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America Strikes Back: Look at Military Air Hardware, Training

Aired October 12, 2001 - 09:09   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: More on the military front now. We have eyes on the ground through various reports but we also have eyes on the sky. They come by the way of satellite, and certainly, they are passing along critical information to the Pentagon and elsewhere.

Miles O'Brien with more on that.

Miles, good morning again to you.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again, Bill.

I'm with Gen. Don Shepperd, our military analyst. We are going to talk about some unseen warriors for just a moment, the folks out in Colorado, in and around Cheyenne Mountain: U.S. Space Command, Air Force Space Command. They play a critical role, and a role that we don't often talk about: They do send some people to forward positions, to help out folks in the theater, but the bottom line is their assets are where you see them right there on that graphic, up there in space.

Gen. Shepperd, first of all, what we're looking at is the constellation of global positions system satellites, an image which was sent to us by friends out there in Colorado. This is an important satellite constellation for navigation. Give us a sense of how it comes to play.

GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY CORRESPONDENT: A constellation, depending on the day, is 14, 17 satellites. It gives you accurate coordinates, and we use these to guide munitions into the targets we are watching on TV, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Let's move it along now and give you a sense of imagery satellites and exactly how they might work, as we take a look at our graphic here. We are talking about low earth orbit, and low earth orbit means 200 miles above or thereabouts.

SHEPPERD: Ninety to 200 miles. Lower than 90, it comes down quick; above 200, you get too far out to get good pictures.

O'BRIEN: The bottom line is you want to be close to get a good picture, and this is the kind of thing that we are talking about here. We do have to emphasize we are talking about nonclassified images. These are one meter resolution, which means you can see something as big as 3 feet -- from Space Imaging Corporation, you see the credit up there. We are moving in on Kabul right now. What kinds of things is a targeteer or somebody who is trying to do bomb damage assessment looking for?

SHEPPERD: This is a tool, this is simply a picture. These are taken to targeting analysts and targeting cells that are composed of engineers, geologists, that type of thing -- even electrical engineers -- and even environmentalists -- that say when we attack these targets, what are they going to do? Then we select the weapon, the fuse, before we go and attack a target.

O'BRIEN: So you see those aircraft there on the tarmac. Multiply that by about 5 or 6 and you get the kind of resolution that the U.S. government has, reconnaissance and military, and you get a sense of how much accuracy there is.

We will give you one more example here, moving next door to Peshawar. We will show you, as we move in on a park there, the kind of resolution. Once again, these are things you can find on the Internet, which is astounding statement right there.


O'BRIEN: Let me ask you this: The fact that this is available commercially, is that is an intelligence threat to the United States?

SHEPPERD: No, it isn't an intelligence threat. The good news is you can't hide no matter where you are. It's available worldwide. Our military satellites are much more definitive than that.

O'BRIEN: We are going to move to the Web once again and take a look at some images from our friends at These are some imaging that were taken well before any bombs fell onto areas linked to the Taliban or Osama bin Laden, and they give you, if you know what you are looking for, a very clear idea of what's going on on the ground, don't they?

SHEPPERD: They do. Once again, the idea behind this business is we focus on the kids in the cockpit and in the ships and on the ground, but these space warriors are heroes just as well. They provide us with these tools. We take these now to the targeteers. You can see the difficulty. There are the tunnel entrances, but where are the tunnels and how do you attack this systems and how do you get to them. It's all a well-orchestrated process, and space is key to everything we do in the military these days. This is a space war as well as one we are watching.

O'BRIEN: You see right here they say possible helipad. To the layperson's eye, you would you have no idea that is a helipad. What are you looking for there?

SHEPPERD: You are looking for flat spots. And you want, basically, to can destroy so they can't operate helicopters easily at will. The Taliban do have helicopters. So you are after every military target, including helicopter pads in these mountains.

O'BRIEN: Let's take a look at one more. This is a potential tunnel entrance. I guess when you find a tunnel entrance -- if you see them, and I guess they can be seen with the assets that we have -- that is when you call for those bunker buster-type weapons.

