Light Attack Helicopters In The Light Division - The Need Is Now
AUTHOR Major Jesse R. Timmerman, Jr, USA
SUBJECT AREA Aviation
TITLE: LIGHT ATTACK HELICOPTERS IN THE LIGHT DIVISION -
THE TIME IS NOW
I. Purpose: To establish that there is an immediate need
for a light attack helicopter in the Army's new light
II. Problem: The AH-1S "Cobra" attack helicopter presently
assigned to the Army's new light divisions requires a major
portion of available Air Force strategic airlift assets for
transport to given crisis areas worldwide. A smaller,
equally lethal, light attack helicopter is needed in the
light division to project a substantial anti-armor force
into the crisis area with a minimum number of already
limited strategic transports.
III. Data: The United States Army has recently organized
several light infantry divisions specifically for immediate
deployment on a global basis. These units will funtion as
immediate deployment forces for the Central Command and
Readiness Command under the Unified Command Plan. Light
divisions currently depend on the AH-1S "Cobra" attack
helicopter for enemy armor destruction. Transporting these
helicopters to the crisis area on strategic airlifters uses
a major portion of the total mobility assets available.
Adding the light at tack helicopter to the force structure of
the light division would significantly reduce strategic
airlift requirements. Logistic sustainment and budgetary
constraints would also be reduced with the smaller and less
expensive light attack helicopter.
IV. Conclusions: The light attack helicopter is a unique
anti-armor asset that is available today to the Army. The
nature of its small design and lethal killing power make it
desirable for the light division.
V. Recommendations: The acquisition of the light attack
helicopter in the light division will increase deploy-
ability, lower budget costs, improve logistics sustainment,
and enhance mission accomplishment well into the next
decade. Its immediate purchase is imperative.
LIGHT ATTACK HELICOPTERS IN THE LIGHT DIVISION -
THE NEED IS NOW
Thesis Statement: Strategic deployment flexibility,
versatility as an anti-armor weapon, and cost effectiveness
make the light attack helicopter a vital and necessary asset
for the light division.
I. Light division characteristics
a. Less equipment to transport
b. Need for formidable anti-armor capability
II. Long-Range trends
a. Use of attack helicopters in Airland Battle
b. Light helicopter experimental (LHX)
III. Light attack helicopter characteristics and
a. Hughes 500MD
b. Bell OH-58C
IV. Logistics and maintenance comparisons
a. AH-1S/AH-64 versus Hughes 500MD
b. AH-1S/AH-64 versus Bell OH-58C
V. High technology costs versus simplicity and reliability
a. Burden of increased systems maintenance
b. Cost effectiveness of Hughes 500MD
VI. Strategic Deployment
a. Availability of Air Force strategic transport
b. Outloading of attack helicopters aboard strategic
a. Low technological risks
b. High cost effectiveness
c. Vital asset for light division
LIGHT ATTACK HELICOPTERS IN THE LIGHT DIVISION -
THE NEED IS NOW
THE LIGHT DIVISION
The US Army depends on the light division for rapid
force projection anywhere in the world. The airborne and
air assault divisions require less logistical support than
equivalent mechanized/armor units. The light division's
characteristically light equipment and less complex weapons
systems require correspondingly less maintenance support and
less favorable conditions in which to operate.1 These
potential Central Command (CENTCOM) and Readiness Command
(REDCOM) forces will enter the battlefield using varied
modes of strategic or tactical transport. The limited
amount of organic heavy equipment allows the light divisions
to be more easily transported by land, air (airland,
airmobile, and airborne), and naval vessel (amphibious
operations). The limited available transport can be devoted
to moving combat troops instead of large amounts of heavy
maintenance support equipment. Once employed, the light
division can be readily repositioned to critical engagement
In April 1982, the Secretary of Defense announced that
the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF), now CENTCOM,
would become a separate unified command with responsibility
for the Persian Gulf. The Soviet threat tactics expected in
that area are commensurate with their doctrine. Aggressive
offensive operations characterized by mass, momentum, and
continuous echelonment of forces can be anticipated. They
will use numerically superior armor forces in concert with
firepower for frontal attacks, deep thrusts, envelopments,
and holding attacks.
