26 January 2010

Marine Admits Army Helo Pilots are Amazing...

This will be a day long remembered, courtesy of Chief Warrant Officer Keith Marine, USMC, who has a running series of guest blog posts at Tom Ricks' The Best Defense:

Not that we can do anything about it but realize it and make adjustments but our pilots and aircraft suck in comparison to the Army and Air Force. I noticed it before when these units have flown for me but not like this time. We used Army guys for some training, along with Marines, prior to D-Day and the differences were very noticeable and undeniable even amongst our own FACs. The Army guys will come in and land at the grid you give them, with very limited dispersion between birds -- allowing you to link up with your other elements, and will set the thing right down on the deck in the inbound flight appearing not to lose much speed. In comparison, Marine pilots will bring in their aircraft and attempt several flaring techniques and then wave off. Sooner or later they will land in the midst of a brown out and probably a few hundred meters off target with dispersion of about ½ click between aircraft is the norm. Luckily the Army and Air Force guys will drop right where you want them to pick up casualties, we are lucky to have them.

I have heard a lot of excuses on why this is and here are the two most plausible ones. 1) They have superior aircraft with better handling capabilities; 2) Their pilots are pilots, whereas our pilots fill a dozen different billets and get about a tenth of the actual stick time these guys do. Like most of you, I love the Corps and it hurts me to say it but I think we have been chasing the wrong aircraft. We don't need to create a capability; the other branches already have it in the aircraft they use. We need that capability for when they aren't there. You just can't fit a 46 or 53 and definitely not an Osprey where these things will land.

A few observations:

1.) I will second CWO Marine's assessment on the importance of warrant officer pilots vs. Marine Corps commissioned officer pilots. Whereas the Marines' commissioned officer pilots start as lieutenants with little responsibility and work their way through all sorts of smaller jobs--such as Forward Air Controller, and what have you--Army warrant officers stay in the cockpit and might have an additional duty or two (running flight schedule and whatnot) until they become "tracked", where they specialize in maintenance, safety, tactical operations, or being a flight instructor. They build thousands upon thousands of hours.

Army commissioned officers, on the other hand, start off as platoon leaders of sections of five aircraft or so, and do company commands in companies of ten ships (including the maintenance personnel and pilots). They worry a lot about staff work, administrative nonsense and maintenance, sure, but that also gives them the "big picture" outlook on running the organization. The mix of having specialized warrant officer pilots--almost like your NCO corps--and commissioned officers, who also have credible flight and leadership experience, is dynamite.

2.) The optempo of Army Aviation has many drawbacks--personal life being the most obvious of them--but it quickly builds valuable flight time on aviators early on in their careers. Bonus if they've flown in the mountains of Afghanistan.

3.) Marine aviators seem to have more experience in helo ops on ships than Army aviators do. While landing on a pitching ship is not without its challenges, it's not exactly the best training for landing multiship into a dusty LZ, where the air might be thin and you might be full of troops.

4.) Overall, I'd say Marine helicopters are pretty good. To start with, they have winners in the AH-1 and UH-1 series. The CH-53 is a great heavy lifter. However, I have mixed opinions on the Osprey. If you want to run ring routes--flying a bunch of troops to a lot of bases in one day--then the Osprey has its merits. In retrospect, a combination of several light fixed-wing airplanes, UH-60 Black Hawks and Chinooks would have been a better investment. The Marines already operate the Black Hawk in HMX-1, so it wouldn't be a huge paradigm shift for them to order a few more. Additionally, in keeping with the Marines' habit of making Army and Navy equipment work better, they might consider that the CH-47 Chinook is a proven design, it's highly capable, and get this--it floats in water. Perfect for littoral operations!

5.) Finally, and most importantly, the Army rules helicopter ops because, quite frankly, that's all the Army's allowed to fly. We ought to do it well.

Overally, I'd definitely echo many of the respondants at Tom Ricks' website--the warrant officers make the difference. This will probably irk many commissioned officers who lament warrant officer traditions such as the WOMAN--the Warrant Officer Mandatory Afternoon Nap. It may also irk some senior NCOs who are endlessly frustrated at the sideburns warrant officers tend to sport. But when the bullets start flying and people need to be evacuated, the warrant officer corps is worth its weight in gold.

And, in some cases, it might be a lot of weight. Love you guys just the same. ;)


Unknown said...

In 1980 my field artillery group commander was proud of his safety program. He liked to tell people how in the summer pilots from a local U.S. Army helicopter unit would volunteer their own time on weekends to fly over local beaches to unsure that soldiers were not swimming in unauthorized locations. What the colonel didn't realize was that the pilots were buzzing nude beaches, much to the annoyance of the Germans.

Anonymous said...

This article is a joke. I am a Marine Helicopter Crew Chief and Weapons and Tactics Instructor. With multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan under my belt and working with ISAF and Joint Task Forces, I will have to say that this article is poorly written with lack of research and truth. None of what you say in this article is valid and obviously you have a bias on what branch you favor. This is why I can't stand reporters and columnists who write off of opinion and not facts.

Semper Fidelis,
A Marine Combat Aircrewman

Starbuck said...

Excuse me, "Mr. Anonymous" posting from San Diego, California, who arrived on this site from a Google search for "female marine pilot nude": you might read the Tom Ricks article more closely and discover that it was largely written by a Marine chief warrant officer.

Helodriver said...

USMC Helo pilots were a major factor that the Desert One operation failed in the rescue attempt of the American hostages in Iran. MC runs on a positive attitude but may not be thoroughly trained in their mission. In this case Helo ops. Time to put the pride aside and do what needed to get the job done for the ground pounders. Can only go by the words written by a CWO in the USMC.

Anonymous said...

Military pilot who had sex with an 11 year old boy when he was 17!!!

And how long did he masterbate and think about having sex with boys? In boot camp? Into his flight training?