FRESNO, CA — OK, letís talk hardware for once. I love the hardware, always have; the reason I donít talk much about it is that what weíve got is mostly useless, and what we really do need is always getting slammed. Iíll give you two examples: the F/A-18 and the V-22.
If youíre a typical half-baked Tom Clancy fan, you know what to think of both these planes: F/A-18 good, V-22 bad. Wrong on both counts. In fact, thatís why itís hard to talk hardware, because you have to de-program so much crap from the standard view.
Start with the V-22 Osprey. You probably know the basics: itís a transport aircraft with engines out on the end of the wings that can rotate forward to fly like a conventional plane and tilt up to vertical (thatís what the V is for) so it can land like a helicopter.
Rotating propellars: The ultimate insurgent cuisinart!
And everybody knows, or thinks they know, that itís a lemon. Itís ten years behind schedule; it keeps crashing; itís already killed more than 50 Marines. And Dick Cheney hates it. Back when he was Secretary of Defense, Cheney said the V-22 was "Öone weapons system I donít need."
Thatís as good a place as any to start your deprogramming: whatever Dick Cheney says, think the opposite. If Dick Cheney tells you itís a sunny day, get your umbrella. Itís no surprise to me that Cheney hates this weapons system, because Cheney is, and Iím kind of half serious here, an Iranian agent who hates America and wants to destroy us. Heís all for spending trillions of our tax dollars on absolutely worthless weapons like aircraft carriers, but he fought hard against the Osprey because itís the one contemporary weapons system that could have made a difference in Operation Desert One/Eagle Claw, the Iran hostage-rescue attempt back in the days of Reverend Jimmy Carter.
Thatís a good handy test to ask yourself about any weapons system: would it have helped in Desert One? Thatís the kind of mission we need to think about: special ops, fast and quiet.
So, would the Osprey have helped? Hell yes. If weíd had something like it in service, the rescue mission might not have ended so disgustingly. You probably remember the whole miserable story back in 1980: we had to use CH-53 heavy-lift choppers on that raid, even though theyíve always had a bad rep, and theyíre not designed for transport anyway, let alone high-value, high-risk special operations transport. By the time they reached their first rendezvous with the USAFís C-130. Only five of the eight choppers were still working, and the mission was scrubbed. During takeoff after the scrub, one of the CH-53s, underpowered and overweight, was blown into a C-130. Kaboom! Giant fireball, eight men dead, and the next day some greasy mullah had himself photographed holding up a charred American pilotís arm. If youíre a glutton for pain, you can read the more detailed article I did on it:
Replay that raid with the Osprey as basic transport and you get a very different result. The Osprey carries 32 troops at a cruising speed of 250 mph; thereíd be no need to land in the middle of the desert, because it can be refueled air-to-air. The flight would have landed directly at the staging area near Tehran, without any need to touch down in the desert during a sandstorm. A fleet of Ospreys instead of CH-53s would probably have ferried Beckwithís guys safely to their staging base outside Tehran.
To be honest, I donít think the mission, at least from that point on, ever had a chance; it was James Bond crap that required this big American force to infiltrate Tehran in trucks and rescue the hostages, then fight its way back to the planes. It was like some mid- 80s screenplay that wouldíve starred Patrick Swayze.