'Black Knights' add new field of fire to Phrogs

4 Mar 2007 | Cpl. Jeremy Ross

Marines from the 'Black Knights' of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (Reinforced), 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, began live-fire training here, Feb. 27, incorporating an added dimension of defensive fires to protect CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters from ground-based threats.

The squadron is training 12 of its most senior CH-46E, or 'Phrog', crew chiefs to fire an M-240G medium machine gun from the rear ramp of the aircraft, an aviation tactic approved by Corps leadership in 2004. The tail-gunning provides a field of fire that has been largely missing since the Vietnam War, said Sgt. Thomas J. Dudley, a CH-46E crew chief from HMM-264 (Rein.), and one of the squadron's three certified weapons and tactics instructors on tail-gunning.

According to Dudley, the tail-gunner tactics have re-emerged in Marine aviation to counter threats encountered during Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, including enemy fire directed at the rear of helicopters.

Although the CH-46E has two crew-served XM-218 .50-caliber heavy machine guns protecting its sides, before the addition of the M-240G, the aircraft's only defense against threats from behind was to exit the danger zone as quickly as possible.

While the Sea Knight's best defense is still its speed and maneuverability, and the added gun by no means makes the helicopter into a gunship, the presence of the M-240G provides a valuable means of self-defense for the aircraft's crew, said Dudley.

"This new tactic will help us to be able to engage and suppress enemy targets before they can harm the aircraft or crew," he explained.

The static shoot was designed to allow the gunners to familiarize themselves with the weapon system and the different firing positions created by raising and lowering the ramp, said Chief Warrant Officer Christopher J. Albright, HMM-264 (Rein.) ordnance officer.

The machine gun is situated atop a bipod on the back of the ramp, which the gunner can raise and lower to change angles of fire depending on the range to target.

The main advantage of the M-240G as a rear gun instead of another XM-218 is the weapon's versatility, said Dudley.

"The [M-240G] is a good ground fire weapon," he explained.  "It's also got decent range, giving you the ability to reach out and touch somebody."

The machine gun is also highly portable with a weight of just over 24 pounds, adding another benefit of having the extra weapon system onboard the aircraft, said Albright.

He explained that if a CH-46E is forced to the ground, the four to five-man crew can easily take the gun with them, greatly increasing their firepower as an isolated unit and their chances of reaching safety.

Ultimately, the rear-mounted machine gun provides better protection for an aircraft that is constantly in areas where protection is needed, said Albright.

"These are assault support aircraft," he said.  "They go into harm's way to deliver troops to the battlefield."

The squadron plans to continue training the current group of crew chiefs on the tail-gunner tactics with day and night live fire flights, and hopes to have every crew chief in the unit up to speed on the concept.

The 26th MEU is composed of its Command Element; Battalion Landing Team Second Bn., Second Marine Regiment; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (Reinforced); and Combat Logistics Battalion-26.

The unit is currently underway on a routine, scheduled deployment that began Jan. 6 as the landing force for the Bataan Expeditionary Strike Group.

For more on the MEU, including news, videos and contact information, visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.