Six Helicopters

This is an extremely disturbing trend.

With two more helicopter crashes near Baghdad, including a Marine transport crash on Wednesday that killed seven people, the number of helicopters that have gone down in Iraq over the past three weeks rose to six.

[…] The number also includes a previously unreported downing of a helicopter operated by a private security firm on Jan. 31.

[…] The private security helicopter shot down last week was being flown in support of State Department operations and was forced down 10 miles south of the capital after insurgents attacked it with heavy-caliber ground fire as it flew from Hilla to Baghdad, American officials said Wednesday. Another American helicopter quickly swooped in to rescue the passengers and crew.

The article runs through possible explanations. New technology, better tactics and a decision to shoot at passing helicopters more often are all covered without settling on one or the other. In the end the root cause only matters so much relative to the simple fact that we cannot keep losing helicopters indefinitely.

On our part, changing tactics can only mean so many things. Up-armoring the helicopters, traveling by ground and using less air support are all non-starters. Countermeasures won’t do much good against heavy machine-gun fire, which is where most of the damage seems to be coming from. Rather the answer will more likely include flying at a higher altitude (making SAMs that much more or a risk) and the old Vietnam tactic of using a transport chopper to draw ground fire and then killing it with an attack chopper following close behind.

I honestly can’t say whether anything that we can do will work. In a war like Iraq helicopters are the crucial, indispensable force multiplier that makes our small units capable of decisively engaging almost any insurgent force. Without their constant presence our forces are potentially stranded in unfamiliar neighborhoods with line-of-sight visibility, poor tactical intelligence and uncertain avenues of escape. Our enemies have total freedom of movement, an intimate knowledge of the local environment and the freedom to engage us when and where they choose. The fact that helicopters will and must go on providing close air support until the day we leave cuts both ways – it means that we will go on fighting on our terms until the end of this war, but it also means that losing helicopters will force our exit that much sooner.






26 replies
  1. 1
    fester says:

    Yep, that last paragraph is the key — US Choppers open up the option space for US patrols and ground elements because they know that if they get into trouble, serious and reasonable accurate firepower and medevac is usually 15-20 minutes away.

    The insurgencies in Iraq have been successfully chipping away at the US option space of feasible actions for the past four years, and the major campaigns to interdict the roads against most civilian traffic into Baghdad and lightly guarded military traffic has worked extremely well. Now if the US can not reliably count on its massive aerial advantage, US forces will be placed into brittle positions with low flexibility.

  2. 2
    Zifnab says:

    … but it also means that losing helicopters will force our exit that much sooner.

    That’s wishful thinking. We’ll wage this war by tugboat and slingshot if Bush has his way. It’s not like he gives a flying flip about arming or armoring our troops, so long as they’re going in and freedomizing while he’s still in office.

  3. 3
    Dress Left says:

    Two thoughts:

    The Muj getting Stingers was instrumental in driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan.

    The 17,000 troop surge is scheduled to be deployed in 250 man groups thruout Bahgdad – 64 outposts that will have to be supplied with food, ammo, water, everything a unit in the field needs. Medevac too.

    The road routes will be IED hell, and this latest development augers ill for air.

  4. 4
    Dress Left says:

    Ooops on the Soviets.

    That’ll teach me to read down before posting.

    Sorry.

  5. 5

    I honestly can’t say whether anything that we can do will work.

    It won’t. After the tenth helicopter goes down the effectiveness of the “surge” will be over in the minds of the American people.

  6. 6
    Pb says:

    New tactics for US helicopters in Iraq:

    They spoke in response to questions after a US Black Hawk military helicopter crashed in Iraq today, killing all six on board. Soldiers at a US Army base near the crash site said it was probably downed by a rocket-propelled grenade.

    It was the third US helicopter shot down in two weeks for an overall loss of 22 lives.

    Note that this story is from 11/08/2003, so they’ve had years to work on countermeasures. Also, here’s a List of Coalition aircraft crashes in Iraq — from that, you’d expect an average of maybe two helicopter crashes a month, so it definitely looks to me like things are getting worse.

  7. 7
    Pb says:

    re: things getting worse–of course, don’t tell that to Jonah Goldberg!

    Anyway, I do think my judgment is superior to his when it comes to the big picture. So, I have an idea: Since he doesn’t want to debate anything except his own brilliance, let’s make a bet. I predict that Iraq won’t have a civil war, that it will have a viable constitution, and that a majority of Iraqis and Americans will, in two years time, agree that the war was worth it. I’ll bet $1,000 (which I can hardly spare right now).

    (Jonah Goldberg, two years ago…)

  8. 8
    scarshapedstar says:

    we cannot keep losing helicopters indefinitely.

    Nonsense. We are omnipotent, we followers of Sol Invictus!

  9. 9
    scarshapedstar says:

    Crap, my snark key turned off, that was supposed to be Bush Invictus.

