Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Breaking Faith?

In 1994 and 1997, there were a pair of somber ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. They commemorated the return of two helicopter crews, one Army and one Air Force, killed in the legendary rescue of Bat-21.

Thirty-seven years later, the story of Lt Col Iceal "Gene" Hambleton remains a stirring story of human courage, sacrifice--and survival. On Easter Sunday (April 2, 1972), Hambleton was flying as a navigator on an EB-66 electronic counter-measures (ECM) aircraft near South Vietnam's Demilitarized Zone. The aircraft's mission was to provide jamming support for a B-52 strike, across the border in North Vietnam.

As Hambleton and his five fellow crew members soon discovered, they had flown into the teeth of a major North Vietnamese offensive. Elements of two enemy divisions were pouring south beneath their flight path. For protection from U.S. warplanes, the Vietnamese brought along SA-2 surface-to-air missiles and hundreds of anti-aircraft guns. Numerous SA-2s were fired at the B-52s, but none found their targets, thanks to the electronic warfare gear carried on the massive bombers, and ECM support from the EB-66.

As Hambleton's aircraft turned south, it was struck by a missile and instantly disintegrated. Lt Col Hambleton was the only crew member who was able to eject. He landed in the middle of the enemy advance and began a remarkable, 12-day quest for freedom. Hambleton narrowly escaped capture or death on several occasions. The commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, General Creighton Abrams, ordered Hambleton's rescue "at all costs," due to his extensive knowledge of electronic warfare and ballistic missile programs.

For almost two weeks, Air Force, Army and special forces units spared no effort to recover the downed navigator. At one point, intelligence analysts and operations planners took advantage of Hambleton's love of golf, dividing his escape route into "holes" from courses he often played. In the end, U.S. Navy and South Vietnamanes SEALs located Hambleton, and led him to safety.

But the daring rescue came at a high price. Three of the four men on the Army UH-1 (callsign Blue Ghost 39) were lost in the first attempt to retrieve Hambleton. Six crew members perished when an Air Force HH-3E (callsign Jolly Green 67) was downed by enemy fire four days later. All told, six aircraft were shot down--and at least 15 rescue personnel gave their lives--in the effort to save Lt Col Hambleton.

Yet, they persisted against long odds, because of a long-standing pledge to military aircrews. You won't find it codified in any regulation, but it is an article of faith for all U.S. military aircrew members. If you are shot down, we will make every effort to bring you back safely, regardless of the risk or cost. That was the commitment made to Colonel Hambleton, and it remains true to this day.

Unfortunately, the future of that pledge seems to be in doubt. While rescue personnel remain as dedicated and courageous as ever, their political superiors apparently don't share that resolve. On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates scrapped plans for a new rescue helicopter, which would provide combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) capabilities for the next 20 years.

To be sure, Mr. Gates' decision won't mean an immediate end to the pick-up of downed aircrews, the infiltration of SOF crews, or the rescue of disaster victims. The Air Force's current inventory of HH-60 Pave Hawks will soldier on, just as they have since the late 1980s. Crewed by skilled pilots, flight engineers, gunners and pararescue specialists, they remain the preeminent combat rescue force in the world.

But the Pave Hawks are getting long in the tooth. Without extensive maintenance and required upgrades, the HH-60s will eventually face the same fate of all aging military aircraft, and retire to the bone yard. As the existing rescue choppers are lost to age and attrition, our CSAR forces will be diminished, as will they contributions to critical missions.

Critics claim there is no longer a need for a dedicated combat rescue force. The proliferation of modern air defenses, including "double-digit" SAMs and advanced MANPADS, makes some missions too risky. At the other end of the spectrum, U.S. air dominance has resulted in the minimal losses of aircraft and crews during recent conflicts. One reason that CSAR units now fly special operations and disaster relief sorties (to mention a few) is because their baseline mission has been diminished.

But that doesn't mitigate the need for a highly-trained combat rescue force. If you're a downed aircrew member; a SOF operator evading in "bad guy" territory or a hurricane victim stranded on your rooftop, nothing is more comforting that the whup, whup, whup of those blades and the sight of a PJ coming down the hoist.