Our commanders must concentrate sufficient combat power
at the right place and time. These forces must be placed
against the enemy's main effort and force him to slow down
or withdraw. The wide frontages of attacking forces coupled
with the echeloning of follow-on elements requires maxi-
mizing weapons capability and flexibility.3 The attack
helicopter is the most manueverable and responsive lethal
tank-killing system available to the ground commander.
Attack helicopter units can engage in one sector and on a
moment's notice react to a threat many kilometers away in
the battle area. The total number of these systems
introduced into the conflict will have a direct bearing on
the ground commanders' success in destroying the Warsaw Pact
divisions. The light attack helicopter equipped with the
effective tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided
(TOW) anti-tank system can be introduced in greater numbers
than the AH-1S attack helicopter. Combat ratios of this
aircraft to the enemies' ground forces become more
favorable, which make it a viable option in our current
LONG RANGE TRENDS
The future for US Army infantry, airborne, and air
assault divisions and similar divisions in armies of major
foreign powers is generally toward better survivability and
more lethal firepower. Special consideration is being given
to anti-armor firepower.4
These divisions will learn how to utilize the Army's
new AirLand Battle doctrine. They will seek the initiative
early and retain it, aggressively defeating the enemy.
Destruction of the opposing force is accomplished by
throwing the enemy off balance with powerful blows from
unexpected directions and then following up rapidly to
prevent his recovery.5 Ground commanders will creatively
apply aviation assets to multiply their own organic
capabilities. Attack helicopters will give commanders an
ability to strike the entire depth of the battlefield and
flexible ability to act faster than the enemy.2
As we look to the future, the Army has plans for a new,
lightweight, multi-purpose helicopter that will replace our
aging utility, scout, and attack fleets. This light
helicopter experimental (LHX) is expected to join the force
by the early 1990s. The LHX will incorporate many emerging
technologies such as composite materials, dynamic compon-
ents, and fly-by-wire flight controls that reduce size and
gross weight.7 The focus of the LHX is to provide an
aircraft that is small and deployable with multi-mission
capabilities for the twenty-first century.8 LHX appears to
be an excellent aircraft for the future; however, we need a
small attack helicopter today.
The newest advanced attack helicopter, the Hughes AH-64
"Apache", is currently in the production and deployment
acquisition phase. The powerful, two engine AH-64 is
designed to perform anywhere in the world under the most
demanding conditions of altitude and climate. It represents
a tremendous advancement in weapon technology and target
acquisition. The first AH-64 was delivered in the Spring of
1984 and the first operational unit is scheduled to receive
them in mid-1985. Priority for deployment is initially to
European-based divisions; the AH-64 will not be deployed in
the United States until much later in the decade. Even if
the AH-64 was available now to CENTCOM and REDCOM units, it
would further complicate strategic airmobility. Its larger
size and increased logistical support requirements require a
significant additional number of strategic transports.
Light attack helicopters, which are available today,
offer an attractive immediate alternative for force modern-
ization. They can complement the advanced systems that are
coming into the Army's helicopter fleet while providing a
tool to solve current contingency requirements.
LIGHT ATTACK HELICOPTER CHARACTERISTICS AND CAPABILITIES
The Hughes 500MD and the Bell OH-58C are the prime
candidates for our light attack helicopter needs. The
Hughes 500MD is already in service in our special operations
units. It is a product improvement version of the OH-6A
"Cayuse" which saw extensive service during the Vietnam
conflict. The OH-6A is still being utilized in US Army
National Guard and Reserve units. Our active attack
helicopter and air cavalry units utilize the OH-58C
helicopter in scout, reconnaissance, and command and control
roles. The OH-58C aircraft are not armed but have been
successfully tested for the anti-armor mission equipped with
the TOW missile system. However, it must be pointed out
that there are high technological risks associated with the
OH-58C application as a light attack helicopter since it has
never been actually employed in that role by the United
States or any other nation.
