WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon has told an Illinois senator that about one-third of the helicopters from his local National Guard unit had been operating in Iraq without missile defenses.
Army officials told Democratic Senator Richard J. Durbin in a briefing that the helicopter downed in Iraq Nov. 2 had the equipment but that six of 14 others used by the combined Illinois-Iowa National Guard unit went without it in Iraq from June to mid-September, Joe Shoemaker, Durbin spokesman, said yesterday.
Major Gary Tallman, an Army spokesman, confirmed that Durbin was briefed on Monday, but said he had no details on what was said, nor whether a review has been made of other units.
Durbin had questioned the Pentagon on the subject after the CH-47D Chinook helicopter was downed by Iraqi insurgents, killing 16 soldiers and injuring 26.
Shoemaker, who attended the briefing with Durbin, said officials reported that most of the unit's helicopters were sent to Texas for overseas shipping without the technology that senses enemy missiles and the equipment that shoots flares to deflect the missiles. It was unclear why that was the case, though Shoemaker contended that the unit was given only seven days to deploy.
The Pentagon has said that the helicopters come without the equipment and that it is up to the individual units to add it in order to meet an Army requirement. The equipment is readily available, they added.
Once the deficiency was noticed in Texas, officials installed equipment on all but two of the 14 helicopters before shipping them overseas -- then later sent equipment for the remaining two, Shoemaker said.
But the equipment newly installed on six of them was damaged while the helicopters were on their way from Texas to the Persian Gulf region, leaving only six properly equipped and in working order, he said.
Having the equipment didn't save the Chinook targeted by Iraqi insurgents on Nov. 2. The system fired flares, but they didn't deflect the enemy missile, officials said.
Some have contended that the equipment is not 100 percent effective and that there wasn't much time for the Chinook to avoid the missile; the helicopter was flying low, so the missile hit it quickly.