Saturday, April 08, 2006

Deep Operations a Thing of the Past For Apaches?

U.S. Cuts Role Of Apache for Deep Attack

Battlefield experience in Iraq has shown that the U.S. Army’s premier attack helicopter, the AH-64 Apache, is highly vulnerable to small-arms fire. Therefore, it will no longer 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 said Feb. 16 at the Association of the United States Army’s winter symposium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Questions about helicopter survivability arose early in the Iraq war when 34 AH-64 Apaches undertook a deep attack mission against a Republican Guard division positioned south of Baghdad. Every airframe was hit by ground fire, one Apache was downed, and 27 of the 33 that returned to base were so heavily damaged they couldn't’t fly until repaired. Since 2001, the Army has lost 85 helicopters in Iraq and Afghanistan to ground fire and combat-related accidents...

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It's interesting to read that some within the Army are still debating the usefulness of the attack helicopter deep attack. Entire careers have been made on the concept of Deep Attack. There were at one time several Attack Helicopter Regiments consisting of multiple Squadrons of AH-64s whose sole reason for existence was to conduct deep attacks against the Russian hoard. The concept has been used a few times since the end of the cold war, first during Operation Desert Storm (successfully), then in the Balkans we had Task Force Hawk that never really got into the fight for a number of reasons...some not of their own making (incomplete grade) and finally when OIF began the above mentioned operation (un-successful).

There are a couple of things that need to be highlighted about this type of operation. First, a Deep Attack is a HIGH RISK operation. A commander is committing the major portion of his attack helicopter assets to a cross FLOT (forward line of troops...behind enemy lines to those who don't get it) operation to engage and hopefully destroy second echelon (or in some cases the main attacking force before they have been fully engaged) enemy forces.

Second, Quite naturally the enemy wants to protect his assets...for a Deep Attack to be successful, commitment of assets other than attack helicopters must occur. This means that the Deep Attack becomes the main effort for the command conducting the operation. Intel, Artillery, CAS and even logistics are all affected by this and must be allocated correctly for mission goals to be achieved.

So what does all this mean? Does it mean that cross FLOT, deep operations are dead for the attack helicopter community?

I would say what it means is that commanders need to insure that the items required to execute the mission need to be present before we execute. What do I mean by that? Before operations like a Deep Attack take place there is something called a GO/NO-GO briefing. During this every area needed for mission success is talked about, INTEL, LOGISTICS, SUPPORTING FIRES, availability of crews and aircraft...etc. There is a different go/no-go for each operation , but you get the point. Commanders first of all are driven, mission oriented and never want to tell higher that they can't do something, but they also must have the moral courage to say no when the conditions aren't met to conduct operations. When SEAD is fired an hour early, when the CAS isn't there, when Intel doesn't know exactly where your target set is, when your flight routes to the engagement area are drawn over towns and cities and can't be moved, when you don't have enough gas to launch the entire attacking force conditions aren't set. All of these things happened prior to the Karbala fight but the aircraft still launched and came back shot to hell without accomplishing the mission.

For someone to say the AH-64 is susceptible to small arms fire misses the point entirely. All helicopters are susceptible to small's a question of how much and where the fire hits the aircraft. During OIF II aircraft from 1-227 ATK took fire and continued the mission successfully in places like Sadir City, Falujia and Najaf. Crews are constantly looking at individual tactics trying to asses the best way to get things done from an operational point of view...the aircraft and aircrew training is not the problem.

A Deep Attack is a tactic like a raid and before it is undertaken some serious thought needs to occur about risk versus reward and I don't think that was always done...especially during war games like WARFIGHTER or NTC rotations. Is the Deep Attack dead? I don't know and frankly I really don't care if deep attack is dead or not especially as I have other fish to fry right now...but I do believe it's a good idea if people within the Army are seriously discussing this type of operation. On the other hand if they are using the model of a flawed operation as the reason an entire method of operations should be discarded, that is faulty logic and not the type of critical thinking I would expect from my senior leaders.

Now back to my regularly scheduled service of booby pictures and aircraft p0rn.

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