The Final Flight of Extortion 17 | Military Aviation | Air & Space Magazine

A few minutes past 2 a.m. on August 6, 2011, at a dusty forward operating base 40 miles south of Kabul, Afghanistan, the rotors of two U.S. Army CH-47D Chinooks began to turn. Operating with no lights save for the faint green glow of night vision goggles and cockpit instrument panels, the two helicopters, call signs Extortion 17 (“one-seven”) and Extortion 16, lifted into the darkness and accelerated toward a destination less than 20 miles west.

Extortion 17 and its 38 occupants would not return. A Taliban fighter shot the helicopter out of the sky with a rocket-propelled grenade and all aboard were killed—the single greatest loss of American life in the Afghan war. Those killed ranked among the world’s most highly trained and experienced commandos, including 15 men from Gold Squadron of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, popularly called SEAL Team 6. Just three months earlier, members of a counterpart SEAL Team 6 squadron successfully raided a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed Osama bin Laden. In light of that raid’s success, the shootdown of Extortion 17 incited a flurry of conspiracy theories: The Taliban were tipped off; it was a trap; it was retribution for the killing. No evidence has emerged to support any of these claims. Instead, two rigorous U. S. military investigations followed every moment of the mission to determine what went wrong on Extortion 17’s final flight.

via The Final Flight of Extortion 17 | Military Aviation | Air & Space Magazine.

In the final analysis, the enemy gets a vote too.

Leave a comment

Filed under ARMY TRAINING

Let’s talk about the Bradley some more…

A bit of a stroll down memory lane for me, as it were.  First, the Bradley’s been in service since about 1982. Main production variants of the Infantry Fighting Vehicle version include the M2*, M2A1, M2A2-ODS**, and the M2A3. I’ve never seen an M2A3, but I’ve dealt with all the other models. Oddly, I mostly went backwards. I was loaned out to a unit for Desert Storm, and it was equipped with brand new M2A2 vehicles. Months later, I was assigned to a unit in Colorado that was equipped with M2A1 models. And when that unit went to the National Training Center, we drew vehicles there for our rotation from the common pool rather than bringing our own. Those vehicles were vanilla, early production M2s. Eventually, I got to spend just a bit of time on an M2A2-ODS at Ft. Benning.

Esli had this to say about reloading the main gun on a Bradley.

It’s easy but not too fast. You have to traverse the turret, pop off some covers to give the guys in back access. Then, the guys in back have to move all the gear that is stacked up all over the floor, raise the floor panels and pull long cans with multiple straps around them up. Then open the long cans, which are covered in a thick sheath. Then feed belts of AP or HE into the ready boxes, reorganize the rear stowage and reinstall the covers and then traverse the turret back. (What our host may not know is that an upgrade to the rear of the track changed the 25mm stowage to this new system.) I made all my infantry crews practice this.

By the way, no static Bradley begins to convey how cramped they are when loaded up with nine guys and all their gear. Particularly cramped in the turret.

Youtube has all kinds of neat Bradley videos (see below) but apparently none showing the loading of the ammo cans. The ammo cans for the Bradley are the the front of the turret, beneath the gun mount itself, right about where the gunner and commander’s shins are. You may recall that the M242 25mm gun fires two types of ammunition, Armor Piercing (AP)*** and High Explosive Incendiary (HE). Both types of ammunition are carried simultaneously, and the gun can switch from one type of ammo to the other simply by pressing a button on the gun control panel. Here’s an oddity. The next round fired after changing the selection will be of the previously selected ammo- that is, if you fire a burst of AP, then switch to HE, your next shot will be AP before the HE starts loading and shooting. AP and HE have very visibly different ballistic trajectories, and it is quite disconcerting at first to see the first round of a burst fly off on a path well away from where the reticle in the Gunner’s Sight Unit would lead you to expect.

The ammo cans, in spite of being right in front of the turret crew, cannot be accessed from inside the turret. There are two cans. One holds 230 rounds of ammo, and the other holds 70 rounds. The “normal” load is 230 rounds of HE, and the smaller can with 70 rounds of AP. Both kinds of ammo used to  come in boxes that hold two 15 round linked belts of ammo.

The boxes are sized to fit under the floorboards of the troop compartment, filling the space between the hull and the floorboards. The new ammo storage is supposed to be easier and more ergonomic. Don’t bet on it. Now the crew pulls ammo out of the cans, and loads them into “hot boxes” under the floorboards in 50 round belts for “ease” of loading.

STOWAGE7

STOWAGE8

Here’s what the back of the vehicle looks like. You can see the pop-up floorboards more clearly here.

http://i446.photobucket.com/albums/qq184/abflug_r34/Bradley%20Ref%20Photos/0m3a3bradleyWalk-Around-6.jpg

Actually the interior of the troop compartment of a Cavalry M3. The M2 has bench seating on both sides of the compartment.

You can also see the turret basket and some of the interior of the turret itself. The shielding around the turret does not rotate. There’s a sliding door that is normally closed when operating the turret for safety.

The belts of ammo don’t just rest in the bottom of the turret ammo cans. Instead, there are flanges on each link of the ammo belt that are used to hang the ammo along side rails at the top of the ammo can. Loops of about 25 rounds hang in the can.

