November 6, 2003
DOD: Copter had anti-missile system
Pentagon replies to Durbin's query about Chinook defense
By DORI MEINERT
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Following concerns raised by Sen. Dick Durbin, U.S. defense officials said Wednesday that the National Guard helicopter shot down Sunday in Iraq was equipped with anti-missile systems and that they were turned on at the time of the attack.
Durbin, D-Ill., had charged Tuesday that not all Guard helicopters are equipped with missile defense systems the regular Army has in its helicopters.
Fifteen soldiers were killed in Sunday's attack, including helicopter pilot 1st Lt. Brian Slavenas of Genoa. Slavenas, of Bartonville-based F Company, 106th Aviation Battalion, was piloting one of the unit's Davenport, Iowa-based helicopters. The unit has a detachment in Davenport.
"It's been a struggle for them to get the most basic equipment that they need to protect themselves," Durbin told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Wednesday. "The crews and pilots have tried their best to try to secure this equipment from any source imaginable. That to me is unacceptable."
A Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday that Guard units have access to the same technology as the regular Army.
"There is no differentiation between active, reserve and Guard … in terms of equipment accessibility," said Marine Capt. David T. Romley, a Defense Department spokesman. "That survivability equipment is widely available to the National Guard."
However, he emphasized, the aircraft manufacturer doesn't install the equipment.
"It's up to the unit to make sure that equipment is installed," Romley said.
The anti-missile equipment, ALQ-156,
detects the path of an attack weapon and attempts to counter it with flares, aimed at drawing heat-seeking missiles away from the plane, or metallic chaff, to try to jam enemy radar.
A National Guard spokesman in Washington said Wednesday that "the information I have is that it was on and operational on this particular aircraft. Not only on, but the switch was on."
National Guard spokesman Reginald Saville said he couldn't say where or when the Illinois and Iowa Guard units received their missile defense systems.
"What I'm being told is that some of the equipment is available here, but certainly it is available for the aircraft in theater," Saville said.
The Illinois National Guard has declined to elaborate after a Monday news conference stating that the downed Iowa National Guard helicopter had such equipment.
However, Durbin said in an interview that Illinois National Guard officials told him that Guard helicopters left the United States without the anti-missile equipment.
But he said he has it from two "reliable military sources" familiar with the situation in Iraq that some Guard helicopters don't have the basic missile defense system and some have systems that don't work. In addition, Durbin said he's been told that active-duty, or regular Army, helicopters have more advanced anti-missile equipment, the ALE-47 system.
Durbin's office released an e-mail from a Guard member in Iraq who wrote that, until about a month ago, half of the helicopters didn't have the basic ALQ-156 system.
"So, we were essentially flying around for five months with no ASE (aircraft survivability equipment)," he wrote.
Durbin declined to release the names of the military sources who contacted him.
The Defense Department spokesman said no equipment provides total protection.
"There is no equipment that is 100 percent effective," Romley said. "But the systems are very good.
However, Pentagon officials elaborated that no equipment is foolproof, especially in cases where the helicopter is flying at very low altitudes, allowing little reaction time.
"It's important to put this in context. We know there have been at least another dozen unsuccessful attempts to fire surface-to-air missiles at other helicopters in Iraq," Rowley said.
The Pentagon has lowered the death toll from Sunday's attack from 16 to 15.
Robert Burns of The Associated Press contributed to this report.