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Speech by Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island), June 21, 2000
Mr. 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.

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