Apache Pron and YouTube

Believe it or not, the Army didn’t spend millions upon millions of dollars developing the Apache just so you could watch clips of it smokin’ jihadis on YouTube. Mainly because YouTube didn’t exist when they came up with it.

After the end of the Vietnam war, the Army found itself with old, obselescent and poorly maintained forces facing a massive Soviet Army in Western Europe. The need to recapitalize and re-equip the forces was great, but the defense budget was tight. Military spending was unpopular and the mood in the country was fairly isolationist. The Army was one of the least trusted institutions in the country. The leadership was faced with a problem familiar to managers and leaders everywhere- a huge task and very little in the way of resources.

The development of the Apache took place in this arena of limited budgets, and was a product not only of the state of the art in aerospace engineering, but also of changing ideas of how best to fight a war. As the development began, The 1973 Yom Kipur war showed just how violent and intense an armored battle could be. It also showed just how effective Soviet weapons could be. We tend to treat them with scorn now, but they were very effective in the Sinai, and fit in very well with the Soviet view of how to fight. Partly as a result of the 73 war, and a very comprehensive study of history, the Army developed the doctrine of Active Defense, which would later evolve into the AirLand Battle Doctrine. AirLand Battle was the governing view of “how to fight” from roughly 1982 to the end of the Cold War. It’s effectiveness can be seen in Desert Storm. The equipment that the Army bought in the 1970s and 1980s was designed with this doctrine in mind as well as the constraints of budget and engineering.

Doctrine drove the development of equipment. The Army looked at how it wanted to fight, then decided what it needed to fight that way. Knowing that there was a very limited pool of money, the were ruthless in aiming for what the NEEDED versus what they WANTED. This eventually boiled down to what became known as “The Big Five”: The M-1 Abrams tank, the M-2/M-3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, The UH-60 Blackhawk transport helicopter, the Patriot air defense missile system, and of course, the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.

The big problem facing US commanders on the ground in Western Europe was being outnumbered. A US division could expect to face up to nine Soviet divisions. The rule of thumb is that the attacker should bring three times the troops as the defender. The problem for the Soviets was that there wasn’t enough space to get all nine divisions into the fight at the same time. There just weren’t enough roads to move the divisions and supply them. Their answer was the “echelon attack”. The first echelon of three divisions would attack. If they broke through, fine. If not, they would pull back slightly while keeping pressure on the US forces. The second echelon would then pass through and make its attack. If that didn’t work, the third echelon would then take its turn. During each attack, they could expect to wear down the US division to the point that it collapsed. The question for the US was how to counter this. The answer was-timing. If the US could delay the follow up attacks by the second and third echelons, the US division would be in a position recover from the first attack, and even counter-attack to upset the Soviet efforts. The question became “how do we delay and disrupt the follow on echelons?” Artillery and rockets didn’t have enough range to reach that far behind the front. The Air Force would do its part by concentrating on targets like bridges, supply and fuel depots, and command posts. That left a middle ground from roughly 25-100 miles behind the front lines that the Army needed to be able to attack.

The solution was the attack helicopter and deep strike. Attack helicopters had been around almost as long as helicopters themselves. Previously, however, they had always been used in close support of the ground forces, like flying artillery, and tied to the units they were supporting.  Anyone who has seen Apocolypse Now remembers the choppers coming in over the beach and laying waste to the bad guys. The new concept was for the helicopter to act more like Cavalry, raiding deep behind enemy lines, popping up where least expected. Think JEB Stuart in the Civil War. Rather than one or two helicopters providing support to an infantry battalion, an entire battalion of helicopters (18 birds) would slip past the first echelon and attack the second and third before they could even get to the fight. They would sow confusion, concentrate on taking out commanders and headquarters, force the Soviets to react to us, rather than having us react to them. By carefully choosing when and where they attacked, they could influence not only when, but where the follow on echelons attacked. For instance, if the Soviets planned to attack by crossing a river, the helicopters could concentrate on attacking bridging vehicles, forcing the Soviets to choose another path.

