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Attack Helicopters

USA AH-1 Cobra
AH-64 Apache
RAH-66 Comanche

OH-58 Kiowa /
AB-206 /
Russia Mi-28 Havoc
Ka-50 Hokum
Ka-50-2 Erdogan
Ka-52 Hokum B
Europe A129 Mangusta
PAH-2 Tiger
A-109 Hirundo
Alouette III
PAH-1 / BO-105
Fennec AS 550 C-2
South Africa CSH-2 Rooivalk
China WZ-10
Z-9W [WZ-9]
Japan AH-2

A "combat helicopter" is a rotary wing aircraft armed and equipped to engage targets or equipped to perform other military functions. Combat helicopters include attack helicopters and combat support helicopters. The term "combat helicopter" does not include unarmed transport helicopters. The term "attack helicopter" means a combat helicopter equipped to employ anti-armor, air-to-ground, or air-to-air guided weapons and equipped with an integrated fire control and aiming system for these weapons. The term "attack helicopter" comprises specialized attack helicopters and multi-purpose attack helicopters. The term "specialized attack helicopter" means an attack helicopter that is designed primarily to employ guided weapons. The term "multi-purpose attack helicopter" means an attack helicopter designed to perform multiple military functions and equipped to employ guided weapons. The term "combat support helicopter" means a combat helicopter which does not fulfill the requirements to qualify as an attack helicopter and which may be equipped with a variety of self-defense and area suppression weapons, such as guns, cannons and unguided rockets, bombs or cluster bombs, or which may be equipped to perform other military functions.

The attack helicopter is an aerial maneuver unit usually employed as a battalion. It conducts attack, reconnaissance, and security operations that complement other maneuver forces. The attack helicopter enables the supported commander to mass combat power rapidly at the decisive time and place to affect a battle's outcome. The commander must integrate the attack helicopter into his tactical maneuver plan with other maneuver units. When employed with other combat assets, the attack helicopter can strike the enemy where and when it is most vulnerable.

An attack helicopter never fights alone. Attacks are coordinated with other maneuver, combat support, CSS, and joint forces to form a combined arms team. This team surprises and overwhelms the enemy at the point of attack. Attacks may be conducted out of physical contact with other friendly forces but synchronized with their scheme of maneuver, or they may be in direct contact with friendly forces. Attack helicopters are offensive weapon systems. They provide commanders the means to deliver massed firepower rapidly and accurately, thus disorganizing enemy forces and allowing the friendly force to gain or maintain the initiative. To be successful, the attack helicopter must be integrated into the ground commander's scheme of maneuver. This requires that commanders analyze the battlefield and decide early where the attack helicopter will be employed.

The attack helicopter can attack the enemy forces anywhere on the battlefield. Commanders must see and use the entire battlefield to strike the enemy and prevent it from concentrating forces at a point of its choice. The speed with which attack helicopters can mass combat power at chosen points in the battle area allows the force commander to influence the battle to a depth that would otherwise be beyond his reach.

The mobility and flexibility of attack helicopters expand the reach of commanders to all areas of the battlefield. Terrain provides cover and concealment for attack helicopters just as it does for armor and infantry; however, it does not limit the mobility of the helicopter. The attack helicopter can attack the enemy's flanks and rear, thus providing ground forces the time to maneuver and engage enemy forces from directions where they are most vulnerable.

To survive and succeed on the battlefield, the attack helicopter must fight as an integrated member of the combined arms team. In combat, the fires of other attacking weapons enhance the firepower of the attack helicopter. This combined attack strengthens the total force by overcoming limitations found in each weapon system. As a result, total combat power is increased and survivability is improved. When the enemy is simultaneously faced with an array of armor, infantry, FA, TACAIR, and attack helicopter units, it can no longer concentrate on countering a single set of weapons from one direction at a time. Rather, it is attacked throughout its depth with a variety of weapons.

On today's and tomorrow's battlefields, the tempo of the fight is rapid, violent, and extremely fluid. The attack helicopter's primary mission is the destruction of enemy armor or mechanized forces. The attack helicopter, however, must be prepared to conduct reconnaissance and security operations. Additionally, in OOTW, a subversive or less distinguishable enemy may require the attack helicopter to provide direct or indirect fires in DS of friendly ground forces operating in an urban environment. The ability of the attack helicopter to transition smoothly and rapidly is the result of well-led, well-trained, and well-equipped forces; high standards; and detailed planning. While the attack helicopter can react quickly, it requires as much mission planning time as other maneuver battalions.

