The Washington Post’s Tom Ricks today exhumes a fascinating farewell memo from June 2003. It’s General Eric Shinseki’s 12-page, parting shot sent to his boss and nemesis former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld. The entire memo is worth reading, but I, of course, focused on the one paragraph about aviation. It reads:
Comanche and Aviation Modernization. Our aviationforce is aging. We need the armed, manned reconnaissance and surveillance(R&S) capability that comes with the Comanche. The early history of thisprogram has not been pretty, but the program has been restructured, is nowsound, and deserves your continuing support.
Of course, Rumsfeld cancelled the troubled Comanche programme less than eight months later in February 2004. The army embraced the decision. Even if the Comanche’s many programmatic issues could be cured, the army by then realized the futility of fielding a “stealth” helicopter at housetop level in plain sight of RPG and MANPAD launchers.
Rumsfeld also won the army’s approval by ring-fencing the Comanche’s $14.6 billion budget for the army’s aviation modernization account. Several new and desperately needed recapitalization programs were launched with the Comanche’s funding.
Ironically, the one program that appears at risk of termination is the Bell ARH-70 Arapaho — the helicopter that was supposed to replace the Comanche!