Integration: The Key To Success In Anti-Helicopter Operations
AUTHOR Major M. D. Ziobro, USMC
SUBJECT AREA Aviation
TITLE: INTEGRATION: THE KEY TO SUCCESS IN ANTI-HELICOPTER
I. Purpose: To examine the need for an integrated battle
plan to defeat enemy armed helicopter operations, and to
suggest some possible ways to achieve better training in the
integration and use of U.S. Marine Corps assets.
II. Problem: The relatively small number of U.S. Marine
Corps attack helicopters prohibits our ability to attack the
Soviets force-on-force in the attack helicopter war. If we
do not do a better job of integrating all of our assets to
defeat this threat, we will have a difficult time in future
operations involving enemy attack helicopters.
III. Data: Soviet doctrine describes a rapid and deep
penetration into the opposing force's area of operations.
To enhance their ability in achieving this goal, the Soviets
have integrated heavily armed attack helicopters into their
war machine. These attack helicopters provide the Soviet
commander with an instrument that allows for flexibility,
mobility, and sustainability on the battlefield. Addition-
ally, the Soviets have developed the tactics and the quanti-
ties of equipment necessary to employ these attack helicop-
ters in a wide spectrum of scenarios ranging from full-scale
war to counter-insurgency operations. To reduce the effects
of this threat, the U.S. Marine Corps, in a time of limited
assets and shrinking budgets, needs to develop better train-
ing procedures for our ground forces. Also, Marine aviation
assets must be employed in such a manner as to isolate Sov-
iet attack helicopters on the battlefield and expose them
to an ever-increasing volume of fire.
IV. Conclusions: The Soviet forces have the U.S. Marine
Corps outnumbered and out-gunned in the attack helicopter
field. The Marine Corps is not very likely to acquire more
attack helicopters in a time of rising costs and shrinking
budgets. To defeat this Soviet force, the Marine Corps must
fight smarter and train better to offset the large differ-
ence in force ratios.
V. Recommendations: The U.S. Marine Corps must develop an
integrated plan to defeat the Soviet attack helicopter
force. Marine fixed-wing and helicopter units must develop
more complementary tactics to defeat the enemy attack heli-
copter force. Our Marine ground forces must have better and
more realistic training in the engagement of the Soviet air
TITLE: INTEGRATION: THE KEY TO SUCCESS IN ANTI-HELICOPTER
Thesis: In view of the large number of Soviet attack heli-
copters and the limited number of U.S. Marine Corps attack
helicopters, the Marine Corps must train its personnel to
fight an integrated battle to succeed in future anti-heli-
I. Soviet Development of the Attack Helicopter
A. Attack Helicopter Roles
B. Attack Helicopter Capabilities
II. Soviet Uses of the Attack Helicopter
A. Combined Arms Operations
B. Anti-Helicopter Operations
C. Anti-Tank Operations
D. Counter-Insurgency Operations
III. Marine Attack Helicopter Force
A. Limited Numbers
C. Task Saturation
IV. Responses Available to the U.S. Marine Corps
A. Integration of Aviation Assets
B. Training and Integration of Ground Forces
C. Innovation in Thinking
INTEGRATION: THE KEY TO SUCCESS IN ANTI-HELICOPTER OPERATIONS
In 1972, after observing the relative successes of
American helicopter-borne units and helicopter gunships in
Viet Nam, the Soviet Union revealed to the western world
their version of the attack helicopter -- the MI-24 HIND.
The decision to produce the MI-24 was made to ensure
that the Soviet Union would maintain parity and, hopefully,
gain superiority over the United States in the attack heli-
copter and helicopter-borne assault arena. In seven short
years, from 1972 to 1979, the Soviets developed over 1,000
attack helicopters. The fleet continues to grow and is
considered to be the world's premier attack helicopter
force. This helicopter force provides mobility on the bat-
tlefield, allows the delivery of accurate and deadly close
air support, and creates confusion and panic on the battle-
In the meantime, the U.S. Marine Corps, which has an
attack helicopter force of approximately 120 aircraft, is
now introducing the AH-1W COBRA into the force. The AH-1W
airframe has improved ordnance load capabilities in the high
altitude and hot temperature environment, but it is costly,
in short supply, and over-committed. Also, this new air-
frame will not add to our attack helicopter force, but
merely replace existing airframes.
In view of the large number of Soviet attack helicop-
ters and the limited number of Marine Corps attack helicop-
ters, the Marine Corps must train its personnel to fight an
integrated battle to succeed in future anti-helicopter oper-
Let us examine how the Soviets view the attack helicop-
ter and discuss some of the uses of attack helicopters in
some possible combat scenarios around the world.