The Army’s first attempt at a purpose built attack helicopter was the AH-56 Cheyenne. It was not a success. It was primarily designed to serve as an escort for transport helicopters, but the ability to fly fast for long distances also helped inspire the deep strike concept. After the failure of the Cheyenne, development of the Apache began in earnest. What was wanted was a long range helicopter that could survive considerable small arms fire, and packed a large punch, able to defeat any known enemy armor. The helicopter needed to be able to operate day  or night, or in bad weather. This lead to the development of the Apache’s TADS/PNVS (Target Aquisition and Designation System/Pilots Night Vision System). This used infrared sensors to allow the gunner to spot enemy vehicles and “paint” them with a laser designator. The pilots night vision system used was mounted above the TADS and moved separatley. This allowed both crewmembers to use night vision, even while looking in differnt directions. One of the “good ideas” incorporated was to allow the 30mm cannon to point where the pilot was looking. While the gunner was using the TADS to fire Hellfire missiles at enemy tanks, the pilot could engage any threats that got in close.

The Hellfire missile was developed in concert with the Apache. It has a range of about 5 miles so the Apache is outside the range of most anti-aircraft missiles and guns it would encounter. It’s warhead was large enough to defeat any known armor and since it was laser designated, it could be guided by the helicopter firing it, another helicopter, or a scout on the ground. The 30mm chain gun gave the Apache to engage soft targets like trucks without spending an expensive Hellfire missile. It also gave it good self-defense against troops and anti-aircraft guns. In addition, 2.75″ rockets could be used to attack soft targets and troops.

The best known use of the Apache performing a deep strike was on the opening night of Desert Storm. A force of eight Apaches, supported by four Air Force MH-53Js, attacked two Iraqi radar stations on the border to open up a corridor for Allied strike planes to slip through unobserved. Less well known were several deep strike missions performed by the Apaches of the VII Corps to attack Republican Guard brigades and “fix” them in place to be destroyed later by ground forces. They were so successful, by the time they were done, there was little left of the units to be destroyed.

Ironically, the Army has abondoned the deep strike mission for the Apaches. This is partly because there is little chance of US forces being so greatly outnumbered. Another major factor was the deep strike mission against the Medina Division on March 24, 2003. Thirty-three Apaches attacked the Medina Division near Karbala. Having learned their lesson in Operation Desert Storm, the Medina Division laid a clever “flak trap” that shot down one Apache, and damaged almost all the others. All the damaged Apaches were able to make it back home, but several were damaged beyond repair. The high cost of the mission wasn’t worth the results.

If you made it this far, many thanks. Here’s the payoff-


A personal favorite:


And one more:


13 thoughts on “Apache Pron and YouTube”

  1. I like my Apache pron as much as the next guy but hey, this was an excellent, excellent post even without the gun camera film. Back before we won the Cold War and while I was stationed in Holland from 1982 through 1989, I read Sir John Hackett’s second book. He gave us about two weeks before the Soviets rolled over us via the northern German plain. I believe part of the war plan was that the Army would put in a force to block the Soviets. Not that the Army wouldn’t try to carry out that mission but I kind of always figured the Army was going to be pretty busy across a wide front from northern Germany to the south but primarily concentrated in the Fulda area and therefore we weren’t going to be a priority.

    They (the Air Force) estimated our casualties in the first 48-hours to be about 40 percent — essentially we would cease to exist. I just couldn’t see surrendering to the Soviets since that would really just be a slightly delayed death sentence so I had a personal E&E plan that simply meant gathering as much ammo as I could carry, some MREs, and advancing to the west in the hopes that I might make it to England.

  2. Cranky, thanks for the feedback. You may be pleased to know that you’ve inspired a new post- why did the US Army guard the least likely invasion route? I’ll try to get it up today.

    FYI, I was in Germany from 89 through 91. Interesting times. From full on Cold War to German reunification and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    Hackett was a good read, but not as good as he himself thought.

