Saturday, August 07, 2010

Helicopter Stories

The Canadian military announced today the downing of a Canadian Chinook helicopter in southern Afghanistan on Thursday but insisted that it had been downed by small arms fire.

The helicopter was brought down by small arms fire from insurgents, the military said at a briefing at the Kandahar base.

The small arms fire "caused a fire in the fuel line below the helicopter, forcing it come down," said the CBC's Cameron MacIntosh, who attended the briefing.

"When it landed, it burst into flames and the helicopter basically burned to the ground," he said.

Investigators went through the wreckage and found evidence that the chopper had been hit by small arms fire.

A senior military officer described it as "an extremely lucky shot," MacIntosh said.

Yes, that's a spectacularly lucky shot, we can't really call it a one in a million shot though because lucky shots like it have been happening with troubling regularity. Compare this display of military message control to this one from 2007:

But if American and British commanders were worried about the missile threat, they downplayed it in public – to the extent of ignoring their own pilots' testimony. The CH-47 Chinook was shot down on 30 May 2007 after dropping troops at the strategic Kajaki dam in Helmand where the British were leading an anti-Taliban drive. Witnesses reported that a missile struck the left rear engine of the aircraft, causing it to burst into flames and nosedive into the ground. All on board died, including 28-year-old Corporal Mike Gilyeat of the Royal Military Police.

Later that day Nato and US officials suggested the helicopter, codenamed Flipper, had been brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade – effectively, a lucky hit. "It's not impossible for small-arms fire to bring down a helicopter," Nato spokesman Major John Thomas told Reuters in Kabul. A US official said it had "probably been brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade [RPG]".

In both cases the Taliban claimed the helicopters were shot down by shoulder mounted rockets, and in both cases NATO denied it. We know from the Wikileaks data dump that NATO has been aggressively trying to downplay any suggestion that the Afghan insurgents have any such capability - mostly due to the historical context.

Shoulder mounted smart rockets ended the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and likely sped up the end of the Soviet Union itself. Its easy to see why NATO is committed to the narrative that the Taliban don't have access to them.

The legendary ability of small, shoulder-born missile launchers to transform the fortunes of otherwise crudely armed insurgents is one of the most alarming threats to emerge from the Wikileaks archive.

Soviet troops discovered in 1986 when the CIA decided to put heat-seeking Stinger missiles into the hands of the otherwise low-tech Afghan resistance, such weapons can make life impossible for modern armies.

As depicted in the Tom Hank's film Charlie Wilson's War, bearded warriors were able to stand on hilltops and blast the dreaded Russian attack helicopters out of the sky, ultimately forcing them to fly far higher, to much less effect.

That image still haunts Nato commanders who are all too aware of how much they rely on thousands of transport planes, helicopters and drone surveillance craft to kill insurgents from the air and move troops around an increasingly hostile theatre of war.

It has long been the international coalition's claim that whilst the Taliban might try to acquire technology capable of shooting down aircraft they had failed to do so, and were unlikely to ever succeed.

Right, because what are the odds that anybody could get access to 1980's technology?

The great benefit of the Wikileaks release is that perhaps now these bland assurances of a long series of one in a million 'lucky shots' will be read with a bit more of a critical eye.


The Mound of Sound said...

I'm not sure that those old Stingers would be too reliable today. Three decades is an awfully long time for a system like that. And never underestimate the ability of small arms fire to down a tin can like any utility helicopter.

Small arms fire cost the US Army more than 5,000 helos in Vietnam. Utility helicopter design is all about saving weight and that means very little armour and a lot of exposed control and engine components. Troll that at low speed and low altitude through enemy territory and you're going to lose aircraft.

Cliff said...

I'm open to any possibilities - even unlikely ones like the military telling the truth.

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