The desert is probably the most severe of all
environments in which aviation units must operate. Standard operating
procedures for desert operations are different from areas having
an abundance of contrasting terrain and substantial vegetation.
This appendix describes some special considerations when employing
aircraft in desert operations.
Air combat operations that rely on heavy vegetation
and varying contour terrain need to be flexible enough to incorporate
different methods of camouflage and terrain flight techniques.
The varying types of sand have a tremendous effect on operations-vast
flat areas afford unlimited visibility, dunes are hard to distinguish
at night, blowing sand impairs visibility and presents flight
and maintenance problems, and surface composition affects the
choice of landing zones, maintenance sites, FARPs, and operating
bases. Additionally, low-hovering and taxiing aircraft generate
blowing sand and dust that can cause aircrews to lose outside
visual reference, and, if performed near other equipment, present
additional maintenance problems for that equipment.
Air operations are not the only area affected
by the desert environment. Aviation ground operations may require
flexibility and modification to work around the heat and the effects
of the terrain. Aircrews must resort to instrument flight during
duststorms. Sand also causes excessive wearing, pitting, and eroding
of aircraft components.
In certain areas, the desert, with its relatively
level terrain and shallow compartments, contains few highly distinguishable
terrain features to mask aviation forces. Formations of two or
more aircraft can be seen 10 kilometers away because the dark
airframes contrast against the desert sand. Aviation units normally
deploy their aircraft along routes and may need to consider widely
dispersed formations. Aviation forces can make maximum use of
deception techniques during periods of limited visibility.
Air cavalry assets can conduct reconnaissance
and security operations over great distances in the desert because
of the lack of vegetation and relief. Even when they are sand
painted, armor vehicles stand out starkly against the sand. When
combined with traditional target acquisition principles, such
as dust signature and movement, these factors make it easier to
acquire and engage armored and mechanized forces well out of range
of their main guns.
Aeroscouts flying nap of the earth (NOE) cannot
necessarily find the enemy more easily than ground observers.
Stationary targets are the most difficult to see as there is little
to draw the observer's attention: Therefore, aeroscouts must use
caution to avoid blundering into enemy air defense weapons. The
aircraft should land at a distance of 5-10 kilometers from the
area of interest, and the observer should dismount and scan the
area for suspected enemy. The observer must remain in contact
with the pilot by using a portable radio. The process should be
repeated at varying intervals until contact is made.
Attack helicopter battalions (ATKHBs) are a potent
force in desert warfare. If they are employed quickly and violently,
maximum results can be obtained both in offensive and defensive
operations. They are best used where a quick concentration of
combat power is needed. A desert environment presents excellent
target acquisition and engagement possibilities. Attack assets
must remain dispersed to provide security. Mission planning that
incorporates flexibility is a key ingredient in the successful
employment of ATKHBs.
Terrain flying and desert navigation require
continuous concentration. Due to lack of terrain and poor reference
points, the aviator may rely on dead reckoning, self-contained
navigation equipment, and radio navigational aids. As light decreases,
the ability to judge distances accurately is degraded and visual
illusions become more common. Because of glare, haze, and frequently
blowing sand, it may be difficult to detect changes in terrain
and the horizon.
Attack helicopters should move from assembly
areas to battle positions (or holding areas if necessary) over
attack routes that will provide whatever cover and concealment
and prominent terrain features necessary to assist in navigation
and to decrease the possibility of detection. Attack helicopters
may have multiple routes for ingress and egress. Route reconnaissance,
premission planning, and prebriefs will maximize the benefits
to route planning in desert operations.
The weather in desert regions can be extremely
unpredictable. Sandstorms, accompanied by constantly fluctuating
wind speeds, may reduce visibility from in excess of 50 kilometers
to zero in less than five minutes. Pilots must be carefully briefed
on prevailing weather conditions before takeoff. Warning of any
expected variations in conditions must be transmitted immediately
to all airborne aircraft.
THE PERFORMANCE OF HELICOPTERS
Aviation personnel must refer to the appropriate aircraft technical manuals to determine aircraft limitations and capabilities in the desert environment. Significant effects on the payload capabilities should be anticipated.
Commanders must develop realistic aircraft utilization
procedures based on the environmental effects data provided by
aviation staff personnel to obtain the fullest benefit from aviation
Helicopters hovering close to the ground can
cause the engine to ingest sand; can cause observation by the
enemy due to the formation of dust clouds; or cause disorientation
of the pilot due to blowing sand, particularly at night. Helicopters
should not be moved under their own power while on the ground,
but should be pushed or towed by men or vehicles. Maintenance
should be restricted to the minimum time, and should take place
on rock or on oiled or wet sand, if available. All apertures (Pitot
tubes, for example) of aircraft should be covered when not in
use (including helicopter windscreens).
Temperature and humidity have a direct impact
on personnel and vehicle performance. Temperature and humidity
affect air density. Air density decreases as temperature increases.
High temperature and humidity reduce the efficiency of aircraft
propulsion and aircraft lift capabilities. Although temperature
and humidity may not have a direct effect on a particular operation,
extremely high temperatures and humidity will reduce aircraft
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