Attack Helicopters losing their touch

Discussion in 'Indian Air Force' started by Neil, Oct 16, 2011.

  1. Neil

    Neil Senior Member Senior Member

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    The AH-64 Apache is America’s premier attack helicopter. Boasting complex systems and advanced weapons, the Apache is truly a force to be reckoned with, or is it? Are attack helicopters in general fairly useless? Attack helicopters are primarily designed for CAS (Close Air-Support) missions, as well as some ground-attack missions. However, ever since their first wide-deployment in Vietnam, they have been dropping by the dozen. Unfortunately, there are very few fixed-wing aircraft capable of providing CAS, and only a few of those have the survivability needed to replace attack helicopters.

    After a history of somewhat successful tests by various independent scientists around the world, helicopters were first deployed for war by Nazi Germany in WWII for transport, observation and Medevac (medical evacuation) purposes. However, like other aircraft developed under the Nazi regime, the German helicopters were not deployed in large quantities due to intense bombings and material shortages. After WWII, the world turned its attention to helicopters for Medevac purposes. Under the Key West Agreement, USAF (and USN+USMC to an extent) had a monopoly on fixed-wing aircraft (excluding recon and medevac), meaning that if the US Army wanted aircraft under its own command, it’d have to use helicopters. The US Army used its new helicopters for scouting operations and Medevac in the Korean War, where helos proved to be very useful. The war also proved that USAF would not be able or willing to cover all Army operations, and that an Army-owned ground-attack aircraft would be needed. It also proved that the lightly-armed choppers in use would not get the job done against armored vehicles.

    Fourteen years later, the first purpose-built attack helicopter, the AH-1 Cobra, was deployed in Vietnam to perform the CAS that Navy and Airforce aircraft were incapable of. While proving themselves very capable of CAS, they also proved themselves very vulnerable to even small-arms fire, with 270 of 1,100 deployed Cobras lost in the conflict. In spite of this, the Army continued pushing forwards with attack helicopters until it got to the modern AH-64D Apache Longbow.

    The Apache was built with increased firepower, range, and maneuverability in mind to cover the AH-1′s shortcomings. First deployed for Operation Just Cause (US Invasion of Panama, 1989), the Apache was praised for its precision, namely with its rocketry and chain gun. After Panama, the Apache saw extensive use in the First Persian Gulf War. In spite of its low mission-capable rate, it participated in thousands of sorties against Iraqi radar sites and armored vehicles. Apache losses in the Gulf War were few, and the damage they inflicted was extensive, especially in the famed “Highway of Death”, where American artillery and aircraft decimated the elite Iraqi Republican Guard.

    The Apache’s troubles don’t begin until the 1999 Kosovo Air War, when 24 Apaches bringing American troops had to be grounded due to the crashing of two during training exercises. American Analysts determined that the Apache was too vulnerable to Serbian SAMs, even though they didn’t have difficulties with Iraqi SAMs in the Persian Gulf War, and did not use the Apache extensively in the Balkans as a result.

    Apache’s troubles don’t stop there. While proving somewhat useful in Afghanistan, Apache’s proved useless in the Second Persian Gulf War. On March 24th, 33 Apaches were dispatched to attack an infantry division of the Republican Guard. In a fairly unsuccessful strike, one was shot down and 30 were severely damaged by rifle and RPG fire, with some becoming non-mission capable. After the incident, Apaches were used more cautiously, and less often in attack against enemy ground forces, which was one of the key roles the aircraft was built to perform. Apaches were mostly used for recon after the engagement, and several more were lost or extensively damaged in Iraq in both the recon and attack roles. The only notable incident released to the public in Afghanistan was several years back when, as part of Operation Anaconda, seven Apaches attacked a Taliban positions and returned full of holes. Five were declared non-mission capable. While their ability to return to base in such conditions speaks well of their survivability and crew safety, the fact that they consistently get shot up so badly in the few large engagements they’re in, and that they are incapable of fighting for long periods of time after said engagements downgrades their reliability. Another part of their low reliability is their inability to function in all environments. In the First Persian Gulf War, Apaches had a mission capable rate of 30% due to problems with sand, a downgrade from the average 80% (AH-64A) to 84% (AH-64D).

    However, helicopter problems aren’t a unique to America, the Soviets lost hundreds in their invasion of Afghanistan, and other countries have seen similar results. In spite of this, they’re still in wide use, though their use has shifted considerably from attack to transport in the past several years. The ongoing Libyan Civil War has proved that, in conflicts between two less advanced adversaries, that helicopters can be useful in the attack role, but in situations when the anti-Gadhaffi forces have considerable AA, the helicopters generally either haven’t been used, or have proven ineffective. Their history also points in favor of the opinion that, in a large-scale engagement between advanced adversaries, that attack helicopters would be too easily shot down by AAA before they could inflict considerable damage.