Without a new rescue chopper, Air Force rescue units--and the customers they support--will face a steady erosion of our CSAR capabilities, with no replacement in sight. Mr. Gates' decision means (ultimately) that some missions simply won't be attempted, thanks to an aging aircraft fleet and eventual personnel cuts in rescue units. As the HH-60 fleet lumbers toward retirement, someone will decide that the Air Force needs less personnel to man rescue units, resulting in a further degradation of key combat skills.

In a nutshell, that means that Secretary Gates and future military leaders are breaking faith with the men and women who fly into combat. By cancelling CSAR-X, Mr. Gates is sending a simple signal; in future conflicts, if you're downed behind enemy lines, you may be on your own. The bonds of loyalty and commitment that sent brave men after Iceal Hambleton has been replaced by a new, risk-adverse calculus that will mean fewer rescue choppers in the air (and possibly) leave some aircrew members stranded in bad-guy land.

All in the name of saving a few bucks.

ADDENDUM: If that doesn't make your blood boil, may be this will. Some defense analysts have suggested that Gates' decision was influenced less by changing CSAR requirements, and more by the politics of defense acquisition. As we've noted in previous posts, various defense contractors (and their political constituencies) have rallied around competing designs, refusing to budge in their bid for a $15 billion contract.

Facing long appeals from losing teams, Gates simply elected to scrap the program, ending debate over "which" team would land the deal. In that regard, Mr. Gates and his leadership team made a gutless choice, electing to kill the program instead of facing the political heat that would come with the next CSAR-X contract.


HL Shancken said...

Simply put, Gates is more likely an agent of a foreign power than not. Golitsyn was telling the truth.

kitanis said...

I did not think he was a great secretary when he took office.. and he has proven it to be true these last couple of weeks.

The problem is. he is a Yes man.. and he is helping the president just simply cut things...


HL Shancken said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HL Shancken said...

Yes man? Yes, sir. But yes to whom?

Ken Prescott said...

Simply put, Gates is more likely an agent of a foreign power than not.

That is an extraordinary charge. I presume that you have extraordinary evidence to support it and can supply same.

HL Shancken said...

"That is an extraordinary charge. I presume that you have extraordinary evidence to support it and can supply same."

On what basis do you rule out treason?

Ken Prescott said...

On what basis do you rule out treason?

I didn't.

So, what extraordinary evidence do you have to support your extraordinary claim?

Ken Prescott said...

The CSAR-X program had some serious issues that probably would've ended up getting litigated for a decade a la the A-12 Avenger fiasco.

1. AFSOC wrestled the mission away from ACC briefly--i.e., just long enough to write the CSAR-X RFP. More on this later.

2. Boeing allegedly came in 1st with their modified MH-47. And that's where the trouble started.

The Chinook is a heavy-lift bird, with a downwash comparable to the CH-53D Sea Stallion. The USMC looked at the idea of using the CH-53D to replace the HH-46s used for SAR missions at Cherry Point, Iwakuni, and Beaufort--the idea was rejected because the downwash posed too much hazard for an overwater rescue.

On at least one occasion that I'm aware, the downwash from a Chinook dragooned into a CSAR mission actually killed two survivors (by setting off landmines.)

The second problem was that the RFP called for the aircraft to be unloaded from a C-5 and ready to fly missions in three hours.

It took a crew of experts 2 hours and 58 minutes to assemble the aircraft. Met the requirement right? WRONG! The aircraft was not ready to go flying--that was the time to ASSEMBLE the damn thing, and there was no verification that it was actually flyable (no daily or preflight inspection).

But Boeing was allowed to slide on that.

This whole fiasco begs the question: how the heck did Boeing win the CSAR-X competition?

Answer: because AFSOC wrote the spec to buy themselves some more MH-47s on someone else's budget line.

HL Shancken said...

"So, what extraordinary evidence do you have to support your extraordinary claim?"

My claim (in fact it is not so much a claim as a speculation) is based on knowledge that Golitsyn was telling the truth. That is the starting point for all things big and small. I'll also note that it wasn't my intention to single Gates out, as it wouldn't be fair to the tens of thousands of Americans in many walks of life who are at this moment agents of foreign powers. My speculation is only extraordinary to those who have either never heard of Golitsyn or choose, in the face of the mountains of evidence to support his claims, nevertheless choose to disbelieve him.