Dummy 25mm ammo. The flanges are at the top and bottom of the link.

Actually, in one can, the ammo goes under the top rails, and on the other, the ammo is “upside down” with the links on the bottom, so one round of the ammo itself rides along the top of the rails inside the can. Sound confusing? It is. Who knew simply loading ammo in a can would involved having to count exactly how many rounds were being looped in. From FM 23-1 Bradley Gunnery.

Load AP

Load HE

I’ve tried to find a decent picture of the actual loading setup, but my google fu failed me.

Note that the cans load from the side. The gunner has to spin the turret to align first one can, then the other with the turret shield door (and engage the turret lock, and turn off the turret drive motor for safety) before loading can actually begin. If the cans are partly filled, the counting process still has to occur, and the loader just hangs the ammo. But if the  cans are completely empty, the gunner has to use a ratchet wrench to drive a pawl that feeds the ammo up the feed chutes to the gun’s feeder, and go through the hassle of actually feeding both types of ammo into the feeder and cycling the ghost round. If you really want to learn about that, which I’ve mostly forgotten, feel free to consult FM 23-1 yourself, embedded below.

Enough of this. As noted, the Bradley entered service in 1982. Here’s a contemporary video released by FMC, the manufacturer, about that time. There’s some good shooty and splodey in it. It also shows loading the TOW missile launcher from the troop compartment via the top hatch over the troop compartment.

It also shows the Firing Port Weapons in use. I’ve actually shot them. Today, they’re virtually never used. In fact, M2A2 models and later blanked over the ports on the sides of the vehicle, leaving only the two on the rear ramp.

The “bible” for shooting the Bradley, and training crews was, as noted above, FM 23-1 Bradley Gunnery. Far more than the mechanical aspects, it discusses armored vehicle gunnery techniques in general, as well as platoon fire distribution and some other good stuff. Like, you know it is legal under the laws of war to shoot paratroops hanging in their chutes, but not aircrew escaping from a downed aircraft? I used to have this manual virtually memorized. Now… not so much.

 

*Often referred to as M2A0 to differentiate from the more generic “M2” designation.

**ODS- Operation Desert Storm. A series of improvements derived from lessons learned and suggestions from the field, mostly concerning internal rearrangements and addition of a laser range finder.

***Actually, Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot- Tracer, or APFSDS-T. Similarly the High Explosive has an incendiary component and also a tracer element, and is more properly HEI-T. In common usage and in fire commands, they’re simply referred to as AP or HE.

7 Comments

Filed under armor, army

Coast Guard MH-65 Makes Precautionary Landing in Target Parking Lot, Kemah, TX

I don’t have any details on it, just came across the video on youtube. Looks like it happened last night.

Update: ’twas a bird strike. And my Coastie helo friend tells me that suspected/possible rotor damage calls for landing as soon as possible.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter that struck a bird Thursday night made an emergency landing in the parking lot of a Target in Kemah.

The pilots landed around 8pm in the parking lot of a Target in the 200 block of Marina Bay Drive.

I’m glad the crew is safe.

Coastie

1 Comment

Filed under Coast Guard

New bone growth therapy to be tested in space

Astronauts aboard the ISS and scientists stationed on Earth will study a bone-forming molecule called NELL-1 and assess its ability to promote bone formation and protect against bone degeneration.

“A group of 40 rodents will be sent to the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory onboard the SpaceX Dragon capsule, where they will live for two months in a microgravity environment during the first ever test of NELL-1 in space,” states NASA’s chief scientist for the ISS, Dr. Julie Robinson….

The team hopes that the research project will allow them to learn more about preventing bone loss and osteoporosis. In particular, they hope the study will provide new insights into how to heal and rebuild the type of large bone defects that occur in wounded military personnel.

from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/288390.php

The big target is preventing or healing osteoporosis, but the comment about wounded veterans caught my eye. I thought this was worth sharing.

Leave a comment

Filed under space

Defense in Depth » Does America Have a Warrior Caste?

Who is truly bearing the burden of repeated deployments and protracted conflicts? Who comprises our shrinking all-volunteer force? As the daughter of an A-10 pilot, I see my fellow military brats enlisting and being commissioned at incredible rates. Anecdotally, it has seemed at least one child in every military family tends to serve, while the ROTC programs in the Ivy League are some of the smallest in the country, and military service is left unconsidered as a viable career option for most young Americans.

This is creating a cultural gap between military and civilians and presents challenges for effective civilian control and oversight of the military. More and more military service has become a family affair, creating a “warrior caste” whose mantle is passed down from generation to generation.

via Defense in Depth » Does America Have a Warrior Caste?.

Eh… to some extent, the military has always been a “family business.”

The article spends a good bit of time on the Ivy League and the disconnect they have from the military. Though what it doesn’t recognize is that the Ivy’s are gaining a significant number of veterans in their ranks, particularly the graduate programs, but also in the undergrads. Whether the Ivy’s should come before or after military service might be an interesting question on its own.