  10. 10
    Teak111 says:

    Is it a coincidence that Helos start falling from the sky as the Surge is beginning? No. This is an insurgent trump card being played at an important moment in the war and for all the reasons stated above. It also shows a far more sophisticated operation then Bush would have us believe, just like the VietCong living in mud hut and eating rats. The point of the insurgency now seems to be slow attrition of amer forces and will. I’d wager stinger missiles will be next when helos start flying higher. Waging a cowboy war is fine for winning elections, but there has to be a better way in Iraq then slowing sinking in the sand. At this rate, there will be a helo evac of the green zone. What the hell happened to the ISG? Where are the smart leaders. Once again, washington shows itself to be full of ninconpoops.

  11. 11
    Perry Como says:

    re: things getting worse—of course, don’t tell that to Jonah Goldberg!

    How “honest” of them. Jonah still has 13 minutes.

  12. 12
    dreggas says:

    You don’t need shoulder fired rockets to take out choppers and we do have some counter measures to deal with stingers etc. However a high caliber machine gun pointed at any rotor and a large amount of ammo is effective. The bitch here is you don’t know where the machine gun nests are until you are on top of them and most of our attack choppers (in the form of apaches etc) are meant for longer range tank killing.

  13. 13
    ThymeZone says:

    the effectiveness of the “surge” will be over in the minds of the American people.

    Your point is taken, but the surge never had any public support to begin with, did it?

    I think the support went down as Bush talked it up. He’s a helluva salesman.

  14. 14
    Jake says:

    It also shows a far more sophisticated operation then Bush would have us believe,

    Bu- but, the enemy is brown an’ they don’t even worship Jay-sus. How can they possibly be smart?

    Sorry, I was channelling Bush for a second.

  15. 15
    Joel says:

    Choppers became much less effective in the last couple years of Viet Nam – large areas of that country were “no-fly zones” for our choppers at the time that we left, because the VC had gotten too good at taking them down.

    The same thing is about to happen in Iraq. Choppers are better-armoured nowadays, but SAM’s are also more accurate and destructive. (Though it’s worth noting that many chopper pilots today would rather have *less* armour, to make their birds lighter and more mobile. This may, in fact, be smart.)

    This bodes ill for our troops.

  16. 16
    Punchy says:

    Maybe we just have really bad helicopters, or some wise guy decided to paint them all orange, or they recruited our chopper pilots from those washouts at NASA…

  17. 17

    Is it a coincidence that Helos start falling from the sky as the Surge is beginning? No. This is an insurgent trump card being played at an important moment in the war and for all the reasons stated above.

    Really?

    And all this time I thought we were fighting ignorant savages who don’t have the sense to read books or study tactics. You don’t suppose we’re up against an enemy who is both smart AND evil?

    I thought you could only be one or the other.

    Next thing you know they’ll start attacking us heavilly around the Christmas and New Years holidays to demoralize folks back home.

    Wait a minute…

  18. 18
    carolh says:

    My son is in the Army currently serving in Ramadi. He goes in and out of his FOB by helocopter because land transport is too dangerous. He was home for his two week leave in November and he had to wait 2 days for a seat on a helocopter out of his FOB and another 2 days for a seat on the helocopter from Ramadi to Fallujah where he got on a plane to leave Iraq. Right now the transport helocopters in that region fly only at night and with diversionary flight. What will happen when one of those copters filled with 25 soldiers heading home on leave or at the end of a rotation is downed? I’d say it would turn people even more heavily against the war but that is hardly possible. It’s very scary to think what will happen if they start sending these soldiers in and out of the FOBS by ground transport instead. They will die by the Humvee full instead of the copter full, but they will be just as dead.

  19. 19
    Tsulagi says:

    I think the support went down as Bush talked it up. He’s a helluva salesman.

    That’s because 72 % can now do the math: Bush = FUBAR. Which probably also accounts for his dead chimp bounce after his SOTU address.

    Anyway, I do think my judgment is superior to his when it comes to the big picture.

    Yep, those 28%ers really got that vision thing going for them.

  20. 20
    CaseyL says:

    Oh, Carol. Best wishes to your son, and hopes that he comes home safe.

  21. 21
    Bubblegum Tate says:

    Oh, Carol. Best wishes to your son, and hopes that he comes home safe.

    Yes, exactly what he said.

  22. 22
    ThymeZone says:

    Your son is in our thoughts, CarolH. All of them over there are in our thoughts every day.

  23. 23
    dreggas says:

    Carolh,

    I second and third what everyone else has said. Godspeed to your son and may he come home soon.

  24. 24
    Richard 23 says:

    (Jonah Goldberg, two years ago…)

    Heckuva job, Doughey Pantload!

    Carolh, I hope your son and all those other sons, daughters, husbands and wives come home safely soon. They should never have been sent to Iraq in the first place.

    This whole fiasco just makes me sick.

  25. 25
    Tsulagi says:

    carolh,

    May he return safely and this be his last tour to Iraq.

    Though OIF may be questioned, the value of his service cannot be. In different ways it’s just as hard on families as those serving in war zones. Sometimes harder. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. Good luck.

  26. 26
    Lee says:

    It was a SAM that took down the helicopter.

    Video Here

    About 1:20 into it you see the SAM.

    It is a whole new war (and not in a good way).

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