The rapid expansion of attack helicopters in the Soviet
Air Force, and the ease of export to Warsaw Pact forces and
a large number of client nations, signals a new direction in
the Soviet concept regarding the attack helicopter in the
close air support role. Sergei Sikorsky relates,
The helicopter's [attack] role is increasing in
Soviet Frontal Aviation simply because it gives
the Army Commander a high degree of mobility and
the precision [close air support] he demands of
his Air Force.
A bonus feature is that this close air support is available
in poor weather conditions when fixed-wing close air support
is not able to perform its assigned mission.
Another Soviet officer, who defected to England and
writes under the pen name of Viktor Suvorov, presents an
additional point of view. He states,
The Soviet Army sees the helicopter as a tank, one
which is capable of high speeds and unrestricted
1"From Hind to Havoc," Air Force Magazine, (March
cross-country performance, but is only lightly
armored. It also has approximately the same
firepower as a tank. The tactics employed in the
use of helicopters and tanks are strikingly simi-
Here we can see that the Soviets plan to mass their attack
helicopters, use their speed to close with enemy forces, and
deliver the tremendous firepower inherent in Soviet attack
helicopters. These tactics should not come as any surprise
to Marine Corps forces, but should provide us the necessary
forewarning to offset these tactics.
When discussing the tactics and firepower of these
"flying tanks," one should ask: what do we really mean when
describing this capability? All models of the MI-24 HIND
used for combat can carry a heavy weapons load, estimated to
be 2,205 pounds of ordnance on each stub wing. This ord-
nance load capability translates into 192 57-mm rockets or
two 550-pound bombs, with anti-tank guided missiles on each
stub wing. The HIND also incorporates a 23-mm cannon in its
chin turret with an approximate capacity of 500 rounds.
These statistics make the HIND the world's most heavily
armed attack helicopter, dwarfing the ordnance carrying
capacity of the AH-1W COBRA. The COBRA is capable of carry-
ing 76 2.75-inch rockets on its stub wings and approximately
700 rounds in its 20-mm chin-mounted cannon.
In addition to its awesome firepower, the HIND is a
relatively large helicopter. This large size enables it to
carry a considerable amount of armor protection and other
survivability equipment that lessons its overall vulnerabil-
ity to small arms fire. The COBRA does not have this added
luxury of extensive self-protection.
Reviewing Soviet literature, we find that attack heli-
copters will be employed in the following ways: combined
arms operations in conjunction with armored forces; anti-
helicopter warfare to destroy opposing forces' helicopter
assets; anti-tank warfare to destroy opposing forces' mech-
anized forces; and counter-insurgency operations to locate
and destroy the enemy in remote locations.
As a member of the combined arms operations, HIND's are
generally used in support of the advance rather than waiting
in defense, and the attack tactics resemble fixed-wing tac-
tics' reliance on speed.3 Relating this ability to the
Soviet Operational Maneuver Group (OMG), Marshal Grechko,
Soviet Minister of Defense until his death in April 1976,
[the attack helicopter is] a powerful combat air-
craft which can carry out a broad range of mis-
sions, including hitting enemy personnel and
equipment on the battlefield and in the enemy
The armed helicopter plays a key role in the OMG's need for
air support, especially as flying artillery; this enables
3John Everett-Heath, Soviet Helicopters (United King-
dom: Jane's Publishing Company, Limited, 1983), p. 95.
4Ibid., p. 97.
it to keep pace with the fast moving ground operations and
to ward off enemy attack helicopters that may be encoun-
tered. An added benefit in the use of armed helicopters is
the basic psychological need it provides in rapid, offen-
sive warfare -- that is, the crew of a helicopter will be
more likely to press forward to engage the enemy if they
know they can fire on him.5
Another use of the attack helicopter is in anti-heli-
copter operations. The Soviets realize the immense value of
their attack helicopters in this role. In an article en-
titled "How to fight helicopters" printed in the Soviet
Military Review in September 1979, Major General Belov
Use of helicopters by both warring sides will
inevitably lead to clashes between them. Like
tank battles of past wars, a future war between
well-equipped armies is bound to involve helicop-
ter battles. For only a helicopter can match the
speed range, maneuverability, and firepower of
The Soviet HIND helicopter, with its speed (200 mph), armor
protection, and armament (23-mm cannon, SWATTER and SPIRAL
missiles), is as well suited for air-to-air combat as any
other helicopter. One last point on the use of attack heli-
copters in anti-helicopter warfare is that the Soviet com-
mander probably will not hesitate to launch his attack heli-
copters against enemy attack helicopters holding up his
5Ibid., p. 124.
6Ibid., p. 133.
advance. Also, with the increasing exports to third world
countries, the Marine Corps will face this threat in con-
flicts in many less sophisticated countries, and not just in
combat on the plains of Europe.
