NATO reports that they’ve moved a step closer to providing their helicopters with added protection from rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) thanks to the successful demonstration of prototype technology in Bulgaria. While countermeasures exist for shoulder-fired infrared missiles, the simple ballistic flight and fuzes on RPGs are a different challenge. Helicopters are very difficult to hit with RPGs, but it is not impossible – “Black Hawk Down” in Mogadishu, Somalia was one example, and the 2005 downing of a MH-47G Special Forces helicopter in Afghanistan was another. With known terrorist suppliers producing a surfeit of RPGs, and NATO countries facing future operations in Afghanistan and urban terrains, this kind of work is timely. See also this US Army CALL report re: RPG-7s in Iraq.
Early testing has been promising, with important improvements made over the past year. More testing must be conducted, and the next stage is to demonstrate practical application by fitting the technology to a helicopter so the RPG debris impact and the influence of different weights and shapes can be measured. More active measures that destroy incoming RPGs rather than just preventing them from exploding are also under investigation.
Bulgaria is the lead country in the development of helicopter protection technology under NATO’s Defence Against Terrorism program, with Greece and Poland also involved. Poland is currently conducting a parallel programme of testing. Read the entire NATO article.
Preliminary details are leaking out concerning the “Duke” Cunningham corruption investigation; his resignation from Congress and plea of guilty in November 2005 were based on his activities as a member of the Congressional Defense Appropriations subcommittee, where he inserted “earmark” provisions for funds into various legislative bills on behalf of the people who paid him. A five-page summary of the interim internal report was released this week by that committee’s top Democratic Party lawmaker, and reported in the Los Angeles Times:
“Over a five-year period, the report said, Cunningham inserted language into spending bills adopted by the intelligence panel that provided approximately $70 million to $80 million for those companies. The committee oversees about $40 billion in annual spending on the nation’s spy agencies. Because budget details are classified, the public has virtually no ability to scrutinize individual contracts… Most of the money that Cunningham earmarked went to companies operated by Poway businessman Brent R. Wilkes and Wilkes’ former associate, Mitchell Wade of Washington. Wilkes remains under investigation, and Wade pleaded guilty in February to bribing Cunningham and offering illegal inducements to Pentagon officials… The investigation found no evidence of criminal activity by other lawmakers or committee aides, according to the report. But it describes a permissive environment…”
Having said that, the political effects of this campaign may have lobbying impacts. EADS’ C-295M and its longer cargo space is still competing with Alenia & L-3’s C-27J “Baby Herc,” with its C-130J commonality plus tactical vehicle/helicopter lift capability, in order to become the USA’s Joint Cargo Aircraft light transport.