Integration: The Key To Success In Anti-Helicopter Operations AUTHOR Major M. D. Ziobro, USMC CSC 1988 SUBJECT AREA Aviation EXECUTIVE SUMMARY TITLE: INTEGRATION: THE KEY TO SUCCESS IN ANTI-HELICOPTER OPERATIONS 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 threat. TITLE: INTEGRATION: THE KEY TO SUCCESS IN ANTI-HELICOPTER OPERATIONS OUTLINE 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- copter operations. 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 B. Over-Committed 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- field. 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- ations. 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 1985), 88. 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- lar. 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 2Ibid., 92. 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, states, [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 rear.4 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 writes, 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 another helicopter.6 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 experiments. 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- mored attack. 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 them. 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- ter. 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- quirements. 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 helicopter force 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 air threats. 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- tile. 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. BIBLIOGRAPHY 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.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|