When it comes to anti-tank warfare, the Soviets have
never forgotten the beating they took from German Blitzkrieg
tactics. The Soviets, to add punch and speed to their ar-
mored tactics, developed armed helicopters to aid in the
destruction of opposing mechanized forces. Soviet General
Reznechenko, in Red Star on 5 October 1976, gives his views
on the value of anti-tank helicopters:
They are superior to other anti-tank weapons in
terms of field of vision, maneuverability, and
firepower; they are capable of hitting enemy
armored targets while remaining out of reach of
anti-aircraft weapons. The correlation between
tank and helicopter losses is 12:1 or even 19:1 in
the helicopter's favor, according to practical
A possible tactic is to employ HIND's as top cover to larger
tank formations and to blast enemy tanks and anti-tank heli-
copters out of the way.7 Also, the HIND's may be held as a
mobile anti-tank reserve to exploit the success of the ar-
The last use of the armed helicopter to be discussed is
its role in counter-insurgency operations. In their war in
Afghanistan, the Soviets have found an extremely valuable
tool in the armed helicopter. The Mujahideen, in their
7Ibid., p. 132.
mountain retreats, proved to be inaccessible to everything
but helicopters and heavy artillery. The fast jets had a
lot of difficulty maneuvering in the mountain passes and
only the attack helicopters proved effective in attacking
these positions. The HIND was very successful in defeating
the Mujahideen early in the war because the rebels were
lightly armed, and this helicopter is almost invulnerable to
small arms fire. Additionally, the HIND provided the mobil-
ity and firepower to seek out and destroy the Mujahideen in
their supposed safe havens. This is an important lesson to
learn; if a unit expects to be effective in counter-insur-
gency operations, it must be able to take the fight to the
enemy's storage and rest areas.
It should be evident that the Soviets have produced a
very large and effective attack helicopter force and have
developed appropriate, well thought-out tactics to employ
The questions we must ask ourselves now are: can the
Marine Corps win an attack helicopter war -- helicopter vs.
helicopter? If we cannot, how do we plan to defeat the
enemy attack helicopter threat in future operations?
I believe that the U.S. Marine Corps does not have the
capability to defeat this enemy attack helicopter threat
force-on-force for several important reasons. First, the
current Defense Planning Guidance, utilized by the Marine
Corps' Deputy Chief of Staff for Aviation (Code APW), states
that 99 AH-1W's are needed in the active force to satisfy
existing and forecast commitments. However, the number
required does not take into account normal attrition rates
that can be expected, as published by the Naval Safety Cen-
Second, the current number of attack helicopters in the
Marine forces does not produce a favorable force ratio
against the thousands of attack helicopters that the Soviet
Union possesses. Third, three separate studies (the Defense
Planning Guidance, the Center for Naval Analysis, and the
Marine Mid-Range Objective Plan) have shown that the minimum
requirement is for 72 attack helicopters for each Marine
Expeditionary Force. We cannot achieve these requirements
with present day forces.
Lastly, the Marine Corps' attack helicopter assets are
over-committed and task-saturated. It appears that we try
to be all things for every unit's needs. There are at least
six different missions assigned to the attack helicopter
squadron that involve direct confrontation with the enemy.8
This dilution of effort could allow the Soviets to defeat
our attack helicopter force in detail because the variety of
missions required would reduce our ability to mass fires.
These are the reasons why the Marine Corps would have
difficulty in defeating the Soviet helicopter threat. In
8Colonel Jim Creech, "An Enigma: Armed Escort for the
Osprey," Amphibious Warfare Review, 6 (Winter 1987-88), 39.
the long run, however, the size of our AH-1W fleet will be
constrained by affordability rather than operational re-
It should be clear that the Marine Corps will not be
procuring many new attack helicopters in the near future.
So, as Marines, we must ask ourselves: is the Marine Corps
helpless in defeating this Soviet threat? What can the
Marine Corps do to offset the large disparity of forces?
The answers to these two questions are that the Marine Corps
is not helpless in defeating the enemy attack helicopter
force, and can offset the numerical disadvantage by inte-
grating air and ground forces to combat an enemy attack
First, on the air side of the house, we must integrate
our fixed-wing and helicopter assets to effectively fight
the Soviet superiority in attack helicopters. This can be
accomplished by having our FA-18's and A-6's attack the
enemy's fighters and airfields, destroy their Forward Area
Arming and Refueling Points (FAARP's), and conduct suppres-
sion of enemy air defenses.9
These actions will eliminate the enemy's important
fixed-wing cover and isolate their attack helicopters. This
will greatly decrease their ability to survive on the bat-
tlefield. Additionally, by destroying the FARRP's we would
limit the penetration capability of their attack helicopters
9Ibid., pp. 40-41.
by requiring them to increase their combat radius of action
and shorten their time on station. The destruction of the
enemy air defense systems will allow us more flexibility on
the battlefield. Our AV-8's could be used for immediate
close air support, and the AV-8's air-to-air capability can
destroy the enemy's armed helicopters as well.10 This would
also reduce the force ratio against our attack helicopters.
