more vulnerable and developing shortcomings rather than addressing real defence needs.

I have many friends in the U.S through mountaineering  (we try to  solve the mystery of the British climbers Mallory and Irvine on Everest in 1924) and I naturally as a mate I'm concerned for their welfare, we often discuss defence issues as well and I can assure you , they're just as concerned at the direction the pentagon is going with its purchases as me here in Australia.                                                                                               

                                                                                    Will Sloan

A Joint Helicopter in Essential

The Secretary of Defense is in the process of transforming the US armed forces, as the overall mission of the US armed forces has change from facing a large similarly-armed force from a large industrialized county to facing aggressions from a smaller second- or third-world country, and from non-affiliated aggressors.  There is also the current round of Base Realignment and Closure to consider, and some of its criteria for joint sitting of services at a single base.

Presently, US armed forces are now operating in a jointly more and more.  While each service has unique institutional capabilities, there seems no reason those cannot be carried out with equipment of identical manufacture.  The "balkanization" of the services no longer makes sense when the interests of the United States require protection quickly.

Not only are the US armed forces operating jointly among themselves, the US armed forces are more and more being placed in coalition with other country's armed forces.  Since many countries purchase helicopters from US manufacturers, logic would seem to dictate that it would be more efficacious to have maintenance and repair for US armed forces' helicopters available from other countries, and visa-versa, when such coalition operations are undertaken.

As well, planning and controlling coalition operations would have more flexibility as an entire helicopter unit may not need to be dispatched to an area of operation if say, there were a helicopter maintenance unit from another coalition country in the area of operation.  In fact, it might be that only the pilots and crews need be dispatched as the aircraft they would be flying in that area could be identical to those they fly when they are with their unit.  This would definitely provide for very rapid deployment capability for both regular forces and special operations forces.

And last, but not least:  Spare parts.  While I could offer another dispassionate analysis of the rationality of a joint services helicopter acquisition program, I offer the following.  My first active-duty assignment, even though I was school-trained as an intelligence officer, was as the motor officer of a military intelligence battalion.  Other that recalcitrant generators, rapidly evaporating gasoline, log books with legs, and mechanics missing important tools (like a brain), the bane of my existence was spare parts.

No matter how the optimum level of parts was calculated, included the SWAG method, there were never enough of what was needed and an astonishing amount of what was not needed.  Add to that constant inspections from an astonishingly variety of outside organizations, who's regulations certainly seemed to never have heard of the concepts of consistency and uniformity, coupled with the sudden transfer of the NCO and enlisted men who tried to run the spare parts supply, it is a wonder that any of the battalion's generators or vehicles operated, or that I was not institutionalized.  (I did though learn those most essential of military arts: trading and scrounging.)

In the broadest sense, with the politics of the world rapidly changing, and in some cases mutating, US armed forces have to be at the ready to respond with like speed.  Removing conflicting, confusing, and chaotic acquisition, and planning and equipping of the US armed forces will enhance its capabilities, as well as saving money for the American taxpayers in the process.

                                                                                                    Warren R. Wooley

MD500s are ideal for Recon

You forgot to mention the MD500 Littlebird.  We absolutely do not need any more OH58Ds, they're so slow and underpowered its pathetic.  MD500's are well proven by SOCOM, can be outfitted with all the sensors/weapons of the OH58D and still be able to keep up with Blackhawks on Air Assaults (which the OH58 can not).   MD500s have a very low maint/flight hour ratio and are more robust because of no hydraulics.  They are also a very small target to try and shoot down.   That the Army chose the OH58 over the OH6 (as the MD500s earlier version was called) in spite of everything pilots and program managers said says a lot about the acquisition program.

I don't know what an MH53X costs, but at $59 million for each Comanche, you probably have enough to buy an MH53X and still have enough left over to buy a couple of MD500s.


High Tech vs Real Tech

I am amazed that the military continues to dismantle really effective weapon systems in favor of brilliantly incompetent replacements. The Comanche has no hope of surviving in the battlefield however, many hotshot pilots who relish the privilege of flying the most advanced helicopter on the planet will defend its deployment. This is preaching to the choir since you already share this point of view but what really bothers me is the idea of replacing the A-10 with say, a F-16. The ongoing trend of trading what works for what looks cool is silly. 

I will admit that I am fascinated with things like the Comanche, the V-22, and the Raptor. However, I also recognize that "Rolls Royce" technology doesn't always translate into success on the theater of war. The A-10, and to a lesser extent the Apache, represent logical and cost effective combat weapon systems (when employed properly) that favored robust construction and utility over flash.