    The problem remains that there are few aircraft capable of providing CAS, especially in high-risk environments. It is for this reason that certain USAF elements decided that a fixed-wing ground attack plane was needed, and the result of said project was the A-10. Originally hated by USAF (who was still dominated by the nuclear war crowd at the time), the A-10 was widely considered a waste of money and fuel, until its deployment in the First Persian Gulf War, where 174 A-10′s destroyed nearly 1,000 tanks, 96 radar sites, 51 SCUD Launchers, and roughly 4,000 vehicles combined. Compared to Apache, the A-10 has a similar range and loiter time, as well as improved survivability, reliability, firepower, and speed. It also is capable of quick rearmament, operation from front-line conditions, and STOL, taking away many key advantages of the Apache. The A-10 was also the only aircraft that the Coalition would fly below 15,000 feet in high-risk situations due to the “metal bathtub” the pilot sat in. Only four A-10′s were lost in the war (though some were written off as non-mission capable), all of which were lost to SAMs. In the current Iraq and Afghanistan wars, A-10′s have been used more extensively than the Apache, and have been extremely successful in both wars, returning in mission-capable condition in spite of moderate damages from small arms and even rocket fire. The results of the A-10 in Libyan operations haven’t been sufficiently divulged, but the general synopsis from Coalition leaders is that they’re doing their job.

    So, in short, aircraft like the A-10 are not perform better in the CAS and ground-attack roles than attack helicopters, but they’re also cheaper, easier to maintain, and spend less time getting to the fight. The only comparable aircraft to the A-10 is the Russia Su-25, but the Su-25 was built on similar principles to that of the YA-9, as opposed to the A-10. Utilizing secondary weaponry over primary, the Su-25 gets the job done well, but isn’t as versatile as the A-10. Russian attack helicopters are also more powerful and survivable than American Apaches, reducing the need and usage of the Su-25 in CAS roles. Smaller light ground attack craft, such as the EMB-314 Super Tucano, also perform CAS operations fairly well, but are exposed to similar risks as attack helicopters in medium and high risk environments.


    Attack Helicopters losing their touch | Defence Aviation
     
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  3. Neil

    Neil Senior Member Senior Member

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    The importance of Close Air Support

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    Close air support is an air operation executed against hostile targets in close proximity to friendly forces. To carry out a successful CAS mission, air force needs to maintain tactical air superiority over the area of operation or complete air supremacy over hostile territory. A CAS aircraft may either be a fixed wing aircraft or a rotary wing aircraft. The most modern ground attack aircrafts uses variety of precision-guided munitions (PGM) such as laser guided bombs (LGB) and guided missiles.

    The AH-64D Apache Longbow and Mi-28N are best examples of modern rotary wing aircrafts. Fixed wing aircrafts such as A10 Thunderbolt II and MiG27 are also used for CAS role. In 1911 Italo-Turkish war, Italians became the first to use aircraft for attacking ground targets by dropping grenades from a German built monoplane, this was the dawn of close air support. In 1914 there were few people who viewed aircraft as only a tool for observation and reconnaissance, by the end of World War I aircraft became key part of militaries in Europe.

    As quoted by Brigadier General Billy Mitchell “The day has passed when armies on the ground or navies on the sea can be the arbiter of a nation’s destiny in war. The main power of defense and the power of initiative against an enemy has passed to the air.” Today, CAS continues to be aviation’s unique contribution to the combat power available to the ground forces.
    Safety of attacking aircraft and the pilot is the primary concern of any mission as jeopardizing the air crew will result in jeopardy of mission. En route tactics are important for CAS mission; it includes use of high altitude, medium altitude, and low/very low altitude navigation. In high altitude tactics aircrafts are flown higher than 15,000 feet above ground level (AGL). Flying at such higher altitude will guarantees lower fuel consumption, concentration on mission tactics instead of terrain avoidance; security from IR guided MANPADS and AAA batteries and increased manoeuver air space. However flying at 15,000 feet AGL is possible only if the air force has complete or at least tactical air superiority over hostile territory.

    Carrying out CAS mission at high altitudes without gaining air superiority will cause detection of aircraft formations by enemy acquisition radar at long ranges, the formations will also be vulnerable to enemy SAM’s and interceptors. Medium altitude tactics are carried out between 8000 AGL and 15,000 AGL. It is not possible to carry out medium en route tactics in high threat environment. This en route tactic has more or less same advantages and disadvantages as of high altitude tactics.

    Low altitude en route tactics are flown below 8000 feet AGL whereas very low en route tactics are flown below 500 feet AGL. Most of the CAS missions are carried out at low/very low altitudes; it keeps the attacking force below enemy radar coverage it is also termed as terrain hugging or terrain masking. However terrain hugging causes high fuel consumption, requirement of very high situational awareness, exposure to AAA and MANPADS. The combination of medium and low/very low en route tactic is used by air crew to carry out CCRP and CCIP bombing runs.

    The final attack on target is carried out by setting up an initial point (IP). IP should be 1to 2 minutes away from the target. As a CAS mission is carried out close to friendly forces it has some restrictions. Offset direction is set to align the aircraft for attacking targets, to keep air crew away from known threat or to keep them away from being fired upon by friendly forces.

    To understand relation between IP and offset direction, plot IP and target on a piece of paper and connect them with a straight line. If told to offset right, the aircraft will have to attack targets being on right hand side of the line. Only the airspace on right hand side is free for maneuvering and the left side is to be avoided strictly. There are four types of deliveries to deliver the weapons onto the target.

