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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon is trying to figure out whether the helicopter shot down in Iraq was equipped with anti-missile defenses required by the Army, officials said Wednesday.
Sen. Dick Durbin complained that some National Guard helicopters in Iraq have been operating without it and questioned whether the Chinook shot down over the weekend was properly protected.
Durbin wrote a letter urging Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to investigate whether the helicopter had a fully operational system to divert missiles and asked him to ensure that all helicopters in Iraq have the equipment.
Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said military sources familiar with the situation in Iraq have told him that crews of Illinois and Iowa National Guard helicopters have been flying without complete anti-missile systems for almost six months.
"It's been a struggle for them to get the most basic equipment that they need to protect themselves," Durbin told ABC's "Good Morning America" Wednesday. "The crews and pilots have tried their best to try to secure this equipment from any source imaginable. That to me is unacceptable."
The Army CH-47D Chinook helicopter crashed Sunday carrying troops out of Iraq on leave. Fifteen U.S. soldiers were killed.
Illinois National Guard officials said at a press briefing on Monday that the downed helicopter was equipped with the ALQ-156 anti-missile system. A guard spokesman, Army Major Tim Franklin, said Tuesday, that "as far as I know," that remains the guard's position.
Defense Department officials said Wednesday that the equipment installed on the Chinooks is two parts -- the first is the AlQ-156, the electronic part that plots the flight of the attack weapon and determines when to try to counter it. The second part is a dispenser that emits hot flares, designed to draw heat-seeking weapons away from the aircraft, and chaff, aluminum designed to try to jam enemy radar.
The two-part system doesn't come on the Chinook but is widely available in inventory and supposed to be installed by the individual units using the aircraft. It is standard equipment for both active duty and guard units, officials said.
Officials said they were seeking records to determine whether the equipment was installed on the aircraft shot down. They also noted that the system is not 100 percent effective.
Durbin took to the Senate floor Tuesday to pay tribute to the helicopter's pilot, an Illinois National Guardsman, and voice concerns that he and others may not have received the protection they deserve when flying in the war zone.
"What I have learned within the last 24 hours from reliable military sources familiar with the situation on the ground in Iraq is that many of the Illinois and Iowa National Guard helicopters have flown for almost six months in theater without the necessary aircraft survivability system," Durbin said. "Some of them have received systems, some partial systems, but only within the last week or two."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)