This reminds me of how the Air Force ordered the destruction of the Saturn V, it's F1 engines, and it's plans in order to ensure the survival of it's (not NASA's) Space Shuttle. The Saturn V was the most reliable and most powerful rocket/launch vehicle ever made. It suffered no launch failures which no Launch vehicle can claim today. Not even Russia's Energia, the most powerful LV in operation today, can match it. The expense of launching a Saturn V is comparable to the Space Shuttle despite what NASA might say about reusability. The Space Shuttle certainly is more glamorous, but it spends most of its power lifting itself! 

I am impressed that you featured many lengthy letters that either disagreed with you on some fronts, or in the case of one, rambled on about some psuedo-patriotic nonsense. That's a great way to maintain some objectivity on your site.

                                                                                                     Damon Moran

A Better Jointhawk

Very good editorial on the JointHawk. Might be worthwhile to see about contacting Chuck Jarnot at Piasecki on making the Jointhawk better by the Variable Torque Ducted Propeller configuration and stub lift wings. If you're going to buy 1200, it makes sense to make them better from the start. Wings might be removable for specific missions if they aren't far enough back for clearance.

I'd suggest building in permanent floats on the underside of the fuselage to allow water landings and also to use a crumple zones in the case of a crash. The floats would not interfere with the landing gear to allow the wheels to work in normal activity. Might even use them as fuel pods for a few extra pounds of fuel for additional range.


Ed: The 1-12-04 issue of "Aviation Week" noted that fighting in Iraq has cost the US Army seven Apaches, three Black Hawks, seven Chinooks, and six Kiowas.  The Army lost another Black Hawk, Kiowa, and Apache since that article went to press.  In addition, the Army may scrap heavily damaged helicopters: four Apaches, nine Black Hawks and four Chinooks.  Also this year outside of Iraq, the Army lost twelve Apaches and three Kiowas, and may scrap another four heavily damaged Apaches and three Black Hawks.  The only replacements ordered with wartime supplemental funding are seven new Chinooks, to replace this total of 41 lost helicopters and another 24 likely to be scrapped.   No new Kiowas can be purchased, while the dozen CH-60L Blackhawks and several "Longbow" Apaches in the FY2004 budget are not new buys, but upgrades/overhauls of older models.  

That same issue had an article about Army aviation plans which noted a shortage of Black Hawks.  It revealed that the new expensive high-tech RAH-66 Comanche: "will be unable to communicate with other services or command-and-control aircraft since it will lack LINK-16, will have no active protection against anti-aircraft missiles and no blast wall between the two crewmen, meaning any hit in the cockpit, unlike the Apache, will likely disable or kill both.  'Will the Army risk a $47 million helicopter in a mission over Baghdad?' asked an Army program official.  'It's not likely, yet the Comanche is eating up 39% of the Army aviation budget.  All the other small aviation programs have been killed.'"  Keep in mind that the billions of dollars in funding the Army has devoted to the Comanche program this past decade has been for "development", not for procurement, and testing will continue for several more years at a cost of over one billion dollars annually.

High Year Tenure

     I am an active duty member of the United States Navy.  I am a Chief Petty Officer and have served both in CONUS and Overseas, I fought both Persian Gulf conflicts.  You made several statements that I would like to address. 

1. "Few have college degrees and most do not have skills that relate directly to the private sector..."

   I speak of only my experience in the Navy, perhaps the other armed forces are vastly different, but I doubt it.    Motivated sailors are encouraged to pursue college degrees and we have many programs that enable anybody who wants to further their education achieve a degree. My personal experience is that about 30% of E-5's have a bachelors degree and about 60% of E-6's have a bachelors.  If you plan to be an E-8, then you must have a Degree.  Our service is a very technical job.  Even a seaman deuce needs to be proficient with a personal computer.  He must be proficient with MS Word and Excel, and several programs unique to the Navy (a maintenance scheduler, personnel training programs, man power management).  About half of our rates must be proficient in Electronics, another great many must be skilled in hydraulics and diesel engines.  Most sailors go to work for companies like Boeing, Navsea, Hewlitt Packard, Raytheon, and Sperry.  The do the same jobs they did in the Navy, only now they get paid a whole lot more. 

2. "This could be questioned as waste of skilled manpower..."

    The military is not a welfare program. If you do not have what it takes to be advanced, then we can't use you. Most sailors are an E-6 at their ten year mark.  That's ten years they were unable to demonstrate the technical prowess and dedicated leadership needed to advance to Chief.  This is not a sailor I want "Poisoning" the sailors of tomorrow.  I want him out and make room for a sailor that is more motivated.  A Chief can stay in the Navy to his 24 year mark, if I can't make Senior Chief, then I need to make room for the E-6 trying to make chief. 

3. "..they will be forced into retirement in their 40's and forced to find menial jobs...."