If it's the case (and I know it is)that one or the other applies to you, then it's probably no great leap to assume you've either never heard of Yuri Bezmenov, either, or if you have, you have failed to grasp his message, thus making you consider my speculation "extraordinary."

Likewise, Sejna, Lunev, Pacepa, Suvorov, Litvinenko, Tretyakov, Nyquist, Douglass, and Malina have not been able to get through to you.

You and I live in very different worlds.

HL Shancken said...

P.S. I neglected to mention Marx, Lenin and Gramsci as among those you've failed to take seriously, and while I'm at it I ought to throw in Sun Tzu and Clausewitz because the plan of which I've spoken in other posts is, after all, the melding of the work of both into a comprehensive strategic long-range plan that's being carried out right under your nose.

Ken Prescott said...

You and I live in very different worlds.

I see.

while I'm at it I ought to throw in Sun Tzu and Clausewitz

You've just reminded me of a quip I've heard (and repeated) many times over the years: "Clausewitz is quoted far more often than he is read."

HL Shancken said...

You should try to rely less on quips. One day in the not so distant future, when Sun Tzu's deception gives way to Clausewitz's crushing blows, and you are at the mercy of men who have since 1917 shown no mercy, then you will realize that quips are for kids.

Anonymous said...

The Air Force is the only service to specially train for the Combat Rescue mission, evidenced by their extremely capable Combat Rescue Officers and Pararescuemen.

However, Gates and others may be right not to buy an aircraft solely for that one mission. The USAF painted itself in a box when it pulled CSAR back from AFSOC and said the only mission those forces could do was CSAR--rescue downed aircrew.

Had the Air Force been less parochial, it would have left Rescue in AFSOC and been able to use any new helicopter or HC-130 for a variety of missions in theater.

I can tell you from experience that when ANY American is downed behind the lines, any aircrewmember from any Service will do what he can to help with the recovery. It's happened time after time.

As for Prescott's comment re the HH-47 being AFSOC's choice: laughable.

There are VERY few AFSOC helo pilots, and even fewer in leaderhip positions, who think the Chinook is what the USAF needs for that mission. I think what carried the day was it had the high altitude capability and it was essentially "off the shelf."

Ken Prescott said...

There are VERY few AFSOC helo pilots, and even fewer in leaderhip positions, who think the Chinook is what the USAF needs for that mission.

Which is exactly my point. They weren't being procured for the CSAR mission. They were being procured for the MH-47 mission.

It would be as if someone had handed the air superiority mission to SAC in the 1980s, and the B-2 had won the ATF competition.

Ken Prescott said...

My claim (in fact it is not so much a claim as a speculation) is based on knowledge that Golitsyn was telling the truth.

And you have knowledge that Golitsyn was telling the truth because ________________________.

(Fill in the blank.)

Augurwell said...

Well... I heard that termination of the Presidential helicopters was part of the Gates' plan as well as....

Is this helpful?

"JUDY WOODRUFF: Let's talk about the Robert Gates defense budget that you unveiled yesterday. Now, the United States is in the middle of two wars and a serious recession. Is this the right time to haul out a major, dramatic overhaul of not only defense spending, but military strategy?

ROBERT GATES: Well, the reality is, this is nothing new. I've been talking about this for 18 months; it is the heart of the national defense strategy that was issued last fall in the Bush administration that I issued and it's really more about simply recognizing the enduring requirement for the capabilities to fight these irregular or hybrid conflicts than it is a major strategic shift. It's really, as I put it yesterday, fundamentally, the modernization programs of our traditional strategic and conventional weapons still account for about half of our budget. Dual-purpose capabilities that work in any war scenario count for about 40 percent.

And what I'm trying to put at the table are representatives of those who spend about 10 percent of the budget. Their work has been funded principally through supplementals over the last six or seven years. I want to get that capability into the base budgets so that it will continue and we don't forget, as we did after Vietnam, how to do what we're doing right now so successfully in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

And it's really not as much about cuts; I know that there's a lot of focus on cuts because of four or five major programs. But it's really a rebalancing: How do we sustain the capability not only to fight the wars we are in, but also, how we preserve the hedge to fight any future conflict.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, practically, when it comes to Afghanistan, how does this change what the U.S. is able to do over the next two to five years in Afghanistan?