SHEPPERD: It is. Remember we have things that look under the ground too, highly classified systems. But the difficulty is where is the tunnel, and what's stored in with it, and how do you get to it -- a most difficult process. You can't bomb all of Afghanistan to get to the tunnels; this is tough stuff.

O'BRIEN: Let's bring up the Web for you. is a good place to go if we have piqued any questions in your mind. It will give you some idea of some of the more recent activities in the bomb damage assessment realm. We invite you check that out at

As always, stay tuned for more insights from Gen. Don Shepperd.

We'll send it back to Bill.

HEMMER: Great segment, Miles, thank you, and thanks to the general as well.

To the C-17 cargo plane. It plays a critical role over the skies of Afghanistan. Also, the training involved is quite peculiar.

Kyra Phillips is at Charleston Air Force Base, in South Carolina. Also, Catherine Callaway is at the Pathfinder Training School, in Fort Benning, Georgia.

Good morning to both of you.

Kyra, we begin with you -- good morning.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill, good to see you.

You mentioned the word "critical," and that is true. This aircraft is critical on two folds, number one, medically, and number two, foodwise. We are going to start with the medical aspects.

For security reasons, we are not going to use names at all. I'm going to address you by "Major."

Thank you very much for being with us.

"MAJOR": Good morning.

PHILLIPS: Let's talk about the medical aspect here, who exactly you are serving and helping and what you have on board.

"MAJOR": The unit here is strictly a member of the 315th Air Wing, a reserve squadron. We are pretty unique in that we do not have an active duty counterpart; we are strictly a stand-alone Reserve unit.

The type of capability that the C-17 has is built into air frame and was part of the original design -- it was really nice. The equipment you are looking at here right now is some of the standard equipment that we carry on all missions. We have the ability to monitor somebody's heart, somebody's blood pressure, their respiration and breathing; we even have the ability to breathe for them. The nice advances in technology have allowed us to take the big obvious ventilators and reduce them down to a size that is compatible and compactible. We can travel in a light method and be able to save lives and keep people supported.

PHILLIPS: Let's talk about other capabilities to keep those lives going.

"MAJOR": This is just a sampling of the standard kits we will carry, with everything from basic bandages to advanced airways support mechanisms, in order to start, save, or preserve somebody's airway if a problem has been a problem with it, to emergency and having to breathe for them, to stopping bleeding, and if we have to, to start IV's and move to keep them preserved to the next location.

PHILLIPS: Move on it down. These are pretty much the basics, right?

"MAJOR": Yes, Ma'am. These are two of our in-flight kits. This is our drug kit, anywhere from advance cardiac drugs, to basic aspirin, to Maalox.

And moving right along, we have the ability to, again, use just different types each in order to monitor and assess our patients while we are in flight.

PHILLIPS: Let's make the point, too, you are not just saving the lives of U.S. military, but also, if you were in Afghanistan and refugees needed your help, you would bring those folks on board, too, right?

"MAJOR": Yes, Ma'am. If we were asked to do that, like we were in Desert Storm -- a lot of Iraqis got moved with us -- we don't make distinctions about who we move. We just do what we are supposed to do and are trained to do, which is to do the air evac. portion.

PHILLIPS: Thank you so much, Major.

Really quickly, we want to get to the Colonel down here. This is the pilot of this aircraft, and he is in charge of making sure that you hit the right targets and get that food down to the folks on ground. Let's talk about how quick that happens and conditions that you can survive in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It happens quickly. We use airdrop when there is no runway to land on or the drops zone is too hot and the only survivable way is to come in fast and low, slow down really quickly, open up the doors, and release a load out the back and then escape out of the area.

PHILLIPS: Let's show the back here. These doors come down within seconds. These boxes take the humanitarian daily rations right out. How do you know you are hitting your target? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have really precise navigation systems. We use a global positioning system that takes us within a few yards of where we want to be. We navigate really precisely to a release point, release it exactly where we want to it, and it lands almost always within a hundred yards. What we are doing in Afghanistan is very high-altitude airdrop. We select the drop zone really carefully; it's a really large area. And this is what we are dropping, the humanitarian daily rations, and these cardboard boxes are filled with HDRs. We slow the airplane down and get to a really nose-high attitude. When we get to the release point, we release some white straps there that release, and a load just falls out the back by gravity.

