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.