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Combat / Shock Helicopters

American ussge designates helicopters configured for air-to-ground operations as "attack" helicopters. Soviet terminology might differentiate "combat" helicopters, primarily configured for air-to-ground operations with a secondary transport function, from "shock" [or assualt] helicopters, configured exclusively for air-to-ground operations.

The decisive step from armed helicopter to true combat helicopter took place during the course of the Vietnam War, whose very special characteristics made the introduction of such aircraft a necessity. In the USSR, this development started considerably later. Large scale equipping of various types of helicopters with weapons only began in 1967. With the exception of the naval Ka-25 "Hormone", fire power was provided by arming older, partially obsolete types. Thus, the Mi-4 "Hare", thg Mi-2 "Hoplite", the Mi-M "Hound", and the Mi-8 "Hip" were used for combat missions equipped almost exclusively with UB-16 or UB-32 pods containing unguided 57mm rockets, and with wire-guided anti-tank missiles of the "Sagger" type. Weapons systems electronics were kept to a minimum.

There can be little doubt that a great amount of indecision within the U.S. intelligence community surrounded the employment of a "strictly attack-type" Soviet helicopter. As late as 1967, such statements as the following could be found in "informed" U.S. sources: "At present there is no evidence to indicate that the Soviets are actively developing a heavily armed helicopter in the "gunship" or "flying tank" category." Also in 1967, Malcolm R. Currie, then Director of Defense Research and Engineering, said that the Soviets did not consider helicopters a major military item, although US experience in helicopter development for warfare in Southeast Asia may have changed that outlook.

In contrast to these statements, 1967 saw the staging of the Soviet military exercise "Dnepr" which was filmed for western showing. Here, extensive use of armed helicopters supporting ground attacks and river crossings was displayed. These helicopters, Mi-4s "Hounds", were shown firing ATGMs at armored vehicles and scoring impressive hits.

In Soviet military circles, there appeared to have been a debate over the survivability of the helicopter on the mid or high intensity battlefield. Criticism of the US use of attack helicopters in Vietnam began to wane in such publications as Voennyi Vestnik (Military Herald) and Krasnaia Zvezda (Red"Star) in the 1969-70 time frame, conveniently timed with the first appearance of the "Hind" combat helicopter. The 1973 Mideast War seems to have added the final initiative to an already quickly developing Soviet hellcopter force, with military opinion swinging almost totally in the direction of a more pronounced combat helicopter force.

With more than 200 helicopters (Ni-2s, Mi-6s and Mi-8s) already present in GSFG 15th Air Army, the Soviets introduced the Mi-24 HIND into Frontal Aviation's inventory in 1974. The rapid deployment of this new helicopter soon resulted in two unite, each of regimental strength, based at Stendal and Parchim airfields in East Germany. With at least 72 HINDS -- possibly more, considering the Soviet affinity for the principle of mass (a West German source credits GoSG with 180) -- the presence of this aircraft in the forward area has added a new dimension to theater warfare.

The late 1970's saw the Soviet military rely increasingly on its attack helicopter assets to provide direct air support for troops along the FEBA. In Soviet terms, the attack helicopter would be used to support close combat operations with troops along the front line (the front line being defined as the line of contact with the enemy. The MI-24/HIND and later the MI-8/HIP E were formidable weapons systems that proved to be the mainstay of Soviet attack helicopter operations. Employed in the direct air support role, helicopters were capable of flying immediate or preplanned missions as well as independent, "free hunting" sorties.

A helicopter's unique ability to change flight speed rapidly from maximum to zero, fly sideways and back-wards, sharply maneuver right at ground level, and use the terrain relief for cover reduces its vulnerability. It was no coincidence that a prominent French general once called the combat helicopter the "king of the skies near the ground." In foreign countries they wrote particularly often about the role of combat helicopters in operations against mobile tank formations. In particular, in the summer of 1980 the American journal ARMY AVIATION DIGEST recounted such an operation, referred to by the press as the model for NATO armies. These articles disclosed the actual attack and defensive capabilities ofthe combat helicopter in general and, in particular, its chances of surviving over a modern battlefield, which M.L. Mil's supporters were saying almost 2 decades earlier and which opponents of the program to create such a helicopter denied.

After receipt of the order to stop the advance of enemy tanks heading for an important center of defense, a group of helicopters flies over to the attack positions in the area where the enemy will likely pass. The command helicopter flies out for reconnaissance. Using topographic features, the helicopter flies at treetop altitude. This prevents enemy aircraft from detecting the reconnaissance helicopter and, if detected, minimizes the possibility of an effective attack, since guided missiles are not very effective in the "skies near the ground." When attacking with cannons or rockets, the fighter pilot has to dive at the target, which is able to change altitude and speed sharply right down to zero, deviate in any direction, and go behind ground cover.

Any maneuver by the airplane at minimum altitude threatens a collision with the ground. The helicopter crew, deviating from the attack, can send a guided missile in pursuit of the aircraft breaking away and shoot it down. The press has had reports of such an unfavorable outcome of an air battlefor the airplane. Using the technical capabilities of their helicopter, hovering, the crew observes the approaching tanks, for example, by hiding behind the crowns of trees, behind some hill, or simply behind a building. If further observation of the tanks is necessary, the reconnaissance helicopter secretly changes its position. After assessing the situation, the commander relays an order to his group to fly to an area enabling them to attack the enemy from various directions and at effective fire distances for the helicopter antitank guided missiles (ATGMs).

As soon as the tanks and the air defense assets accompanying them enter this area, the helicopters execute a vertical take off above the cover (a so called "pop-up") and launch the guided missiles against targets allocated in advance among the crews. Since the effective range of certain types of ATGMs exceeds the effective range of anti-aircraft barreled artil-lery, the helicopter crews, "pressing" their helicopters right to the ground, attack the targets without entering the air defense danger zone. The target hit probability of helicopter ATGMs is very high - up to 90 percent.

After launching the missiles, the helicopters immediately takecover and fly to new, pre-selected positions for a repeat attack. In the event helicopters going on a mission unexpectedly encounter mobile anti-aircraft guns or infantry subunitshaving man-portable surface-to-air systems, the crews bring into action the onboard swinging machine gun mount and missile IR-seeker "deception" devices, and quickly depart the danger zone. Cockpit armor and bulletproof glass protect the crew from infantry small arms.

In analyzing the results of a number of maneuvers and exercises conducted by NATO forces, military experts emphasizef that the ratio of losses in operations of helicopters against tanks, as the magazine INTERNA-TIONAL DEFENSE REVIEW noted, in particular, varied from 1:12 to 1:19 in favor of the helicopters.




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