    Level delivery: The aircraft performs a wing level pass over the target to drop ordnance.

    Dive delivery: The aircraft take a dive to deliver ordnance.

    Loft delivery: At first the aircraft proceeds inbound to the target, pilot starts to pull up at a calculated point to drop ordnance. Once released the weapon continues upward trajectory after reaching at the apex it follows ballistic flight path to impact.
    Pop-up delivery: To execute this delivery the aircraft proceeds to the target from IP at low altitude, as it nears the target it pops up to a desired altitude to carry out dive delivery.

    The basics of CAS during day are equally same for CAS during night times. However, a pilot requires high level of proficiency and situational awareness to carry out CAS during night times or during adverse-weather conditions. Limited visibility CAS depends extremely on advanced avionics and sensors like FLIR, radar, radar beacon and TV. Sometimes visual deployment of weapons is also carried out during low visibility; aircrew relies on battlefield fires or illumination of target by ground forces for successful attack.
    Fixed wing aircrafts are preferred weapon delivery platforms for high threat environment because helicopters are quiet sluggish as compared to fixed wing aircraft and can become an easy prey of enemy air defenses. Fixed wing aircraft can carry out a quick runs over target area and retreat ASAP. Attack helicopters are often used for anti-tank role. They can be used for CAS in a medium or low threat environment where enemy air defenses are weak or not present at all.



    The importance of Close Air Support | Defence Aviation
     
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  4. JBH22

    JBH22 Senior Member Senior Member

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    The author is nuts how can the Mi-24 substitute the Su-25 had he done his homework he would know that helicopters hover much longer and give more accurate fire support.Also CAS planes tend to attack "harden" targets with guided missiles and therefore CAS and combat helicopters complement each other.
     
  5. agentperry

    agentperry Senior Member Senior Member

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    the problem is that helicopters are slow and people still wnats to use them in the same way as the first designer of helicopter thought. the new technology like BVR suites helicopter more than planes. a low flying slow moving helicopter can intrude easily into the battlefield and firing a BVR to a plane will make significant damage. they will do much better role in recon mission.

    also for attack helo many longrange laser guided munitions should be provided.
     
  6. Armand2REP

    Armand2REP CHINI EXPERT Veteran Member

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    Maybe the Apache is useless as it only destroyed 10% of heli attacked targets in Libya but try telling that to the French GAM (Air Mobile Group). 431 Hot Missiles, 1500 68mm rockets and tens of thousands of 30mm shells expended. Tonnere GAM took the pressure off of bombers to get more accurate targeting and engagement. It wasn't until the accurate nature of attack helicopters was used that Gaddafi forces started crumbling. Not to mention it is several times cheaper than fighters.
     
  7. W.G.Ewald

    W.G.Ewald Defence Professionals/ DFI member of 2 Defence Professionals

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  8. anoop_mig25

    anoop_mig25 Senior Member Senior Member

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    and i thought apache was invincible. and all because of biased discovery channel.thanks for breaking myth neilay
     
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  9. Neil

    Neil Senior Member Senior Member

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    anytime anoop sir...

    btw this seriously creates problem for our own 22 attack heli acquisition...not just cast doubts on apache performance but the entire CAS role of helis...
     
  10. ALBY

    ALBY Elite Member Elite Member

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    Redirect Notice this is a link showing the problems of apaches

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    apache shot down by a peasant in the early days of gulfwar 2
     
  11. W.G.Ewald

    W.G.Ewald Defence Professionals/ DFI member of 2 Defence Professionals

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    Lion of Babylon - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
     
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  12. asianobserve

    asianobserve Elite Member Elite Member

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    Your picture and comment are misleading. Apache shot down by "a" "peasant" (the one in the picture brandishing an AK)? Oh, you're a serious military analyst dude. BTW, maybe you should get a hand held lens, yes even those from Chinese stores, and take a closer look at the guys in fatigue uniforms around the Apache. You'll get a good clue of the "peasant(s)" that may have shot that chopper down.
     
  13. ALBY

    ALBY Elite Member Elite Member

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    dude i admit that i was not there personally when the incident happened nor am a serious analyst as u are.but i am sure that if u are a serious military analyst then u sholud have came across the tale of this peasant in the early days of iraq war 2.Even in kerala's dailies this news was reported at that time.btw the chopper may be shot down by iraqi forces and the whole tale may be false propaganda..
    But my pont was that chopper is not shot down by any heavy weapons but by small arms fire...
     
  14. W.G.Ewald

    W.G.Ewald Defence Professionals/ DFI member of 2 Defence Professionals

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    See Post #10, guys.
     
  15. p2prada

    p2prada Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Don't buy into these crappy articles. Gunships are as relevant as fighter planes.

    Nothing is wrong with the Apache either. They have done well during times of war. No soldier will claim he was disappointed that he has a friendly Apache above him. Heck the bellycrawlers would prefer gunship support over other types of birdbrains. A-10 and Spooky are great too and so are the Su-25 and the Mi-25.

    We will be getting plenty of Gunships by the next decade, numbering in the hundreds.
     

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