10 Comments

Filed under ARMY TRAINING

Tridents lead the way once again | Jax Air News

Sailors of Patrol Squadron (VP) 26 will make history Jan. 22 as the last East Coast squadron to deploy in the P-3C Orion aircraft. For the squadron, this deployment will mark the sunset of an aircraft with a 50-year legacy of excellence and historic milestones which began with the acceptance of its first P-3B back in 1966. On Jan. 4 of that year, nearly 49 years to the month, VP-26 became the Navy’s first operational P-3B squadron, when the squadron ferried the first P-3B from its production site in Burbank, Calif. to Naval Air Station, Brunswick, Maine.

via Tridents lead the way once again | Jax Air News.

Since Spill is busy carousing around Chicago with a hot blonde, I’ll have to share this story he pointed out to me last night.

It seems like only yesterday that the P-8A achieved Initial Operational Capability. And here we are with the last East Coast Orion deployment already. Still to go are the squadrons at NAS Whidbey and in Hawaii. That’s going to take a few more years.

Spill also raised the interesting question of what will become of the VPU squadron. The VPU squadron is a “special projects” patrol squadron, and one of the more “secret squirrel” organizations in Naval Air.

They fly P-3s with deceptive markings, doing who knows what, very quietly. It’s not a secret to spot their planes, of which there are only a couple. But the community is famously tight lipped, even more so than the EP-3E electronic intel community. With the regular Orion fleet gone, the VPU guys will no longer be able to hide in plain sight. Will they get one or two P-8s to play with? Dunno, but it’s a good question.

Speaking of the EP-3E guys, I keep hearing there is a follow-on in the works, but nothing solid. So far, it appears they’ll keep the EP-3 going at least until the rest of the P-3 fleet is gone, and then panic about what to do next. At this point, it’s starting to look like the most likely option is to lose the ELINT capability, and then cobble together some jury rigged alternatives.

1 Comment

Filed under ARMY TRAINING

Matt Udkow- Someone You Should Know

Weird thing about internet friends. You think you know someone… and then you learn something new about them. In this case, it was nice to learn that Matt was not just the kind of man I thought he was, but very much the kind of man one can admire.

Matt is currently an MH-65C helicopter pilot for the United States Coast Guard. But he started his aviation career with the US Navy, flying the big old H-3 Sea King. And so it came to pass that when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, Matt, then stationed at Pensacola, Florida, was flying a logistical support mission from P’cola to Louisiana.

You may recall the scenes of helicopters of all sorts hoisting stranded New Orleans residents from rooftops to safety. Guess what? Matt was one of those aviators engaged in rescuing our fellow Americans.

In Matt’s own words:

I was blessed to serve as the SAR officer and pilot with the NAS Pensacola SAR Unit (renamed Helicopter Support Unit) from 2003 ?to 2005. During this period, my crew and I had the opportunity to assist with the SAR efforts in the New Orleans area following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina. Out first SAR mission was on 30 August (27 persons hoisted), and the second one was conducted on 2 September 2005 (20 persons hoisted). In my opinion, these two missions were the pinnacle of my naval flight career.

Here’s the caption to this picture from Naval Aviation News:

Twenty survivors were happy to be off the flooded ground. The seated man on the right wearing a white t-shirt had a heart-attack on the way to Louis Armstrong Airport. I informed the tower, and we received permission to land in front of a huge line of helos and fly right over the terminal to drop him off first to waiting paramedics. AO3 Danny Smith, the crewman at the door, did a great job hoisting and managing the passengers, plus the three crew members and one photographer in the back. (Photo by Gary Nichols)

Now, being the military is a team sport. We love the image of the gallant individual, but no one man does great things. They all work together. So it is right and proper to share the credit with his crew:

My crew: (left to right): Myself (pilot), AW2 Jake Mclaughlin (rescue swimmer), AW2 Justin Crane (rescue swimmer), AW1 Kevin Maul (crew chief), Lt. Bryce Kammeyer (co-pilot). This was taken after landing after the first day, with two SAR sorties complete and 27 survivors hoisted. All of our crew and the civilian maintainers were very excited and proud of the work we had done.

Matt’s efforts were not without some controversy, however.

PENSACOLA, Fla. — Two Navy helicopter pilots were “counseled” about the importance of supply missions after they rescued 110 New Orleans hurricane victims before returning to base from a cargo delivery, the military said Wednesday.

One pilot was temporarily assigned to a kennel, but that was not punishment, said Patrick Nichols, a civilian public affairs officer at Pensacola Naval Air Station.

“They were not reprimanded,” Nichols said. “They were counseled.”

The pilots, Lt. Matt Udkow and Lt. David Shand, met with Cmdr. Michael Holdener, who praised their Aug. 30 actions but reminded them their orders had been to return to Pensacola after flying water and other supplies to three destinations in Mississippi — the Stennis Space Center, Pascagoula and Gulfport.

Matt made a decision. In this case, the right one. As I mentioned in an earlier post, that’s a skill that junior officers need to learn. Make. A. Decision. Yes, every decision has consequences. But so does failing to make a decision.

47 American citizens today were spared from possible death or injury by Matt’s actions. That’s something a man can hang his hat on.

3 Comments

Filed under Coast Guard, helicopters, history, navy