ROBERT GATES: Well, the wars themselves are still being funded principally in 2009 by a supplemental and in 2010 with an overseas contingency fund. But what we are putting into the budget, for example, $2 billion worth of the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities that are at the heart of our success in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

We're increasing our capacity for helicopters, which are in huge demand in Afghanistan. We are doing a lot to build up the special operations forces, more people, more special operations-oriented lift and mobility. So there are a number of aspects of this that are going into the base budget as long-term capabilities for the United States that obviously will pay dividends in Afghanistan as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: At the same time, the president clearly made an effort on this trip overseas to talk to our allies in Europe about giving the U.S. more help in Afghanistan. There's a lot of words of support but not much support in terms of people and materiel. How can the U.S. achieve the goals that your administration has set out for Afghanistan without that additional help?

ROBERT GATES: Well, first of all, I think it's important and probably no one has been more outspoken than I have in terms of asking the Europeans to do more. The truth is the Europeans have fulfilled all the commitments they have made; it's just that the requirement goes beyond the commitments that they've made. And, frankly, I was surprised, pleasantly, by the outcome in France of the NATO summit because I had not anticipated that they would provide additional combat troops, perhaps some small numbers for election security.

But not only did they commit several thousand more troops, but hundreds of police trainers; they committed to a lot of civilian experts. They committed resources to the Afghan trust fund, the NATO trust fund to sustain the Afghan military forces. So I think that they actually came through with a quite a lot compared, I guess, to my expectations based on the defense ministers' meeting in Krakow last month.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that enough?

ROBERT GATES: Well, it's never enough, but it is a significant contribution, I think."

Gates; a long time Kremlinologist. Russians are saying they are going to the moon. Hmmm ? Is that in the budget? Win wars and go to Mars.


HL Shancken said...

And you have knowledge that Golitsyn was telling the truth because ________________________.

Because no black swans have yet been spotted.

Because I know the subject and the enemy.

Because I know that evil knows no bounds.

Because I wasn't on the O.J. jury.

Because I have eyes that can see and ears that can hear.

Because I know the mind of Lenin.

Because Nosenko was a false defector.

Because Ayman al-Zawahiri is an agent of the GRU.

Because the death sentence given Golitsyn has never been rescinded.

Because the USSR engineered World War 2.

Because Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK.

Because of a long conversation with a spetsnaz officer on September 10, 2007, in San Antonio, Tx.

Because I recognize convergence when I see it.

Because of the NEP and the Trust and the Tanaka Memorial, and the Protocols forgery, and Department D and operation WIN, and Katyn Forest, and on and on.
Because John Kerry was a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Because C. Rice spent 1978 in Moscow as an exchange student.

Because Bill Clinton spent two weeks in Moscow in 1969.

Because Richard Nixon opened up China in 1970.

Because Because leopards don't change their spots.

Because the U.S. is in the process of unilaterally disarming.

Because George Soros was sent, as opposed to having "escaped."

Because I have not been made stupid. I have broken the spell. I see things for what they are.

If you go to the CIA's web page you will find a lengthy position statement having to do with James Jesus Angleton, Anatoliy Golitsyn, and Yuri Nosenko. It is a hatchet job on Angleton and Golitsyn, and a rehabilitation of Nosenko. It was written by the KGB.

This is a very serious subject. In fact there is nothing more serious or important than this subject. I assure that I am entirely sympathetic to your condition. I understand why you would attempt to assume the role of pedant and think of me as an impetuous student to be made an example of in front of the class. But let me assure you that the longer you persist in this attitude, the greater will be your chagrin and horror when you realize the deception that has been pulled off.

The most fundamental of all things, our very survival, depends on one thing: the forces of international communism are not engaged in a long-range operation designed to weaken the only thing standing in the way of world communist enslavement, and ultimately, in the final phase of the plan, to utterly destroy it.

"One step forward and two steps back is the way to victory." V.I. Lenin

Ken Prescott said...

Because Nosenko was a false defector.

Assuming that is true (and I do so assume), that doesn't mean Golitsyn is telling the truth.

Because C. Rice spent 1978 in Moscow as an exchange student.

Because Bill Clinton spent two weeks in Moscow in 1969.

I see.

If association is a sign of guilt, it is worth noting that James Jesus Angleton had a very long and very close association with Harold Adrian Russell Philby--indeed, he was Philby's student in the art of counterintelligence.