No more AH-64 deep attack

ah64.jpgTRADOC cuts Apaches’ role in deep attack (subscribers only)

In the April 17 Army Times:

Because battlefield experience in Iraq has shown the AH-64 Apache is highly vulnerable to small-arms fire, it no longer will play a prominent role in the service’s deep-attack mission, said the Army’s head of doctrine.

Gen. William Wallace, who commanded ground forces in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and now heads the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, said he would shake up the way the Army conducts deep-attack operations.

“Less integration of Apache helicopters,” more Air Force ground-attack aircraft and “more use of Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, perhaps even with unitary rounds that are long-range precision,” Wallace told reporters at the Association of the United States Army’s winter symposium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in February.

Mentioned specifically is the April 2003 deep attack by the 101st Division that was shot up pretty good by ground fire but never hit any of its Republican Guard targets.

MO noted that the Marines were officially reviewing their own deep strike helicopter tactics already in August of that year.

Also in the Army Times article:

Army aviators are changing their tactics and training to conduct running fire missions with guns and rockets to minimize their exposure to ground fire, Brig. Gen. Edward Sinclair, commander of the Army’s Aviation Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., said in a recent interview.

A report by the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, detailing lessons learned during the invasion and occupation of Iraq, said Army attack aviation was better suited to providing close-air support to friendly ground forces than in the deep-attack role.

The same report said the Army’s OH-58 Kiowas performed better than the Apaches in urban areas because their pilots were trained to fly close to the ground at high speed and use buildings and trees as cover.

Regarding the Kiowas “better” performance, that can be addressed by additional training of Apache crews to fly similarly. As for the CAS role, I doubt we’re going to see the reliance on helicopters go away any time soon, even if only because the Army controls them and won’t have to rely on Air Force jets (often unsuited to CAS in the first place, excepting the A-10) for help. Jointness is improving every day, but there’s nothing like knowing you can bring your own heat in a pinch.

Hinted at but left largely unsaid, the same Air Force planes not particularly well-suited for CAS are now much more capable of performing the deep attack mission that the Apache has been pulled from due to more advanced precision weaponry and JSTARS.

Left unsaid and totally ignored is the possible role for light attack aircraft along the lines of the OV-1 Mohwak, the A-37 Dragonfly, or the Super Tucano COIN aircraft. Probably cheaper than attack helicopters, able to support ground units nearly as well, and suffering from few of the whirlybirds’ particular vulnerabilities, the Army should be looking into something along these lines.

Oh. They can’t. The Air Force gets all the fixed-wing aircraft. And they only fly bazillion-dollar fighter jets.


  1. Is a OV-10 really that much less vulnerable? Maybe more focus should be on advanced targeting capabilities. So that the aircraft can designate fire missions, rather than actually deliver the fire. The biggest problem of using a/c or rotorcraft is that they generally will have to pass over the target they are engaging. Directing fire support missions allow the aircraft to remain out of direct lines of fire of ‘known’ enemies. Hence why the OH-58 is doing well. I think the AH-64 still also has a role, but probably not in this current unconventional war. Hence we should not lose these helicopters, and keep up the training for a conventional war.

  2. Everything I read about the AH-64 said that it was designed to be armoured against calibres up to 23mm cannon. What happened? Sounds like somebody really screwed up if it can be brought down by small arms fire.

  3. I think the AH-64 still also has a role, but probably not in this current unconventional war. Hence we should not lose these helicopters, and keep up the training for a conventional war.’ So why is it not useful in the current war? Last I heard, Apaches and Cobras still provide fire support, aerial recon, and escort. Without them, Blackhawks or Hueys would be highly vulnerable, Air Force bombing or artillery would be the only help, and recon would only be UAV or HMMVEE. Also, look at the war in Afghanistan, the Cobras and whatever Apaches are there tear up some serious ass on the Taliban, and even on the Iraqi insurgents. We’ve all seen that Apache video. Besides, Apaches are not needed for deep strike anymore, as we now have 3 different stealth platforms, and longer range munitions. They can do just as good shooting from behind their own tank columns.

