Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Keith Marine’s Afghan Review (XVI): Army helicopter pilots beat ours

Here CWO2/Gunner Keith Marine tells some hard truths about the quality of air support he saw from Marine helicopters and jets in Afghanistan. I am impressed that he is so candid about the quality of Army helicopter piloting. This example of speaking truth to power meets my definition of integrity: Not that we can do ...

Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Here CWO2/Gunner Keith Marine tells some hard truths about the quality of air support he saw from Marine helicopters and jets in Afghanistan. I am impressed that he is so candid about the quality of Army helicopter piloting. This example of speaking truth to power meets my definition of integrity:

Not that we can do anything about it but realize it and make adjustments but our pilots and aircraft suck in comparison to the Army and Air Force. I noticed it before when these units have flown for me but not like this time. We used Army guys for some training, along with Marines, prior to D-Day and the differences were very noticeable and undeniable even amongst our own FACs. The Army guys will come in and land at the grid you give them, with very limited dispersion between birds -- allowing you to link up with your other elements, and will set the thing right down on the deck in the inbound flight appearing not to lose much speed. In comparison, Marine pilots will bring in their aircraft and attempt several flaring techniques and then wave off.  Sooner or later they will land in the midst of a brown out and probably a few hundred meters off target with dispersion of about ½ click between aircraft is the norm. Luckily the Army and Air Force guys will drop right where you want them to pick up casualties, we are lucky to have them.

I have heard a lot of excuses on why this is and here are the two most plausible ones.  1)  They have superior aircraft with better handling capabilities; 2) Their pilots are pilots, whereas our pilots fill a dozen different billets and get about a tenth of the actual stick time these guys do. Like most of you, I love the Corps and it hurts me to say it but I think we have been chasing the wrong aircraft. We don't need to create a capability; the other branches already have it in the aircraft they use. We need that capability for when they aren't there. You just can't fit a 46 or 53 and definitely not an Osprey where these things will land.

Here CWO2/Gunner Keith Marine tells some hard truths about the quality of air support he saw from Marine helicopters and jets in Afghanistan. I am impressed that he is so candid about the quality of Army helicopter piloting. This example of speaking truth to power meets my definition of integrity:

Not that we can do anything about it but realize it and make adjustments but our pilots and aircraft suck in comparison to the Army and Air Force. I noticed it before when these units have flown for me but not like this time. We used Army guys for some training, along with Marines, prior to D-Day and the differences were very noticeable and undeniable even amongst our own FACs. The Army guys will come in and land at the grid you give them, with very limited dispersion between birds — allowing you to link up with your other elements, and will set the thing right down on the deck in the inbound flight appearing not to lose much speed. In comparison, Marine pilots will bring in their aircraft and attempt several flaring techniques and then wave off.  Sooner or later they will land in the midst of a brown out and probably a few hundred meters off target with dispersion of about ½ click between aircraft is the norm. Luckily the Army and Air Force guys will drop right where you want them to pick up casualties, we are lucky to have them.

I have heard a lot of excuses on why this is and here are the two most plausible ones.  1)  They have superior aircraft with better handling capabilities; 2) Their pilots are pilots, whereas our pilots fill a dozen different billets and get about a tenth of the actual stick time these guys do. Like most of you, I love the Corps and it hurts me to say it but I think we have been chasing the wrong aircraft. We don’t need to create a capability; the other branches already have it in the aircraft they use. We need that capability for when they aren’t there. You just can’t fit a 46 or 53 and definitely not an Osprey where these things will land.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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