Proven reliability and survivability are crucial to any
aerial weapons platform acquisition. The Hughes 500MD
enjoys that reputation as demonstrated recently in the
Middle East and South Korea. Attack helicopter units in
Israel utilize the AH-1S "Cobra" and the Hughes 500MD. The
Israelis used the Hughes 500MD equipped with the TOW missile
system to engage and destroy many Syrian tanks and mechan-
ized vehicles in recent action in the Beka Valley.9
The Hughes 500MD utilizes a modular weapons system that
permits rapid conversion to different weapons configura-
tions. It can be equippped with a seven shot, 2.75 inch
aerial rocket system, or a 7.62 millimeter M-134 (mini-gun)
system as well as the TOW missile system. This concept
allows the aircraft to be adapted to perform multiple
missions with minimal time required for weapon conversion.
An air-to-air missile pod can be added; however, it requires
additional wiring and the installation of a heads-up
display for the pilot.
The light attack helicopter's compact size is a signi-
ficant aspect of its survivability. The small size, nap-of-
the-earth agility, and maneuverability allow the aircraft to
operate lower and closer to the terrain. This reduces
target size and thermal signature to enemy direct fire and
heat-seeking air defense systems.
The Hughes 500MD incorporates the same crash atten-
uation features as the OH-6A. It has crew station rollover,
energy absorption landing gear, and a main rotor hub
retention system. Service in the Vietnam war vividly
demonstrated its crashworthy design in numerous operations.
In comparison, the AH-1S "Cobra" suffers from a serious
degradation in ordnance load and endurance capabilities when
compared to the light attack helicopter in a Southwest Asia
environment. A "Cobra" can carry only four TOW missiles and
has an endurance time of 1.5 hours (no reserve) while
operating out of ground effect.10 The Hughes 500MD is only
slightly affected by the hot temperatures and high mountain
altitudes but, under the same conditions, can carry four TOW
missiles, operate out of ground effect, and enjoy an endur-
ance time of 2.3 hours.11 The "Cobra" becomes even more
limited in ordnance load ability as extremes in temperature
and altitude increase. Iran hosts many areas that range
well over 12,000 feet above sea level and temperatures that
reach over ninety-five degrees fahrenheit. While it is true
pilots can trade more fuel for ammunition, the corresponding
reduction of endurance time does not facilitate the expanded
coverages required in a Southwest Asian conflict.
LOGISTICS AND MAINTENANCE COMPARISONS
We have long had unique forces identified for contin-
gency missions, most notably the light divisions already
discussed. The Marines, the Special Forces, the Rangers,
and the Navy are also part of our contingency elements. It
is important to mention at this point the serious deficien-
cies in the quality of our planning and associated joint-
service plans for logistical support of these units. Dr.
Paul K. Davis, Director of the Rand Strategic Assessment
Center, points out that measuring readiness for contingen-
cies for Southwest Asia depends on many factors, particu-
larly; operational planning; intelligence collection and
analysis; combat maneuver forces; strategic mobility;
supportability; and logistical military support. He and
others feel that there is a tendency to make irrational
optimistic assessments concerning our logistical support
abilities in our rapid deployment forces.12 Although the
light attack helicopter may not cure our overall logistic
problems, it does offer several advantages worthy of
Use of light attack helicopters drastically reduces
fuel support requirements on the battlefield when compared
to the AH-1S "Cobra." Fuel consumption for the Hughes 500MD
and the OH-58C is half that required for the AH-1S aircraft.
Average AH-1S fuel consumption is 115 gallons per hour as
compared to thirty-five gallons per hour for the light
attack helicopter.13 An attack company will require 10,200
gallons of fuel per day for its assigned AH-1S helicopters.
