Opinion

Chinook budget talks show how budget-cutting threatens safety and readiness

Generations of American soldiers have seen first-hand the perils of combat. The equipment our soldiers utilize is paramount to their safety and success, which was certainly the case during the Vietnam War.

I flew the Ch-47 Chinook helicopter during the war. People may not know it by name, but they’d know it by sight. It’s the longest continuous helicopter production line in the Department of Defense and it’s been the Army’s premiere heavy-lift helicopter for more than half a century.

Iconic images of Chinooks appeared in newsprint and on television during the Vietnam years and throughout the United States’ involvement in Iran during the 1970s. It was a mainstay during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the early 90s and was widely utilized in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan throughout the 2000s.

The CH-47 is a valuable asset for homeland defense and disaster support here in the U.S. and throughout the world. In fact, the it’s flown by nearly a dozen countries. The Chinook has also been immortalized in movies and documentaries about U.S. wars. The various reincarnations of this incredible aircraft over the past five decades have brought it to the newest generation, the Chinook Block II.

Today’s Chinook is the most versatile helicopter available and has little in common with the helicopters I flew. I flew the A, B, C and D models in the California Army National Guard; unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to fly the CH-47F. Its new state-of-the-art composite rotor blades have increased its heavy-lift capacity by more than 1,500 pounds. That’s important for a number of critical reasons.

The increased capacity makes it possible to transport a fully-armed Joint Light Tactical Vehicle as well as fully-armed soldiers into active combat zones. That ability saves time, taxpayer dollars and is safer for our men and women in uniform. The Chinook Block II can also carry the new M777 Howitzer, an essential wartime weapon. It is the only helicopter that can do so.

Not only can the next-generation Chinook Block II carry more weight, it operates at higher elevations and with more mobility. That’s critical in active combat zones. It allows pilots to effectively maneuver between obstacles, such as mountains, as well away from enemy fire. The Chinook Block II can also function in extreme heat, a vital capability in some of the most important active theaters of war, including Afghanistan.

Pentagon spending and policy discussions are starting to take place in Washington, D.C., as leadership and Congress make decisions on funding priorities annually, working through long lists of options and prices. The task must be daunting and, just like in every home nationwide, there are always more items on the wish list than money available to pay for them. Compared to other heavy lift helicopters in military’s inventory, such as the CH-53K King Stallion, the Chinook Block II comes in at less than a third of its $150 million price tag.

There have been reports recently that the Army is considering delaying its intention to update its fleet of Chinooks. That would be a costly mistake.

The Chinook Block II may look like another line item on a long list, but to the thousands of soldiers who have trusted their lives and the lives of their brothers-in-arms to this incredible aircraft, it’s so much more. Beyond any emotional connection to the Chinook, it’s a proven entity for the Army. Time and again, it’s delivered in times of war and during domestic crises, such as the recent California wildfires and the fires currently devastating Australia. It’s used for humanitarian missions, search-and-rescue operations, and is a staple for our Special Forces. Its utility and versatility cannot be matched.

Throughout my military service, I depended on the Chinook. No matter the mission, the Chinook delivered my fellow soldiers and me to safety and enabled us to fulfill our missions successfully. It has done the same for thousands of others throughout its lifetime. The Army needs to make investment in the next generation Chinook Block II a budget priority so it can continue its service to our soldiers and the country.

Lt. Col. Thomas Edward Lasser (Ret.) spent seven years on active duty with the U.S. Army and another 33 years with the California National Guard. Thirty years of that which was fulltime status with the California Military Department. Tom is a Vietnam veteran and a master Army aviator with over 6000 flying hours including more than 1000 helicopter missions in Vietnam and almost 1800 combat flying hours. His military decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, Legion of Merit, Air Medal with 35 Oak Leaf clusters, Meritorious Service Medals, Bronze Star and other commendations, service awards and campaign ribbons which reflect over forty years of military service.

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