As it exits the airplane, the cardboard boxes tear apart, and thousands of these rations flutter down and blanket the drop zone with food.

PHILLIPS: I know as a pilot you always hit your target. We've talked about that.


PHILLIPS: Colonel, thank you so much.

We are going to move from here to Fort Benning, where Catherine Callaway is standing by, to talk about the Pathfinders -- Catherine.


Yes, we are here at Fort Benning, at the Pathfinder School. You should know that there is only one Pathfinder school in the entire Department of Defense. We have members of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Marines training here to be a Pathfinder.

Just to give you an idea of what a Pathfinder is, you should you only hear their motto, which is "First in, last out"; that means first in and last out in any airborne mission. They are elite forces, they drop in, and they begin to scope the area, to set up landing zones, to set up drop zones in any airborne mission.

Joining me now is the Pathfinder commandant, Capt. Ronald Franklin.

What we are seeing today is an exercise in training of the Pathfinders, setting up for later on -- we will see some of the Pathfinders students dropping in out of Blackhawks. So tell us right now what these soldiers are going to be doing.

CAPT. RONALD FRANKLIN, PATHFINDER COMMANDANT: Right now, my instructor, Sgt. First Class Swanson, is going to talk them through some of the limitations and constraints that they are going to be looking at for this drop zone. They are going to be analyzing the width of the terrain that they have, the slope of the terrain, and some of the obstacles to both movement of the aircraft and to insertion of the airborne troopers you are going to see you later on. CALLAWAY: Intense training for these Pathfinders. They really have to be able to steak the language of an aviator, even though they are not aviators. They have to know all of the limitations and the capabilities of aircraft, of fixed wing aircraft, of helicopters. Tell us why they need all this information.

FRANKLIN: These Pathfinder students, when they leave here, are going to go to many assignments across the Department of Defense. They are going to serve as assets to the grand unit commander, to help him in his tactical planning and his assessment of some of the drop zones and some of the operational capabilities that he is limited to by terrain that he has and the equipment he has available.

CALLAWAY: So we see a gentleman here getting perhaps the long or short axis of the area. This is what you would see them doing, counting this off to get an idea of the terrain. Will they be able to make any adjustments of the terrain?

FRANKLIN: In event that they determine the terrain is unsuitable for the mission that is at hand, they will either adjust the mission constraints, adjust the flight pattern of aircraft, or skew the drop zone to the left or the right and change the landing or drop heading of the aircraft to make it fit within the desired drop zone.

Let's talk about how important this mission is, the Pathfinders. They drop in covertly, sometimes at nighttime, in the daytime; they have to be able to do it at any time.

FRANKLIN: Yes, Ma'am, and typically, they would arrive covertly into another location and either move by foot or some other covert means to the location that the ground unit commander would like, and they will make the assessment on the ground to provide him the feedback that he needs to ensure that the mission goes off without hit.

PHILLIPS: What are we going to see later on? Are we going to be able to see some of the Pathfinders dropping out of Blackhawks?

FRANKLIN: That is correct. Once they set up the drop zone, they are going to proof the drop zone by jumping in it themselves, and we'll see that later today.

PHILLIPS: Just a few minutes ago, we saw them shooting up a pilot.

FRANKLIN: That's correct. A helium-filled balloon is launched to get the impacts of the mean effective winds and how they will affect the jumpers that we'll see later today.

PHILLIPS: These students are under a tremendous amount of pressure today. They have their instructor, who behind them, asking them questions, making sure that they are giving the right information. Time's really important here.

FRANKLIN: It really is. They are tested at every phase of the operation, and that includes today. A failure here would mean a drop from course. So they are all under the gun.

PHILLIPS: Just to give idea of how elite these forces are we should tell you that only about 500 Pathfinder students make it through here, Bill, every year, as opposed to the Paratroopers, where there are some 15,000 that make it through here every year -- elite forces.

And coming back here in about an hour, the skies will indeed be filled with Pathfinder students dropping out of Blackhawk helicopters. We will bring that to you live -- Bill.

HEMMER: Training continues. Catherine, thank you, at Fort Benning -- also Kyra Phillips, live near Charleston, South Carolina.




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