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Thursday, July 14, 2005

The downing of an MH-47 helicopter by small arms fire earlier this month over Afghanistan was a tragic and significant blow to the Special Operations community. It was also expensive. When you consider that an MH-47 can cost between 14 to 40 million dollars, depending on the model and configuration, and that an RPG costs basically nothing in that part of the world, the bang for the buck was significant.

In 1994 I was in Sukhumi Abkhazia (western Republic of Georgia) and an Abkhaz militiaman tried to sell me an RPG-7 launcher for $100 and some warheads for $20 a piece (I was actually trying to buy an Abkhaz flag). I was subsequently told by other soldiers in Sukhumi that the price was to high. I have no idea what an RPG currently costs in Afghanistan but I am sure it is comparable.

And these "low-tech" weapons remain a risk everywhere to helos and other warfighting platforms. Three years ago on D-Day, Operation Anaconda, I was on a CH-47 trying to get off the tarmac at Bagram in the second lift. As we were sitting there waiting for the order to spool up, someone from the TOC ran up to the CH-47 I was on and gave us the quick sitrep, said good luck, and ran to the next helo to give them similar word. There was silence amongst the troops on board as he described the treacherous situation we would be dropping into. Basically, there was no close air support. All five AH-64 Apache helicopters providing overwatch for the CH-47s were shot up and rendered inoperative by enemy small arms fire, again AKs and RPGs. We never got off the ground. I think the command knew our chances of being safely inserted into the valley were slim to none considering that anti-Coalition forces were now engaging the infantry already on the ground. Gun camera footage from CPT Herman's Apache show dozens for RPGs streaking through the frame on each pass to strike enemy positions below.

Eventually that day, two additional Apaches staged at the FARP, one from Bagram and one from Kandahar, to provide close air support for the troops from that first lift--fighting it out on the ground below.

Dodge Billingsley


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7:00 AM  

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