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Tail gunners added to Iraq-bound birds

Marine Corps News

Submitted by: MCB Camp Pendleton
Story Identification #: 200473161143
Story by Pfc. Paul Robbins Jr

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif.(July 1, 2004) -- MCAS YUMA, Ariz. - The Marine Corps is adding machine guns to the tails of its primary troop-transport helicopters - a move meant to deter enemy fighters in Iraq bent on shooting down the helos.

The machine gun - a 240D, essentially a modified 240G commonly used by the infantry - is being installed on CH-46E helicopters. The new package, which includes an extra crew member, was unveiled here last weekend during Operation Desert Talon II.

"The Iraqi terrorists like to wait until the bird has passed overhead and fire at the tail. They are getting closer and closer to being successful. The majority of hits have come from the 6 o'clock (directly underneath)," said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey A. Kittle, a crew chief instructor for Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 based at this desert air station.

The extra crewman will man the 7.62-caliber machine gun.

"We've trained the first tail gunners and tail gunner instructors on the (CH-46E) to counteract the lack of rear defense," said Gunnery Sgt. Dennis L. Pennington, crew chief instructor for MAWTS-1.

The 240D machine gun is the air wing version of the 240G infantry machine gun. The only difference - the two-handle spade grip assembly found on the 240D.

But for this application, a second modification has been made. The 3rd Marine Air craft Wing is replacing the spade grip with the standard buttstock of the 240G, using a "ground egress kit," Pennington said. This keeps the unmounted gun portable so the tail gunner can use it on the ground in case the aircraft is shot down or forced to land, he said.

"It's not attached to the aircraft at all. The gunner simply straps himself to the aircraft with a gunner's belt, lays on the rear ramp and fires on targets using the bipod," Kittle explained.

The new tail gunners have taken well to the weapon and firing position, Kittle said.

"It's not a perfect solution, but it will be very effective," Pennington said.

"We hope it will dissuade (the enemy)," Kittle added.

The tail gunner is not mandatory. Commanders can implement the four-man crew at their discretion, Kittle said.

"If a commander knows his Marines are going into a danger area, he can choose to place a tail gunner on the flight," Kittle said.

Tail gunners on Sea Knights are not unprecedented. The Marine Corps implemented a similar tactic during the Vietnam War, attaching M60 machine guns.

The threat has returned - and so has the response.

Three instructors and one tail gunner have been trained so far in using the M240 D, said Maj. John M. Graham, operations officer for Marine Aircraft Group 39.

No Camp Pendleton-based Phrog squadron's currently are deployed to Iraq. Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268 is scheduled to deploy later this year.

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