Nap-of-the-earth flying is the present tactic used by helicopter crews when operating in a high density air defense environment. This type of flying reduces exposure time, which makes it more difficult for ground troops to sight the helicopter and more difficult for higher flying aircraft to visually observe the low flying helicopters. There are problems with this tactic, however, when not performed correctly. Nap-of-the-earth flying has inherent dangers. One of those dangers is that at extreme low altitude, there is little margin for error.

No one can state with certainty when the actual first use of an armed helicopter began. However, records from the Korean War reveal that Marines onboard transport helicopters would fire their individual weapons at enemy positions prior to landings. The war ended before an inevitable mating of a dedicated weapons system with a helicopter platform. It appears that the French must be given credit for the first truly armed helicopter. In the early and mid-1950's, they used US H-21 helicopters, armed with SS-10 missiles, fixed machineguns and free firing machine guns (no doubt the advent of the "doorgunner". The Algerians were to be the test subjects.

Attack helicopters were developed in the United States to provide very close fire support to their brothers on the ground. To be effective, aviators lived and worked with the supported unit, and their operations were completely integrated. To have the appreciation of ground operations necessary to support ground units, aviators were infantrymen or artillerymen first, and aviators second. Aircraft complexity and restrictive career opportunities eventually led to a separate aviation branch.

When the decision was made to introduce American air power into the South Vietnam conflict, the Air Force did not possess an aircraft suitable for this mission. It "borrowed" a number of A-l aircraft from the Navy in order to meet this requirement. The close air support capability of the Air Force during the 1961-65 period can be described as too little, too late, and operating with "make-do" equipment. The US Air Force had failed in its assigned mission of providing close air support to the Army. The Army reacted to the lack of close air support by developing its own capability, using armed helicopters.

The first deployed American helicopters in South Vietnam increasingly were exposed to hostile fire. To counter this problem, the Utility Tactical Transport Helicopter Company arrived in mid-1962. Eventually equipped with 15 of the new UH-lA's (later the UH-lB's), these helicopters were armed with four forward firing machineguns, two "doorgunners" and with 38 2.75 inch rockets. Truly, this was a quantum leap forward. When fully outfitted in the combat attack role, the increased drag from the weapon systems, and with the increased weight of the ammunition and armor, they could barely keep up with the helicopters they were supposed to escort.

The need for a dedicated attack helicopter was self evident. US Army planners decided that an Advanced Attack Helicopter was needed, and a proposal for an Advanced Aerial Fire Support System (AAFS) was issued in 1965. Engineering development of the AH-56A (Advanced Aerial Fire Support System) was initiated by the Army. The design of this helicopter was to integrate armament avionics and fire control subsystems into a weapons platform capable of effectively employing various combinations of point and area fire weapons in support of ground combat operations. The AH-56A first flight occurred in September 1967, but after the usual development problems, in August 1972 the Army cancelled the program.

Pending availability of the optimized AH-56A, and in response to an urgent operational requirement for an interim improved armed helicopter in Vietnam, the Army procured the AH-1G (COBRA) helicopter. All gunships prior to the AH-1 were armed helicopters, that is, general purpose helicopters designed to carry troops or cargo, fitted with armaments. As early as 1958, Bell began planning a specialized attack helicopter, and a prototype was shown to a group of senior officers in 1962. Designed around the proven power and drive train components of the UH-I, this sleek, 36 inch wide airframe would be the world's firs thelicopter designed exclusively for an attack role. On September 1, 1967 the first AH-1G "Cobra" armed/attack helicopters arrived in South Vietnam. The normal armaments carried by Air Force tactical fighter/bombers could not be used closer than several hundred meters from friendly forces. Attack helicopters, however, could deliver their ordinance accurately at distances of a few meters. AH-1G's rapidly became the weapon of choice for close air support. The purpose-built AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter would eventually be upgraded to include TOW missiles as the lessons late in Vietnam would reinforce this need on the plains of Europe.

A long-range missile and an advanced attack helicopter would be needed in the future to operate against armor threats and a deadly air defense environment against the Soviets in Europe. The AH-64 would meet these demands. By the late 1970s US Army Aviation planners were developing organizations and equipment to fight independently as an offensive tank killing organization, and moving away from use of attack helicopters in a close air support or fire support role. The AH-64 Apache, which entered service in 1984, was the aircraft intended to enable this vision. With survivability, maneuverability, speed, night vision, and stand-off weapons, it could survive on the European battlefield and destroy entire formations of Soviet armor before they could reach friendly ground forces.

