Thursday, October 04, 2007

Hypocrisy Watch: the helicopters of fortune

The Left here and in Europe have both enjoyed a bit of self-righteous self-puffery over the use of “mercenaries” as of late. Funny how reality can make hypocrites of us all.
The NATO military alliance is so short of helicopters in insurgency-hit Afghanistan that it is now thinking about leasing some, a spokesman conceded Oct. 3.

“We need helicopters everywhere and one of the options being studied is leasing contracts,” spokesman James Appathurai told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

He said that NATO already had such agreements for fixed wing transport aircraft — another area in which there is a shortage — “with our Ukrainian and Russian friends, which is working well.”

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan has constantly appealed for countries taking part to come up with helicopters, mainly for medical evacuations and transport but also for troop support.

A NATO diplomat said it was a question of “leasing dozens of helicopters.” Appathurai said that ISAF has launched a military mission dubbed Operation Pamir, in and around Kabul as well as in east, south and west Afghanistan, which is likely to last a number of months.
Poland’s ambassador to Iraq was wounded and two people were killed — an Iraqi civilian and a member of the ambassador’s security detail — in what appeared to be a coordinated roadside bomb attack on Wednesday morning in downtown Baghdad, Polish and Iraqi officials said.

After the bombing attack near the Polish Embassy compound, Iraqi and American officials said the ambassador and others were evacuated to a combat hospital in the Green Zone by helicopters operated by Blackwater USA, the private military contractor under scrutiny for killing civilians in an episode last month. Blackwater provides security to State Department officials in Baghdad.
Why are there such problems and shortages WRT helos? Well, any Junior High School teacher can tell you it all has to do with ego, pride, insecurity and a bit of tribalism.

Before you nit-pick my hyperbole, let me ask you a few questions. In the Vietnam War, what was more important, on average, to warfighting; the helicopter (RW) or the fighter-bomber (B-52 fetish folks keep your comments to yourself)? During the Falkland Islands War, why was the loss of the Atlantic Conveyor such a huge loss – and why was it a single point of failure on a unit doing something it wasn’t designed for? What is one of the largest controversies in Canadian military procurement in the last decade; and why? A little inside baseball here; what is the condition of the fleet average SH-60B? The CH-46? Why? Do we need to get all Joint on you and review the entire DOD RW inventory? No, didn’t think so.

In general, RW assets are kept too long and given low priority until a crisis comes up, and then you never have enough – especially any medium to heavy lift. Why, you might ask, if this is such a known do we keep having the problem over and over? I will ask you as well, why is it that we never seem to have a shortage of comparable magnitude with TACAIR (besides the need for more A-10s)? The reason goes back to 8th Grade; 8th Grade boys in particular. As any wife will tell you, men don’t change all that much after their voice changes.

Grab the nearest 1310/20 and ask him how many, as a percentage, of those he started flight school with went RWRW. Now look at the most powerful and influential (especially in procurement) pilots and NFOs in the Navy. How many of those are RW? Are they less professional or talented officers? Is they be un-smarter as the TACAIR guys? Are you fully up to speed on the importance of “Community support” when it comes to selection and promotion?

Though it can vary from nation to nation and service to service – and there are exceptions to every rule – in general the TACAIR guys run the air side of the house at the senior levels – and they look after their own. At least for the USN – the only Flag Officers that get less respect, influence and responsibility – perhaps – are the VP guys and their ugly stepsister VQ mates.

It is the same throughout the NATO nations as well. You can tell by the fact that in addition to the inability of some nations to find their balls, they just don’t have the RW that are needed. They can scratch together some TACAIR and fixed wing ITAS (barely) – but medium and heavy lift RW? Fugetaboutit.

Procurement money comes from professional representation at the table. Parochial interests can trump military requirements – as can sexiness. Just ask the EF-111 and S-3 former or soon-to-be former communities.

When a government fails in its job, it has to go to the private sector for help. That is what Blackwater USA and their Ukrainian and Russian counterparts do. They fill a gap left by a short-sighted and incompetent military staffing structure that cannot adjust as quickly as the marketplace. They are a symptom, not a problem – heck in many cases they are the cure.

Perhaps it is best to ask why a military does not have such capabilities and fix that shortfall than to spit at those who do a job you won’t do - but need to.

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