Under these more favorable circumstances, our attack
helicopters can provide close-in fire suppression for our
own ground and helicopter-borne forces and immediate air
defense against Soviet attack helicopters.11 Thus, by inte-
grating our employment of Marine air assets we can reduce
the assets in support of enemy attack helicopters and cause
them to traverse an ever-increasing volume of fire.
We must always remember that our helicopter gunships
and fixed-wing attack aircraft are complementary, vice com-
petitive, weapons systems. If we combine the unique capa-
bilities of each system, we will produce a synergistic ef-
fect to defeat the enemy's attack helicopters.
Now that we have examined a possible option for inte-
grating our aviation assets, how do we get our ground forces
into the game? The answer to this question is found in
increased training and awareness.
All Soviet ground forces personnel are taught how to
10Ibid., p. 40.
11Ibid., p. 41.
fire their personal weapons at enemy aircraft.12 The key
word here is "how." Marine Corps ground forces must be
equally ready to engage Soviet aircraft, but how are they
going to do this with any degree of effectiveness if they do
not get a chance to practice this skill?
One possible solution is to devise a simple, safe sys-
tem to allow firing at a moving airborne target. This could
be done by constructing a light silhouette target, attaching
it to a carriage such as the ones used on a mobile tank
target range, and raising it in the air by attaching it to
poles. This would get the target up in the air and allow
for movement at up to 30 mph. If the carriage could be
modified to go faster, the resultant training would be more
effective. Additionally, the carriage speed could be var-
ied, thus adding to the realism. This training would in-
still more confidence in our own troops' abilities to engage
low-flying targets, and also provide more realistic train-
ing. The key, however, is more training, and more effective
training, in the ground forces' abilities to counter enemy
In future battles, low-level airspace will be crowded
with fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, missiles, bullets,
and mortar and artillery rounds. This confusing situation
could provide us with an advantage if we could control this
airspace to the enemy's disadvantage. We could control this
12Everett-Heath, p. 131.
airspace and make it a safer area to friendly aircraft by
training our troops in the recognition of our own aircraft,
by exercising tighter procedural control over friendly air-
craft, and by revealing planned helicopter flight routes to
the ground forces. This would enable our ground forces to
engage enemy aircraft with fewer restrictions and less un-
certainty. Any aircraft which is not on an established
route at an established time would be presumed to be hos-
Lastly, our ground forces must learn to improvise. In
the Falklands War, the Royal Marines just missed shooting
down an Argentine PUMA helicopter using a 66-mm anti-tank
weapon, missing the helicopter by a few inches.13 While a
paucity of effective anti-aircraft weapons is a sad commen-
tary on our armament priorities, the ability to destroy
enemy attack helicopters with anti-tank weapons could cause
a new approach in the use of attack helicopters. We, as
Marines, must expand our thinking, and learn to see the
forest despite the trees. Just because a weapon is designed
for one primary use does not mean that it will not be effec-
tive in other roles.
From the foregoing we can see that Marine Corps ground
forces also have an important part to play in offsetting the
Soviets' superiority in attack helicopters. As noted above,
13David Wragg, Helicopters at War (United Kingdom:
Robert Hall Limited, 1983), p. 242.
the synergistic effect of all these actions will enhance our
ability to fight an anti-helicopter war. The key, however,
is coordinated integration of effort. Unfortunately, this
requirement, like all others, falls on the shoulders of the
commander and his staff. Effective, realistic training and
thorough standing operating procedures will allow this coor-
dinated integration to occur.
To summarize, the Soviet Union has a large number of
attack helicopters, and is constantly working at perfecting
its helicopter tactics. The Soviet Union also is exporting
its attack helicopters to many third world countries. This
means that, wherever the Marine Corps may go, it must be
ready to fight an anti-helicopter war. Even though we may
be out numbered, the key to success in anti-helicopter opera-
tions is to use our ability to adapt to new situations, to
innovate when necessary, and to train now to integrate all
of our forces at the decisive time and place.
Collins, John M. American and Soviet Military Trends Since
the Cuban Missile Crisis. Georgetown University, 1978.
Creech, Jim. "An Enigma: Armed Escort for the Osprey.
Amphibious Warfare Review, 6 (Winter 1987-88), 36-42.
Everett-Heath, John. Design. Development and Tactics:
Soviet Helicopters. United Kingdom: James Publishing
Company Limited, 1983.
Hogg, Ivan V. Jane's Military Review. United Kingdom:
Jane's Publishing Company Limited, 1982.
Sikorsky, Sergei. "From Hind to Havoc." Air Force
Magazine, March 1985, 88-95.
Wragg, David. Helicopters at War: A Pictorial History.
United Kingdom: Robert Hale Limited, 1983.
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