Fired Army Engineer Called Scapegoat for Helicopter Problems
ST. LOUIS (AP) _ A civilian Army employee who was handcuffed and removed from his office for threatening to go public says many Army helicopters lack equipment that would protect them from Iraqi heat-seeking missiles.
A colleague says the man was a scapegoat in a cover-up of problems in Army aircraft safety.
Army officials said they suspected Calvin J. Weber of the Army Aviation Systems Command here had planned to disclose sensitive information about equipment vulnerability.
Weber said many of the approximately 95 Vietnam-era Huey helicopters used by American forces in Operation Desert Shield lack modern equipment designed to fool heat-seeking missles.
He said he suspected that only about a third of the more modern Blackhawk helicopters had up-to-date anti-missile gear and some Cobra attack helicopters also lack the equipment.
It would cost about $40,000 to add the anti-missile device to each Huey, Weber said. The devices either disperse the exhaust of the helicopter’s engine - making detection by a heat-seeking missile more difficult - or provide a decoy heat source that confuses a missile’s guidance system, he said.
″Missile systems have advanced, but the Army has trodded and plodded, and was lax in taking care of equipment with the latest protection available,″ Weber told a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week. He said he began warning Defense Department officials of the potential danger two years ago.
Weber, 48, was handcuffed and carried from his job at the Army Aviation Systems Command when he refused to leave, and was charged with disorderly conduct and two other misdemeanors. He faces a court date Nov. 16.
The Army said the veteran of 16 years working for the Army was to be fired as of Wednesday after colleagues removed his personal belongings from his desk.
Army officials, citing privacy regulations, have refused to discuss details of Weber’s case.
Dick Mooy, a senior engineer with the aviation command who is helping Weber in an effort to keep his job, said the command is ″despotic″ and ″interested only in itself.″
Mooy said he had worked for the Army as a civilian for 22 years, working mostly with Army helicopters and other aircraft. He said he had known Weber for years and described him as an expert on helicopter survivability.
Mooy said he agreed with Weber’s contention that many of the Army helicopters sent to Saudi Arabia in Operation Desert Shield lacked the full range of equipment needed to thwart heat-seeking missiles.
Both engineers said the Army had accused Weber of keeping $1,500 worth of Army helicopter screws at his house. Mooy said a supervisor had not objected to Weber’s having them.
Mooy added that Army Mohawk surveillance airplanes, including some in Saudi Arabia, might be a danger to themselves.
He said an infrared suppressor for that aircraft was prone to come apart and damage the plane’s rudder.
″I call this, as an engineer, a big cover-up in the Army,″ Mooy said. ″Cal tried for years to go through channels, but it came to a dead end.″