Substituting the light attack helicopter for the AH-1S
represents a reduction of 7,140 gallons of fuel under
identical conditions.14 In addition, this reduces the
necessity for utility and cargo class helicopters
transporting vast amounts of fuel to forward area rearming
and refueling points.
Simplistic design features of light attack helicopters
enable them to be flown longer between scheduled maintenance
inspections. Major disassembly and detailed inspections are
required every 150 flying hours for the AH-1S. In contrast,
the light attack helicopter requires these inspections after
300 flying hours.15 Requirements are much more extensive
and time-consuming for the larger and more complex "Cobra."
Austere conditions in Southwest Asia and the lack of dust-
free repair facilities may contribute to excessive AH-1S
The Hughes 500MD incorporates a modular design philo-
sophy which allows for rapid change of major components. It
has a mechanical flight control system, small modular trans-
mission and engine, and a bearingless tail rotor drive-shaft
assembly. Engineering features optomize the location and
access to all major integral parts thereby reducing the time
needed for repair and replacement. The Hughes 500MD also
utilizes the exact same TOW missile system as the AH-1S and
all modular line replaceable units (LRU) are interchange-
able. This also includes the new laser rangefinder tele-
scopic sighting unit.16 All of these simplistic features
constitute a higher "fully mission capable" operational
readiness rate for the light attack helicopter.
HIGH TECHNOLOGY COSTS VERSUS SIMPLICITY AND RELIABILITY
One of the most important tasks aviation unit com-
manders have is maintaining aircraft readiness. The product
improvements made on the AH-1S over the years and the intro-
duction of the advanced AH-64 attack helicopter have given
the commander new challenges. With these advanced technical
improvements comes the burden of increased systems mainte-
nance requirements. The fact is that as a helicopter or
missile system becomes more complicated, the probability
that all its parts will be working at the same time goes
down.17 For example, the latest generation AH-1S is the
"Fully Modernized Cobra" which is equipped with the heads-up
display (HUD). The HUD interfaces with the ballistics
computer, rocket management system, and the TOW missile
system. The HUD must function correctly before any of the
selected weapons systems can fire. The older generation
AH-1S attack helicopter did not have this dependence on a
singular component and could continue functioning in a
partially operational mode.18 Obviously, then, a new design
may not always be better.
The new weapons systems on the latest generation
"Cobra" and the advanced AH-64 require extensive test,
measurement, and diagnostic equipment. Tests sets are
generally large and have special power supplies. Test
apparatus and power generators must also be transported
strategically and they utilize valuable cargo loading space.
Once in the field, they are not easily moved about and they
do not lend themselves to airmobile transportation. The
diagnostic test equipment for the AH-64 is so large that the
aircraft must return to rear areas for repairs rather than
being fixed well forward in the battle area. Many military
officers and senior civilian officials are involved in this
debate over weapons sophistication. They are skeptical of
this great leap forward in technology, fearing it will leave
us with weapons that will not work on the battlefield.19
Rising costs and the complexity of expensive systems
has had an immediate impact on the numbers of aircraft in
our defense force. For example, James Fallows has shown in
his research that aircraft unit-cost increases in the Air
Force have resulted in a smaller base of planes which are
used less often than simpler, cheaper alternatives.20 The
increasing complexity of these aircraft costs money and
often leads to increasing difficulty in maintaining this
high cost equipment. The end results are expensive fighters
that have a poor readiness rate.21 The Army's advanced
attack helicopter program has recently come under close
public scrutiny. Unit-costs for the AH-64 have grown from a
projected $11 million to $15.7 million.22 The AH-64 will
replace the AH-1S aircraft which costs just over $3 million.
Like the Air Force, there will be fewer attack helicopters
in the total Army force. Current attack helicopter
companies have twenty-one AH-1S aircraft and future AH-64
companies will have only eighteen.
A Hughes 500MD costs $1.4 million equipped with the TOW
missile system and at that price is a formidable anti-armor
weapon. The unit cost of this system would allow us to
procure enough of these systems to enhance the light divi-
sion's ability to deploy an adequate force against the
The Army relies on the Air Force and the Navy for the
strategic mobility necessary to meet global commitments.
