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The War Nerd April 17, 2003
 
Lynch Mobs and Apaches
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
 
Page 3 of 3
 
And the Iraqis have (uh, "had") a lot of ZSU-23(4)s, and I suspect they're what brought down that Apache. In fact, I suspect they did a number on the AH-64s we sent out to intercept these Republican Guard armored thrusts.

The AH-64 has always been an iffy weapons system. On the one hand the Israelis like it, and they only buy the US hardware that actually works. On the other hand, it gets some seriously mixed reviews from guys who've trained in it. They say the belly cannon makes a lot of noise and flash ("shock and awe," I guess) and leaves the ship way too exposed for way too long. Of course the cannon isn't supposed to be the primary weapon. That's the Hellfire, and its whole claim to fame is that it's "fire-and-forget," so the ship doesn't have to linger after launching it.

When the Apache was adopted, US weapons designers were totally focused on a NATO/Warsaw Pact war in N. Europe, just like the Soviets were. To try to understand what happened to the Apaches in Iraq, I went back this week and looked at some old issues of AWST and AFJ to see how they were billing the Apache, and I noticed two things: (1) The Apache was supposed to work with a dedicated scout chopper beside it, and (2) it was supposed to use the urban/forest cover you'd expect in the N Eur theater. The scenario was: scout chopper i.d.s WP armored column (with ZSU-23 (4)s at front and rear); scout feeds target info to Apache loitering below tree-level; Apache pops up to launch Hellfire, hitting AA vehicles first, then taking out remainder; then immediately drops below tree-level and leaves at speed.

The Apaches we used in Iraq didn't have that sort of set-up. For one thing, the flat desert that helps fixed-wing airborne WS's like the F-15E actually hurts the AH-64, which depends on cover for survivability. No forests to duck behind on the road to Baghdad. For another -- and maybe I'm just too stupid to get this -- I don't understand what happened to the scout that was supposed to finger targets for the Apache, the OH-58. Any of you Air Cav types want to explain to a fat idiot like me what's going on? Who's supposed to do target acquisition for the Apache?

It may just be that the whole concept of the heavy attack helicopter has passed its use-by date. Take the primary Russian platform, the Mi-24. It had its moment of stardom in the early years of the Afghan war. Then Reagan decided to give our pals, the Mujahideen, the Stinger...and that was the end of the Mi-24. (Now if only we could persuade those nice Mujahideen to please give us all those unused Stingers before somebody gets hurt.) It may just turn out that the AH is an unworkable compromise between armor and mobility-a flying tank that's too light to take real punishment. If so, we've got a lot of inventory on our hands.

All I know for sure is that I watched the second and third weeks of the war real carefully, and I didn't see many Apaches in action. You may have noticed that in the last stages, when we were mopping up in Baghdad, all our CAS seemed to be done by the good old Warthog (A-10). It may not be fast for a fixed-wing aircraft, but it's definitely faster, with a more vertical attack profile, than any AH. We lost at least one A-10 around Baghdad, so they're not invulnerable to ground fire either. But judging by the difference between the gala introduction of the Apaches and the reeeeal quiet way they vanished after that first week, I'd say somebody up there decided that the whole "flying tank" concept needs some work.

Now watch: I'll get death threats from the whole 1st Cav, asking for the address of my duplex so they can give me a first-hand demo of the lethality of their Apaches. The life of a War Nerd is not restful, I swear to God.

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Gary Brecher
Browse author
Email Gary at war_nerd@exile.ru, but, more importantly, buy his book.
 
 
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