    We are killers.  Our jobs place us in harms way, even in the Navy (I see you marines smirking).  Every sailor is a trained fire fighter, I have fought several fires in my career, and most sailors will fight a few fires during a career.  That is hard work, it is not a time to see if a fifty year old man can carry a 175 pound sailor out of a burning space  We practice fighting fires every day, that means at least once a week (your duty day) we require you to help carry a 200 lb portable pump up ladders, through hatches, and down into spaces.  Our physical Fitness test do not demonstrate the required fitness needed for everyday service ( a sore point for another letter). 

4. "...enlisted that become warrant officers are allowed to serve until they are 60..."

    Allowed to serve until they are 60?  I don't have the documents in front of me, but I am sure that high year tenure would still get you well before 60. 

5. "... few E-7s and above fill positions that require great stamina.."

   I would say the Navy is a pretty soft service, and we don't keep to many people in their fifties around.  The day to day physical demand of the job gets most of them.  I would think that the Marine Corp and Army would be a whole lot worse.  Maybe the Air force, but in the Navy and the Marines senior enlisted deploy, hump ammo with the youngins, and conduct combat duty.  I think all of those things are physically demanding. 

The military is not static, we are constantly changing  It is a job for the young.  Your worry about what these sailors and marines will do when they get out is noble, but we are addressing those problems.  Today's warrior is educated on all aspects of finance, from IRAs to Stocks and Bonds.  He is shown the possible retirement scenarios, and educated on how to set financial goals for himself.  Prior to departure from the service the member is taught the basics of resume writing, and how to utilize all of his benefits.  Many times at these classes the member is introduced to a variety of "Head Hunters" and often leaves the class with several job offers.  Keeping dead wood is not the answer to a strong and robust military, look at the civil service program.  A young force is a motivated force. 

                                                                                      Mark Anderson  ETC(SW) USN

Ed: I'm confused as to why you write about how great today's sailors are, but then argue they must be forced out in their 40s.  I didn't argue for retaining E-6s to age 56, just E-7s and above.

If the Navy PRT is not good, fix that, don't kick out sailors in their 40s who may be more fit than those in their 20s.  Perhaps ship sailors should have higher physical standards than shore personnel in order to earn that sea pay bonus.   I won't mention the physical ability of women on ship, but will mention the mental.  In the after action report for the USS Cole, it was noted that after the terrorist blast almost sunk the ship, all male sailors were running about performing first aid and damage control.  Most of the women sailors just cried.

Retain the Workers

I was just forced out of the Navy a year ago, after 20 yrs and only a E6.  Aircrew/Instructor/Recruiter, two Navy-Marine Corp Commendation medals and 10 Navy-Marine Corp Achievement medals, 20 years Good Conduct, and many other awards.  Good health and wanted to stay but didn't get pick up for E7. I still have a lot to offer and the military will always need the workers and not to so many Chiefs (leaders), so don't count out the E6 or the E5's.  They may not do so good on testing, their the best damn workers you got! The Navy has tests where you must pass upper 1%+ or - 5 to move up, so 300 take test 3 get promoted. So what your saying is the workers can go, but the paper pushers can stay?  I would have loved to stay.

                                                                                            Steve  Krokus

Marines in Iraq

Thanks for another great issue.  The political controversy in the editorial is still a detractor, but in terms of military reform I like the way you think.  You're absolutely on target about the Seahawk/Blackhawk.  There is no reason we cant have a standard air frame.  We also have an enormous shortage of Chinooks in the Army.  Comanche should have gone away long ago.  

     The link to OIF AARs is excellent.  I hadn't seen Marine AARs until now.   I found it extremely interesting that the 1 MARDIV Cdr operated out of one HMMWV with an Iridium and a map!  Army DIVTACs  are massive affairs by comparison.  It was also very interesting that Marines hung Flexcells on their M1s and Gypsyracks on all their HMMWVs to extend unrefueled  range.  Fuel test kits to use captured Iraqi fuel - the Army would never do that.  Marines are more innovative than they're given  credit for.  The Marines are right, Falconview is better than C2PC, but that's heresy in the Army (unless your an aviator). PRR radios - why doesn't the Army have those?

                                                                                             Name Withheld

Ed: I'd prefer to avoid politics, but it's difficult to craft arguments for an effective US military when current plans assume massive borrowing for a massive military budget can be sustained forever.  It should be obvious that the USA is following the borrow and spend Soviet Union down the superpower toilet.  The only good news this past month is that plans to increase the annual buy of Virginia attack submarines from one to two a year have been postponed until 2009.  It seems that some in Washington finally rejected the BS that more submarines are needed for the war on terrorism.