by Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island), June 21, 2000
REED. I thank the Chair.
Mr. President, I am impressed
with Senator Dodd's logic and wisdom in drafting legislation which does
not direct the purchase but, rather, makes the purchase subject to the
decisions of the DOD, which will ultimately be responsible for the training
and military support for the Colombian Army.
I am here today principally
because I was fortunate enough last week to be in Colombia and in the
field with a narcotics battalion, to get the opinions of those Colombian
soldiers who actually have to fight these missions, and to get the observations
of the American special forces troops who are training the Colombians.
I think their observations will be very useful and informative to my colleagues.
I believe I have an obligation to speak to those observations.
These are both excellent systems.
But the question of what system do you purchase and deploy is a function
of the mission that the platform, the helicopter, the system must execute.
Senator Dodd did a very good
job of providing the context for the proposed operation. Let me add a
bit of detail, if I may.
The use of Plan Colombia from
a military standpoint is to create a counternarcotics battalion which
will push into the South from the provinces of Putumayo and Caqueta. This
is part of the Amazon jungle. It is all jungle. The last road ends at
Tres Esquinas. All military supplies for the core operation of that base
must be done by air. The context of the operation that is proposed is
that they operate from Tres Esquinas, which is about 150 nautical miles
from the operating base. That is their zone of operation.
The mission these counternarcotics
troops will perform is to airlift out of Tres Esquinas, to move into landing
zones that are close to either final laboratories or other significant
assets of the narcoterrorists, and to deliver, at a minimum, two platoons.
Those 2 platoons have about 70 personnel. The ultimate lift will be a
full company of about 360 personnel.
It has been pointed out before
that the range of the Huey II, Super Huey, is about 75 nautical miles
carrying 10 troops, and the Huey II can range only half the target area,
half of the 115 nautical miles, without expensive refueling operations.
So the first tactical decision
a commander would have to make if in fact he were deploying Super Hueys
would be to operate in the full range of the area of operations. You would
have to go ahead and establish, at least temporarily, four refueling points
so the Hueys could come in and refuel. This is in some respects a tactical
hindrance to the operation.
First of all, you have to
defend these positions in the field--in a jungle area that is literally
infested with guerrillas.
Second, the element of surprise
would be at least somewhat vitiated if in fact they were able to see you
come in, refuel, and then lift off, and go again to a target area.
In contrast to the range of
the Huey II and the necessary-for-refueling bases to cover the whole area,
the Blackhawk has a range of about 730 nautical miles and can carry 18
troops. This disparity between range and capacity of troop lift also goes
to the issue of cost because obviously, in order to conduct these tactical
operations, you will need more of the Super Hueys than you would Blackhawk
helicopters. That doesn't
completely equate the force,
but it in a significant way narrows operational forces.
The military personnel on
the ground, the Colombian National Army, and the special forces advisers
suggest that to put two platoons into an LZ someplace in this area of
operations would require seven Hueys as compared to four Blackhawks. Again,
tactically, four Blackhawk aircraft flying at higher speeds and moving
in without the necessity to refuel gives them more operational capabilities,
and it gives them more capability to amass their forces, strike quickly,
and pull back quickly.
There is something else that
has to be mentioned. They are flying against military forces that potentially
have fairly sophisticated defense systems, which again puts a premium
on speed and surprise--being able to get in and out--and also the survivability
of the helicopters. That is again an issue that requires capital military
judgments about what system is most capable to operate and survive in
this type of environment.
There is another aspect to
this. The lift capacity of the Blackhawk, according to the people to whom
I spoke, gives it an advantage when they operate closely in the highlands
of the Andes where you need lift simply because of the altitude. It also
gives the Blackhawks some respect.
Also, this was suggested to
me while I was in the field. If you are going to do fast-rope rappelling
operations, you have to come in, hover over the objective, and get your
troops out. Many places in this area of operation will not be landing
zones. You will have to require rappelling operations to get your troops
on the ground and get them out again.
Another aspect that was alluded
to by Senator Dodd is the aspect of the ability of the Colombian forces
to absorb a number of helicopters. Right now, the State Department has
managed to procure for the use of the Colombians, at least temporarily,
18 Huey helicopters from Canada. These are `1-November' models. Already,
that has increased the aviation capacity potentially of the Colombians
by substantial amounts.
They are out finding pilots;
they are finding logistical support.
If we give them 30 Blackhawks,
that will stress their logistical ability to train pilots, to provide
mechanics, to provide crews, to provide the kind of logistic base they
need. If we double that by providing twice as many Hueys, we will put
additional pressure on the logistical base of the Colombian military forces
to do the job. That is something, practically, that we have to consider
with respect to this issue.
What Senator Dodd has suggested
is very thoughtful and appropriate, to make this military decision subject
to military judgment and not our particular judgment.
I was compelled to speak today
because I had the chance, gratuitously, to be at Tres Esquinas and Larandia
on Sunday to talk to the Colombian soldiers who will fly the missions
and jump into this difficult area. I talked to our special forces troops
and our military forces who are advising. They provided information, and
it is important my colleagues understand this information. It is appropriate
we should be considering this amendment, not to direct that the aircraft
be one variety or the other but to ensure that the Department of Defense
make a very careful review based upon some of the issues we have all talked
about, including range, lift capability, the nature of the operations,
the nature of the Colombian military forces, and their capacity to integrate
these platforms quickly into their operations.
I hope this debate accomplishes
those missions. I yield the floor.
As of June 25, 2000, this document
was also available online at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?r106:S21JN0-228: