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The Associated Press March 24, 2003

Apaches are the attack helicopters of choice in Iraqi battle

The AH-64 Apache helicopter, built to destroy tanks and other hard targets, is often in the thick of the fighting in any U.S. ground war in the last 15 years.

Apaches saw heavy action Monday in strikes against Iraqi Republican Guard units defending the southern approaches to Baghdad. Ten Iraqi tanks were destroyed during the fighting, according to Pentagon officials, and a single Apache went down for unknown reasons. Its crew survived and were captured by Iraqi forces.

Other Apaches were hit by small-arms fire but made it back to base.

The downed helicopter was an AH-64D Apache Longbow from the 227th Aviation Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood, Texas, officials at the base said.

"I would say if they came back all shot up, I think they were sent to the right place," said John Pike at GlobalSecurity.org, a military think-tank. "Ten tanks is a good day's hunting."

The Apache Longbow is an enhancement of the AH-64 Apache that fired the first shots of Operation Desert Storm.

First fielded in the mid-1980s, the Apache has a crew of two - a pilot and a gunner. Early models had maintenance problems, but it has seen action in most U.S. conflicts since then.

The attack helicopters can operate solely with other helicopters or work above tank formations, picking off enemy ground vehicles that may be concealed from friendly ground units. They can be used when during cloudy weather, finding targets when U.S. high-altitude jet bombers are less effective, Pike said.

They can dart above just above the trees and hover behind hills, rising to unleash their missiles and giving an enemy ground target scant seconds to return fire.

"An Apache is a good way to hunt tanks from treetop level," Pike said.

In January 1991, Apaches, led to their targets by special operations helicopters, fired the first shots of Operation Desert Storm, striking radar sites to clear the path for attacking U.S. jets. AH-64s also took part in the fighting in Afghanistan, where they were hampered by high altitudes but survived direct hits from rocket-propelled grenades.

Apaches are armed with up to 16 antitank Hellfire missiles and a 30mm cannon. In lieu of Hellfires, they can also carry dozens of 2.75-inch air-to-ground rockets that are used on infantry or lightly armored targets.

The helicopter can take hits from smaller guns on the ground and continue flying, the military says.

On the Net:

Global Security's Longbow information page:

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/aircraft/ah-64d.htm


Copyright 2003, The Associated Press