The Defense Department pushed back Friday against House Republican charges that U.S. troops in Afghanistan were being denied life-saving systems that were used to counter enemy rocket, artillery and mortar fire in Iraq.
“It’s altogether unclear that this system is a silver bullet,” George Little, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, said of the C-RAM – the Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar system that links advanced radars with what is essentially a land-based version of the Navy’s Phalanx rapid-fire CIWS (Close-In Weapons System.)
Little acknowledged that requests for deployment of C-RAM to Afghanistan came from the U.S. Central Command in 2009 but “operational conditions have changed since ’09” as U.S. troops have begun withdrawing with the goal of having all combat forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
If commanders in the field were to renew requests for C-RAM, “then they will get what they need,” Little said.
In a letter to President Obama on Thursday, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, wrote: “If a C-RAM intercept capability would protect our troops against lethal threats without detraction from our mission in Afghanistan, please immediately order the deployment of these weapon systems."
In July 2009, CENTCOM put in a Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement (JUONS) requesting C-RAM for Afghanistan that was supported by Gen. David Petraeus, then the overall commander in Afghanistan.
At the time, “the Army agreed that the systems were available for deployment and determined that approximately 80-100 additional forces per site would have to be deployed to support the C-RAM intercept capability,” McKeon said.
“The Chairman didn’t assert that this would be a silver bullet,” a spokesman for McKeon said, but he said the need for C-RAM system would grow as the Afghan withdrawal continues and the U.S. forces consolidate on larger bases that will become more inviting targets for the Taliban.
The C-RAMS “effectively protected installations in Iraq” but were being denied to troops in Iraq because of of a “force cap” imposed by the Obama administration during the withdrawal, the McKeon spokesman said.
“We’ve got other adequate measures in place” to detect enemy fire, Army Lt. Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said without going into detail. With the C-RAM system, “you have to put a lot of fire into the air which, of course, threatens civilians,” Warren said. The C-RAM system was deployed to Iraq in the summer of 2005 and was used to protect the “Green Zone” compound and Camp Victory in Baghdad.
The system’s radars are designed to pick up indirect fire and automatically fire a 20mm M61A1 Gatling gun, similar to the Navy’s Phalanx weapon against anti-ship missiles, to eliminate the threat. Unlike the sea-based system, the land-based system uses shells fused to self-destruct in the air to avoid civilian casualties.