San Diego Union Tribune

May 13, 2004

Retrofit slated for 8 Chinooks in Iraq


WASHINGTON The Pentagon plans to send a team back to Iraq next week to start installing the most advanced missile protection system on the remaining eight Chinook helicopters from a National Guard unit based in Bartonville, Ill., Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said yesterday.

"It is sad and ironic that the helicopters may finally be properly equipped as they are leaving," Durbin said.

The Bartonville-based unit, Company F, 106th Aviation Battalion, is the only one in Iraq that lacks the advanced ALE-47 missile defense system, according to Durbin.

Installation was halted in late January after five of the unit's 13 helicopters were retrofitted because the unit was then slated to be leaving Iraq in April. But its tour was extended until at least July. By that time, the installation team had returned to Germany.

One of the unit's Chinook helicopters was shot down Nov. 2, killing 16 soldiers including the pilot, 1st Lt. Brian Slavenas of Genoa, Ill. That helicopter had the ALQ-156, the basic anti-missile system.

Military officials haven't determined what brought down the aircraft, so it isn't clear whether the advanced system would have helped.

For three months last year, six of the unit's helicopters flew without even that basic system.