In the 1970s the NATO allies had essentially no specialized attack helicopter forces. They also used multimission aircraft for firepower support of ground troops, while the United States increasingly depended on specialized aircraft for ground attack missions. Finally, the allies generally provided less coordination between ground forces and airborne firepower assets. The attack helicopters of the allies were multi-mission utility aircraft to which weapons were temporarily attached. The Augusta A-109 is a commercial Italian helicopter, which can be converted to an attack helicopter role when equipped with rockets and machineguns. In various countries, the French Gazelle, the German BO-105, the German/Japanese MBK 117, and the US Hughes 500 were also converted to an attack role.

In the early 1970s the French Army and the German Army discovered that their requirements for an anti—tank helicopter were almost concurrent. ln 1978 the French and German Governments signed an MoU for an anti—tank helicopter which brought Aerospatiale and MBB closer together. But the solutions offered were either too far off the basic requirements or too expensive.

Western Europe initially produced only one attack helicopter — the Italian Agusta A129 Scorpion (Mangusta), which first flew in 1983 and entered service in small numbers with the Italian Army in 1990. France and Germany, both members of the European Union, decided in 1992 to combine resources to develop and promote their domestic helicopter industries by creating Eurocopter from the former French Aerospatiale and German MBB. Their immediate focus was on the creation of a European attack and combat support helicopter, the Tiger, and a medium lift transport, the NH-90, to fulfill NATO and domestic needs.

In early competitions, particularly for Attack and Armed Reconnaissance (Netherlands, UK, Egypt, and Singapore), the US AH-64 Apache typically won partly because the aircraft had been in production for more than 10 years while the Tiger was not yet in production. In addition, the Apache had proven effective in Operation Desert Storm. The 2001 competition for the Australian Army Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter was an open competition with the AH-64 Apache widely expected to win. Eurocopter won the competition, however, with the highly advanced and less expensive PAH-2/HAC/HAP Tiger, by then at rate production.

The Soviet Union moved into the area of helicopter employment with a great deal of enthusiasm over a relatively short period of time, deploying an antitank capability for the HIND A, the Soviet's primary attack helicopter. The first production of a true helicopter gunship within the Soviet Union occurred in 1970. The HIND is heavily armored, mounting a machinegun in the nose. Rocket pods, along with four antitank quided missiles (ATGM), are mounted on its wings. The Mi-24 Hind is the most heavily armored attack helicopter in the world. The Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter was used primarily in a close air support role by the Soviets in Afghanistan. They not only struck enemy forces in contact with Soviet troops, but sometimes carried out attacks as much as twenty to thirty kilometers forward of the forward edge of the battle area. Lacking in maneuverability, the Mi-24 Hind must be protected by ane umbrella of supporting arms fire on its side of the FLOT. Without this protection, the Hind appeared to be extremely vulnerable.

Unlike pure attack helicopters [which generally range from 5 to 7 tons], the massive 10-ton HIND is more properly an armed assault helicopter, as it carries troops, unlike attack helicopters. An attack helicopter is to an armed assault helicopter what a tank is to an armored infantry fighting vehicle. The attack helicopter was not a direct result of Vietnam, but originated with several US Army studies carried on during the late 1950s and early 1960s. What did result from Vietnam was a specialized attack helicopter, rather than the armed troop transport helicopters originally visualized in the studies. The MI-24 HIND was, according to a Czechoslovak aviation magazine, "..designed on the basis of technical specifications similar to the S-67 BLACKHAWK (a US assault helicopter prototype). The HIND can be employed in an air assault role carrying up to 12 combat equipped soldiers, an antitank role with AT-6 spiralmissiles, a fire support role with rockets, missiles, and bombs, and in the air-to-air role with its cannon and missiles.

The Mi-28 HAVOC was built with the primary purpose of killing tanks. It is very similar to the AH-64 Apache. It can accomplish these missions and has a similar air-to-air capability. It is smaller than the HIND, a major change for the Soviets who always built helicopters much larger than their American counterparts. The armament on board includes an under the nose gun turret with weapons mounted on the wings. The Ka-50 HOKUM provided the Soviets a significant rotary wing air superiority system. It is lighter than the HIND, with a take off weight of 12,000 pounds. It has co-axial counter-roltting main rotors which provide excellent maneuverability.

For a long time the world's only attack helicopter was the South African CSH-2 Rooivalk. Tthe Chinese WZ-10, which first flew in 2003, entered service around 2010. Japan and South Korea have on-again / off-again attack helicopter design programs.

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Page last modified: 27-05-2017 18:14:21 ZULU