Establishing an early presence that is credible in a crisis
area is dependent on rapid air transport. Although there
are significant shortfalls in the numbers of strategic
airlifters, progress is being made as evidenced by the
recent decision to purchase almost 100 KC-10s and C-5Bs.23
In future years, as we add to our current fleet of strategic
air transports, we should consider current alternatives
that reduce sortie requirements. The light attack heli-
copter offers a significant savings in strategic mobility
requirements and the following discussion will point this
out along with the advantages.
The C-141B and C-5A are the only global strategic
transport aircraft available today in the Air Force. The
C-141B can carry three AH-1S attack helicopters while the
C-5A will carry nine. The AH-1S must be partially dis-
assembled to load the C-141B and the C-5A. The reassembly
at destination is a lengthy process for the AH-1S. Major
flight components such as the main rotor system, tailrotor,
and synchronized elevator must be installed. The armament
system must go through a detailed boresight diagnostic
alignment process. A test flight is required by a qualified
maintenance pilot when the reassembly process is completed.
Less disassembly is required for the AH-1S when seven or
fewer are loaded on the C-5A. However, this introduces even
fewer anti-tank systems into the theater of operations.
The Hughes 500MD light attack helicopter maximizes the
use of strategic transport capabilities. Ten of these
helicopters can be loaded in the C-141B and twenty-two in
the C-5A. The Hughes 500MD features folding rotor blades
and hinged armament missile launch racks designed for strate-
gic transportation. Since there is no major disassembly it
does not require a maintenance test flight or armament
boresight alignment check. The aircraft is essentially
mission ready after unloading.
The C-130 transport is the only intratheater airlifter.
One AH-1S can be loaded on the C-130 after extensive dis-
assembly and it requires an excessive amount of reassembly
time at destination. Two Hughes 500MD aircraft can be
carried on the C-130 and are mission ready at destination.
Another C-130 option is to carry five Hughes 500MD aircraft
disassembled. In this case, a four hour reassembly period
is required by a three-man build-up crew to make all five
The light attack helicopter is a unique anti-armor
asset that is available today to the Army. The nature of
its small design coupled with its lethal killing power make
it an ideal weapon for the light division. If a light
division commander is assigned a CENTCOM or REDCOM mission,
the Hughes 500MD presents the opportunity to project a
substantial anti-armor force with a minimum number of
already limited strategic transports.
The Hughes 500MD has proven itself in the recent
Israeli-Syrian conflict and in our own special operations
units. The ease of maintenance and reduced logistic
requirements of this helicopter complement the philosophy of
a deployed light division. There are no technological risks
with the purchase of the Hughes 500MD. It has total inter-
face with existing TOW missile system components which
further points out the suitability of this aircraft. The
light attack helicopter offers an excellent return on the
dollar when compared to the AH-1S and the AH-64.
Strategic deployment flexibility and versatility as an
anti-armor weapon make the light attack helicopter a vital
asset for the light division. This aircraft, in proper mix
with existing attack helicopters, can serve the Army's
immediate needs until the LHX joins the fleet in the early
1 US Department of the Army, Field Manual 71-101:
Infantry, Airborne, and Air Assault Division
Operations. Washington, 26 March 1980, p. 1-4.
2 Field Manual 71-101, p. 1-4.
3 US Department of the Army, Field Manual 71-100:
Armored and Mechanized Division Operations
Washington, 30 March 1979, p. 2-3.
4 Field Manual 71-101, p. 1-2.
5 US Department of the Army, Field Manual 100-5:
Operations, Washington, 20 September 1982.
6 Parker, Ellis D., Brigadier General, USA. "Department
of the Army Aviation Update," US Army Aviation Digest,
January 1982, p. 9.
7 Banks, Howard, "Cleared for Takeoff: Army Helicopters,"
Forbes, 10 October 1983, p. 35.