  4. It’s really expensive to re-learn lessons. Lesson 1. Never operate attack helos outside the artillery fan. Lesson 2. Never depend entirely on air, artillery is more responsive, weatherproof and continuous. Lesson 3. The fact that someone put some armor on helos does NOT mean they are bulletproof. Lesson 4. It is very costly to try helos in deep penetration missions.

  5. The attack in question ran counter to doctrine up to that point. As I understand it, there had never been any intention of using attack choppers en masse. That why you have bombers and arty. Somebody had a ‘bright idea’. It took too long to pull together and everyone in the country knew the choppers were coming. Without the German hills and forests to dodge in and out and around, a chopper is vulnerable. The en masse attack failed to permit them to behave both as they had been trained and as correct tactics would dictate. Choppers are scouts, in the very traditional sense. They can be deadly, but they are NOT intended to replace heavier combat units.

  6. However something like a Commanche would have helped a little in the deep strike. One question that i have, why did we give up on the Commanche? I mean if not buy all, 40 to 50 would have helped with special ops or incase the Army needed fire support in a MPAD environment.

  7. How much would Comanches have helped? Everything I’ve read and seen on it indicates that a lot of folks just went outside and fired their weapons up into the air when signaled. I’m not sure if they were waiting for the sound of the choppers, though. Comanches would have helped some in that case, but probably not enough to have made much of a difference.

  8. Helos better at CAS – or CIFS (Close in Fire Support) – as USMC officially calls it. If ground controlled has a laser designator, the Helo can fire a Hellfire in the right direction in the search mode without ever exposing itself to ground fire. Helo deep strikes without fixed wing or ground support is crazy. I remember the old days training for war against the Warsaw Pact. The expected combat life of a Helo was 9 seconds before a SAM or fixed wing aircraft took it out. Came down to costs. During those 9 seconds, an attack copter was supposed to kill several tanks that cost at least as much each as that chopper. OV-10’s great for observation, directing strikes, and using laser to designate targets while flying high. Takes a crazy pilot to actually use it to attack.

  9. Helicopters aren’t *that* easy to shoot down, even with a jet. They can perform maneuvres that fixed wings can’t, which makes it quite hard for an MRM to hit them in the terminal phase (assuming the helicopter pilot knows (s)he is being targetted so knows when to jink). That means the sure way to kill one is to take it out with a heater.. but the range on them really isn’t that fantastic and any jet pilot should be very nervous closing to the range and altitude required over a battlezone. (I sure as hell would be. I’d be tempted to take pot-shots with AMRAAMs from high altitude. But the P(K) is going to be quite low.) That plus the fact the helicopters are usually flying down with the trees and hills makes them fairly safe from jets. The biggest problem is probably serious ADA like the ZSU-23-4. Getting in a dual with one of those would not be fun. MANPADS are dangerous but with good IR suppression and low enough level flight, it’s going to be hard to get a lock for long enough to fire before the helicopter is out of sight again. Assuming it’s not stupid enough to hover in plain sight. Anyway I think 9 seconds is a bit pessimistic, but in a full-on conflict like that I think a helicopter would basically fly up to the front line, loose off all its missiles as fast as possible and then get the hell out of there. But, I think the idea of using cannons and rockets is quite good. The nice thing about them is you can come in low, lift up a little with your nose pointed down for maximum forward speed, spam the target area with rockets and then drop back down and fly away before anyone can react (hopefully). It lets you continue moving, and not in a straight line necessarily, during the attack run.

  10. Yep – was ground controller on Air Team. Trained to get them in and out real fast by our bosses – jet and copter pilots working as Forward Air Controllers. The 9 seconds thing quoted to us was life span over FEBA with Russians. Assumed ZSU-23-4’s, SAMs and Air to Air (including enemy copters). No idea how they really got the number – just remember it drilled into my head. Always use standoff weapons if possible. If not possible, minimize the time an aircraft is exposed to the enemy. Had an Infantry Company Commander I was supporting try to get me to have Cobra’s fly in formation over his until like airborne tanks during a training exercise (despite the ‘enemy’ Harriers flying over our heads). Had to respectfully refer him to my boss, a Major and CH-47 pilot, to get his ass chewed.