  3. XBrad — Really, really well-researched. Nice work!

    While the Apache was still a collection of neurons in the MD think-tank, Bell got a contract to upgrade the dreaded AH-1 as an interim tank-killer. Ironically, the Ultimate Cobra (AH-1F C-Nite) had the same night-fighting capability as the AH-64 — at about a third of the cost. That’s an interesting story I’ll bet you won’t have any trouble researching (hint)…

  4. BillT,
    Yeah, somehow I’m not surprised that Cobras came to your mind. In fact, as I was writing the original post, I realized that I was gonna have to address the development of attack helos generally. And when I decided to ask you to check my homework, I figgererd I better refresh my memory on Loaches as well. I’m a big Cobra fan, but don’t be surprised when I come out in favor of building the Apache over the C-Nite.

  5. No problem — the TSU for the C-Nite cost a cool million and it’s pretty fragile.

    And don’t forget to take a look at the AH-1W…

  6. Not to be a Cobra basher, but to say a C-Nite Cobra is equal to a 64 at night is a bit much.

    Having been in unit that treated a bunch of AH-1W drivers at MAWTS-1 to Apache flight time, I can say that to a person they wanted our aircraft (AH-64D)over theirs.

    The Cobra was and is a great airframe…just don’t get carried away with the hyperbole.

    The deep attack mission is still taught and practiced to a degree. The thing that gets overlooked when discussing the “ambush at Karballa”, is that the 11th aviation regiment and higher ignored the fact that several “triggers” were never met to launch the deep attack and did so anyway. When one launches a cross FLOT movement to contact with 33 helicopters it’s a wonder so many actually came back. By definition a deep attack when launched knows where the target is, these guys just knew “something” was around there. They had no CAS support, the SEAD was fired two hours early, no target fidelity…and they still launched.

    I would say the tactics aren’t necessarily flawed it was the horrible decision making process that launched the mission that needs to be more closely examined.

    Enjoyed the post…I’m linking you!

  7. Outlaw, thanks for stopping by. You’ve been added to my blogroll. And especially thanks for the insight into the deepstrike kerrfuffle.

    I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the 11th. Back when the were the 11th AVN BDE, I was stationed at Illeshiem, their home base. Met plenty of good folks with 2-6, 6-6, and 4-229. It’s a shame to hear that planning and decision making went so poorly. I’m wondering if the performance in Yugo in 99 lead them to think they had to “do something”. My understanding of the deep strikes in Desert Storm was that they went much better.

    As to the great Cobra/Apache debate, I’m thinking the Apache pretty much wins hands down. I don’t know why Congress wouldn’t pony up the money for the Marines to get a version. Maybe they didn’t fight very hard for it. As it is, it almost certainly would have been cheaper in the long run to navalize an Apache, rather than going the whole convert/newbuild/convert/newbuild argument and wind up having to basically design and build a brand new bird, which the Zulu is. I think also, the Apache has a better growth margin for future development. I don’t know if you guys have ROVER yet, but you sure as heck should.

  8. In the last several years we’ve added all sorts of goodies to make us more user friendly and to help with Air/Ground coordination. We now have Blue Force Tracker, IZLID (a laser command pointer attached to the 30mm cannon), and we’re getting VUE-IT (or something like that) the Army’s version of ROVER. I’m not that up to speed on it yet, but I’ll bet you a soda that it won’t be compatible with the USAF stuff…that’s jsut the way we roll around here. 🙂

    I’ve heard through the grapevine that the USMC isn’t too happy with Bell Helicopter right now about either the UH-1Y or the AH-1Z…but that’s just a rumor.

  9. Well, they asked a hell of a lot of Bell, basically, take these Hueys and Cobras and give us something better than Blackhawks and Apaches for less money.

  10. And I gotta tell ya, I never even served in a unit with SINGCARS, we always had the PRC-77/VRC-64/VRC-46s. The most high tech thing we had was a PLGR.

Comments are closed.