8 Merryman, James H., Lieutenant General, USA. "Near,
Long-Term Modernization Are Army Research and
Development Goals,", Army, October 1983, p. 179.
9 Everett-Heath, John, Colonel, U. K. "The Helicopter in
the Armored Battle," NATO's Fifteen Nations, vol. 27,
no. 5, October/November 1982, p. 60.
10 US Department of the Army, Technical Manual
55-1520-236-10: Operator's Manual Army Model AH-1S
(Modernized Cobra). Washington, 11 January 1980,
11 Turk, Paul A. "Hughes Updates its 500MD." Aerospace
International. May/June 1980, p. 30.
12 Davis, Paul K. "Observation on the Rapid Deployment Joint
Task Force: Origins, Directions, and Mission." RAND
Corporation Collection P-6751. Santa Monica, Cal.,
RAND Corporation, June 1982.
13 Technical Manual 55-1520-236-10, p. 7-39.
14 US Department of the Army, 82nd Airborne Division
Antiarmor Defense Handbook, Fort Bragg, North
Carolina, 7 November 1980, p. 15-18.
15 82nd Airborne Division Antiarmor Defense Handbook,
16 Turk, p. 30.
17 Turk, P. 31.
18 Fallows, James. National Defense. New York: Random
House, 1981, p. 28.
19 Technical Manual 55-1520-236-10, p. 4-3.
20 "Debate Rages Over High-Tech Arms," Daily Press
(Hampton), 23 August 1983, p. 1.
21 Fallows, p. 38.
22 Fallows, p. 41.
23 "Tests in High-Tech War," US News and World Report,
16 August 1982, Vol. 93, p. 25.
24 Thompson, Richard H., Lieutenant General, USA. "Logistics
Revolution: Providing the Means to Win Land Battle."
Army, October 1983, p. 194.
25 Turk, p. 30.
1. Banks, Howard. "Cleared for Takeoff: Army Helicopters."
Forbes. 10 October 1983, p. 35.
2. Davis, Paul K. "Observation on the Rapid Deployment
Joint Task Force: Origins, Direction, and Mission."
Rand Corporation Collection P-6751. Santa Monica,
Cal., RAND Corporation, June 1982.
3. "Debate Rages Over High-Tech Arms." Daily Press
(Hampton), 23 August 1983, p. 1.
4. Everett-Heath, John, Colonel, U.K. "The Helicopter in
the Armored Battle." NATO's Fifteen Nations, vol. 27,
no. 5, October/November 1982, pp. 54-60.
5. Fallows, James. National Defense. New York: Random
6. Merryman, James H., Lieutenant General, USA. "Near,
Long-Term Modernization Are Army Research and
Development Goals." Army, October 1983, pp. 166-183.
7. Parker, Ellis D., Brigadier General, USA. "Department
of the Army Aviation Update." US Army Aviation Digest,
January 1982, p. 9.
8. "Tests in High-Tech War." US News and World Report.
16 August 1982, vol. 93, p 25.
9. Thompson, Richard H., Lieutenant General, USA.
"Logistics Revolution: Providing the Means to Win Land
Battle." Army, October 1983, pp. 188-200.
10. Turk, Paul A. "Hughes Updates its 500MD." Aerospace
International, May/June 1980, pp. 30-31.
11. US Department of the Army. 82nd Airborne Division
Antiarmor Defense Handbook. Fort Bragg, North
Carolina, 7 November 1980.
12. US Department of the Army. Field Manual 71-100:
Armored and Mechanized Division Operations.
Washington, 30 March 1979.
13. US Department of the Army. Field Manual 71-101:
Infantry, Airborne, and Air Assault Division
Operations. Washington, 26 March 1980.
14. US Department of the Army. Field Manual 100-5:
Operations. Washington, 20 September 1982
15. US Department of the Army. Technical Manual
55-1520-236-10: Operator's Manual Army Model AH-1S
(Modernized Cobra). Washington, 11 January 1980.
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list