WASHINGTON -- The Army helicopter that was shot down by missiles in Iraq, killing 15 soldiers, carried a standard package of defensive equipment including a missile alert system and flares designed to decoy a missile, a US officer said yesterday.
An Illinois senator, whose state National Guard had provided the helicopter, had written to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld asking whether the helicopter had been properly equipped.
Democratic Senator Richard J. Durbin wrote of his concern that the CH-47D Chinook helicopter "may not have had necessary or fully complete aircraft survivability equipment," including seat armor to protect against shrapnel.
Army Colonel William Darley, spokesman for US forces in Iraq, said in an e-mail exchange from Baghdad yesterday that the helicopter had an ALQ-156 defensive system, including a flare dispenser, that is standard equipment on all Chinooks, whether active duty or National Guard.
The helicopter was carrying troops to Baghdad. Fifteen soldiers were killed, including the pilot, First Lieutenant Brian D. Slavenas, of Genoa, Ill., who was deployed to Iraq from the Guard's 106th Aviation Battalion, based at Peoria.
Darley said a second Chinook flying nearby also had the ALQ-156 system.
There was no official word yesterday on whether the helicopters had seat armor.
Pentagon officials said that as far as could be determined, all transport helicopters in Iraq have the standard package of defensive systems.
That equipment is not foolproof, however, especially in cases where the helicopter is flying at very low altitudes, allowing little reaction time.
Durbin said military sources familiar with the situation in Iraq told him that some crews of Illinois and Iowa National Guard helicopters had been flying without complete antimissile systems for almost six months.
"It's been a struggle for them to get the most basic equipment that they need to protect themselves," Durbin told ABC's "Good Morning America" yesterday. "The crews and pilots have tried their best to try to secure this equipment from any source imaginable. That to me is unacceptable."
Defense Department officials said yesterday that the equipment installed on the Chinooks has two parts -- the first is the AlQ-156, the electronic system that plots the flight of the attack weapon and determines when to try to counter it. The second part is a dispenser that emits hot flares, designed to draw heat-seeking weapons away from the aircraft, and chaff, aluminum designed to try to jam enemy radar.