Ground Forces' Aviation / Army Aviation - Tactics
The Soviets produced large numbers of fire-support helicopters. These rotary-wing aircraft, often referred to by the Soviets as "combat helicopters," are praised as a formidable weapon no less effective than fixed-wing aircraft and, in certain tactical situations, virtually indispensible. Using terrain masking to their advantage, these helicopters could appear unexpectedly over the battlefield, showering the enemy with bombs, guided missiles, unguided rockets, and machine gun fire.
Some Soviet military authorities believed that it was wasteful to use Mikoyan (MiG) and Sukhoi (Su) designed supersonic combat aircraft principally for close air support. General M. P. Odintsov, Air Force Commander in the Moscow Military District, declared in the Soviet military press that it is the task of artillery and combat helicopters to strike the enemy on the FEBA. The concentration of high-performance modern aircraft for close air support "cannot be justified." Instead, he stressed that "they must be utilized in finding and destroying objectives deeper in the enemy's rear." There seems to be no argument among Soviet military authorities that combat helicopters have, to some extent, freed fixed-wing aircraft from the direct support of ground troops on the battlefield.
The Soviets have trained extensively in the use of rotary-wing aircraft in antitank operations. Heavily armed combat helicopters have been seen in every major Soviet military exercise. This type of helicopter is able to attack tanks and other armored vehicles on the battlefield and in the rear. It also can be used to lay mines, blow up bridges, and create road obstacles aimed at stalling the movement of ground forces. Recent Soviet helicopter modifications for antitank combat include the AT-6/SPIRAL antitank missile with a much greater stand-off range than the existing SWATTER. Newer Soviet helicopters will probably be fitted with navigational equipment that gives them the capability of "contour flying during time of darkness and reduced visibility."
The missions assigned to combat helicopters include the destruction of enemy tanks and other armored vehicles, antitank means, personnel, artillery, and missiles. They are also considered to have some effectiveness against enemy fire-support helicopters in the air and on the ground, and against fixed-wing and vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) aircraft on the ground.
One of the most important missions of combat helicopters involves air support to friendly forces in meeting engagements. Current trends in Soviet literature indicate a preference for the use of combat helicopters in restricting the enemy's maneuvering room and supplying real-time reconnaissance data to the ground force unit commanders. They are also valuable in the fire preparation phase prior to the offensive. They can knock out armored antitank means such as self-propelled guns, infantry-carrying combat vehicles equipped with antitank rockets, and tanks.
The employment of combat helicopters, in general, is similar to the employment of fighter-bombers. They strike against preplanned targets, they operate "on-call" for ground commanders, they undertake armed reconnaissance (okhot) missions and, unlike fixed-wing aircraft, they are especially well suited for ambush operations.
In their role of striking preplanned targets, combat helicopters provide additional fire to support artillery during the fire preparation and during tactical heliborne operations. In the later case, they escort troop carrying helicopters and destroy enemy fire means en route to, and at, the landing site.
While operating "on call" for ground commanders, combat helicopters provide air support to ground troops on the battlefield and destroy newly discovered targets. They can respond to the calls either while on the ground or while patrolling in the air. They can also be called upon to strike counterattacking enemy tanks, to reinforce artillery fire, and to provide direct air support in meeting engagements and in pursuing the enemy.
The armed reconnaissance method is likely to be employed under conditions of limited visibility, when information about targets is incomplete, and when the enemy's flanks are not protected. Among the objectives sought by helicopters "hunting" behind enemy lines would be missiles on the move and in firing position, radar, control and communications facilities, antitank weapons, and enemy helicopters on the ground and in the air. Combat helicopters could also support friendly sabotage and reconnaissance units. A two-or-four-aircraft flight of helicopters is believed to be the most efficient combat formation assigned to an armed reconnaissance mission. In such a mission, the group's leader makes the decision to strike the objectives.
Ambushes employing combat helicopters are set up in forest clearings, on broken terrain, in heavily populated areas, and in river deltas.
Soviet aviation specialists consider the following to be an effective method of ambush for combat helicopters. The helicopters would approach the target, concealed behind masking terrain features, pop up suddenly for 20 to 30 seconds, aim, strike, and quickly withdraw. After firing on the target, a quick reduction in altitude by a sideslipping maneuver is recommended, followed by withdrawal to a safe area. Soviet combat helicopters practice attacking targets from horizontal flight, from a gentle dive, from a pitch-up, from a hovering (pop up) positions, and from the ground.
In employing these tactics, several launching positions could be prepared ahead of time where the helicopters secretly mass. The helicopters would rise up from behind their cover on the request of the combined-arms commander, identify the targets, engage them, and then disappear behind terrain masking. The HIND-E equipped with the AT-6/SPIRAL afforded the Soviet pilot greater flexibility because of its greater stand-off range and more sophisticated guidance system that allows the helicopter to maneuver while the missile is on its way to the target.
The appearance of combat helicopters as a direct support weapon system complicated the organization of tactical coordination between air and ground forces. Helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, and artillery usually are not utilized simultaneously in the same fire zone; to do so would require strict coordination. Attacks by fixed-wing aircraft and the artillery fire sometimes coincide in time, but they are assigned separate target sectors. Combat helicopters are normally employed after the completion of the artillery preparation. It is possible, however, to use the artillery and helicopters simultaneously. In such a situation, close, careful coordination is required. It is planned in such a way as not to allow any pauses in artillery fire while the combat helicopters are carrying out this mission.
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