  11. That’s one of the few things I felt NATO really lacked during the Cold War – close-in air defence systems for taking down choppers and low-flying jets. The Stinger is a great missile, but what’s missing are the guns. The M163 Vulcan ADS is the closest thing to a NATO Shilka, and isn’t terrible, but it’s a pretty poor substitute for the multi-layered mobile SAMs and guns that the Soviets developed. It’s a pity that Sargeant York system never worked well…

  12. Saw a few Hawk batteries in Gulf I. Where the AA version of the LAV or Stryker ever purchased in quantity?

  13. One reason for the 9 second rule, comes from the Nato suiside defense plan for fighting Russia. Due to political reasons, we commited to the forward defense of West Germany’s borders. (Something about fighting to the last German) Anyway, in all battle sims I heard of, we never held out longer then 96 hours before we went nuclear. (Basically as soon as the Russians reached the Rhine) I am glad, that we had the chance to end the delusion of deep strike helocopter charges before we lost a bunch of pilots.

  14. OH-58 Kiowas performed better than the Apaches in urban areas because their pilots were trained to fly close to the ground at high speed and use buildings and trees as cover.’ Sounds like we need more ‘crazy’ pilots’ like Ole H.M. Murdoc of the A-TEAM. When I first heard about that Apache attack that got shot up I couldn’t believe it. I thought only my AI buddies in Comanche Gold flew like that (Hi/slow). The training mission in this game tells you to fly low and use terrain to mask yourself from the enemy it also tells you to move quickly through open areas (which take to mean as fast as you can make your bird go). To my mind common sense/logic plus the ‘experience’ I got from playing Comanche Gold (which ‘claims’ to be a very realistic helicopter flight simulator) combat choppers ought to maneuver/operate more like ground vehicles/infantry than jets. To me 50 ft AGL is HIGH; 20 ft is more comfortable. Now I hear people say there isn’t much to mask behind in the Iraqi desert – well that just allows you to go lower 10 ft 5 ft AGL. These are some rules I went by when playing the game (they’re critical for passing the toughest missions) Fast, low, really really fast in places without cover, terrain masking, pop-up shots, ripple fire, ALWAYS shoot on the move, shoot off bore sight, NEVER stop in a high threat environment, BE VERY nervous about stopping in a line-of-sight area that is nominally secure, flank/attack from positions of advantage, NEVER pop-up from the same place twice (at least not before 2 other places first) moving pop-ups are much better than static ones, ALWAYS have a plan for escape. Now I thought the Army knew all that and more but after hearing about that attack I wonder. I’ve heard that an Apache tactic (especially in flat dessert areas) is to fly high to allow maximum detection/engagement range. This makes sense but you’ve got to know that the close-in-line-of-sight area is secure ( you don’t want to pop up and get blasted from threats you couldn’t see down low). Now I don’t think the idea of deep strikes by attack choppers is bad in and of itself. But a couple things puzzle me about this attack. 1: the route – according to what I heard they got hit as they went over a heavily populated area. Why was the route placed over this area or why didn’t they go around? Of course it could have been an unknown area or it could have been known and not considered a threat. But if they had to fly econ speed and stick to the route to have the range to get to the target area then it was a mission that shouldn’t have been attempted. You’ve got to be able to deviate form the route and/or make high speed dashes in order to deal with the unexpected (which should be expected). 2: it was a ‘mass’ attack. That could potentially mean bad things because both on the insertion/extraction routes and at the target area you must have enough room to maneuver without crashing into each other. Mass better not mean to crowded for effective tactical/evasive maneuvers. And of course I could just be full of it (taking all that just from playing a computer game) But I don’t think so. ;p Couldn’t you go fast enough to stay ahead of your rotorwash cloud at ultra low level?

  15. BAB: To me 50 ft AGL is HIGH; 20 ft is more comfortable. This is flying at night? Seems a little low, especially if you’re going fast.

  16. The root of the problem is that the US have trained for a well coordinated enemy. Problems in Iraq are fundamentally from the average Joe who has an AK in his barn. While often nothing will happen, on occasion a hiding AH-64 will be vulnerable because the person who he identified as a civilian is not one as such. Same problem applies to the troops on the ground. There is no way to solve this problem apart from removing the chance to be caught off guard. Helicopters are very intensive to fly and hence if you are constantly in a combat mindset this becomes even more difficult to achieve.