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Dempsey: No Guns On MEDEVACS

Posted Mar 21, 2012 by Howard Altman

Updated Mar 21, 2012 at 12:44 PM

Arming Army MEDEVAC choppers is a bad idea says Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

That’s what he says in a letter to Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-Palm Harbor).

I wrote about the Congressman’s original letter, to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, in a story I wrote about the MEDEVAC issue last month.

The story was spurred by a Tampa woman whose son is a Kiowa pilot who served in Afghanistan and was based on work by Michael Yon, a frequently embedded blogger who witnessed an incident where a soldier who lost three limbs in an IED explosion later died from his wounds. Yon chalks it up to a delay in having a MEDEVAC chopper arrive, because of the need for an armed escort.

The Army said not only did the rescue flight arrive within the allotted 59 minutes (Yon disputes this) but arming the MEDEVAC choppers would diminish their ability to provide enough medical equipment.

Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-Palm Harbor) weighed in on the debate. Joining a number of other congressmen, Bilirakis wrote a letter to Panetta, urging the Army to arm the choppers.

Yesterday, Dempsey responded to Bilirakis and the others on Panetta’s behalf.

The Department of Defense, he wrote “has no policy mandating armed escort aircraft for MEDEVAC missions, nor has it identified a shortfall in attack helicopters.”

Repeating the Army’s position that it is up to commanders on the ground whether and when to send in a MEDEVAC chopper, and whether and when to send an armed escort aircraft with them, Dempsey wrote that “local commanders have used [armed escorts] over the last 2 years to support approximately a third of urgent MEDEVAC missions.”

Regardless, arming MEDEVACs is a bad idea, Dempsey wrote.

“Arming MEDEVAC aircraft would not replicate advanced attack helicopter capabilities,” Dempsey wrote. “Attack helicopters possess advanced day and night optics and enormous firepower to accomplish combat tasks in support of potential high-risk pickup zones. Moreover, arming MEDEVAC aircraft might decrease theater medical evacuation capabilities due to tradeoffs in the additional aircraft weight, crew space, training focus and mission workload.”

U.S. Central Command is reviewing the “use of escort aircraft on MEDEVAC missions,” Dempsey wrote, promising that Bilirakis will receive “a thorough report upon completion of the analysis.”

For what it’s worth, folks with experience in Afghanistan have told me the issue of weight is no small consideration, considering the mountainous terrain in which the choppers must operate.

What’s next with this story?

Stay tuned.

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