lundi 6 octobre 2014

Iraq - About attack helicopters: Is it time for 'vampires' deployment?

The U.S. CENTCOM, in a recent daily statement about U.S. activities against Islamic State, unveiled a strike made by an attack helicopter against targets West of Baghdad on October 4, 2014. If the official report provided no details about the type of helicopters, Defense online magazines indicated that they were likely AH-64 Apache helicopters deployed to Baghdad International Airport in July to initially provide protection to U.S. facilities.
The first strike by those types of assets, during an Air-Power-centric campaign, reminds the use of French and British attack helicopters during the 2011 Libyan campaign. The deployment of those Land-Power-centric assets aimed to break a stalemate that a predominantly air campaign (without enough local troops on the ground for intelligence or kinetic actions) could not solve wholly by itself.
The Islamic State was an adaptive opponent with changing tactics in the wake of the current U.S.-led bombing campaign by dispersing or hiding their troops and civilian-made technicals with low-profile tactics to avoid ISR detection and air strikes. As Clausewitz Prussian thinker describes under the name of “constant reciprocal actions”, if the enemy is adaptive, Blue Forces are too, or must be too; the war is a duel.
After two months of air strikes against the Kaddafi’s regime troops, British and French government’s planned on May 2011 to provide a different military approach to create a tactical breakthrough on the ground and to avoid a political and military sinking with an air campaign whose tempo weakened due to lack of effective targets. Any resemblance to actual events or people is purely coincidental, of course.
According to military planners of Operation Unified Protector (OUP) over Libya, attack helicopters would provide more precision strikes than fighter aircrafts currently used, through a lower altitude flight that allows discovering camouflaged targets. If Libya - and Iraq - was a high threat environment for attack helicopters (with SA-7 or ZPU systems and other anti-aircraft weapons), the risk was considered acceptable as it was believed that their presence achieved considerable psychological effect for allied troops.
The British Army fielded four AH-64 Apache and the French Army provided eighteen helicopters for a Helicopter Strike Group with EC-665 Tigre HAP (without Hellfire or Spikre ER anti-tank missiles), SA330 Puma helicopters for CSAR missions and air coordination headquarters, and SA341/342 Gazelle armed with HOT anti-tank missiles. Army Air Corps AH-64 flew from the Royal Navy’s helicopter carrier HMS Ocean while Tigre operated from the amphibious helicopter carriers Tonnerre and Mistral during littoral operations.
Nevertheless, the French and British tactical approaches were a bit different during raids which begin in early June. British one was more traditional with attack helicopters used at a highest altitude than French assets to strike targets at a safety distance with mainly deliberate targeting. French Army tactics (the concept of “aérocombat”) were a “vampire approach”, as a French pilot officer said, during hunt-night raids on specific “kill boxes” areas. French pilots make dynamic targeting with a very useful “cockpit delegation” rules of engagement. This track and target approach allows strikes on targets blended with population at a proximity range without Forward air controllers (FAC) on the ground.
Over the seven-month course of air-campaign, the operation involved over 26,000 sorties of which around 25,000 were flown by fixed wing aircraft with more or less 500 by helicopters (and 500 by unmanned air vehicles). 22 Apache missions (or 49 combat sorties) from the sea were flown with 99 Hellfire missiles fired along with 4,800 rounds of 30mm cannon and 16 CRV7 rockets, for 116 targets engaged. The French helicopters flew 450 sorties (4.5%) but destroyed no less than 550 targets (nearly 10%,), expending 431 HOT plus an unspecified number of 68 mm rockets and 20 mm rounds.
Thus, Libyan air-campaign was not only a framework for joint operations with Arab partners as the use of Qatari Mirage 2000-5s and Emirati F-16E/F Block 60 or Mirage 2000-9s for ground strike or air-to- air missions, but also a framework for an adaptive air-campaign with fixed and rotary air assets to break the resistance and the opponent victory momentum at the tactical level, to boost the maneuver at the operational level, and to strengthen the credibility of British and French troops at the strategic level.
The main risk for the Iraqi campaign is currently not a stalemate because various military options have not yet been used, but to be caught in a circle with a "mission creep" and a too much differential between goals and (inadequate) means. To avoid such a political and military risk, a dynamic use of assets is maybe necessary for the U.S.-led coalition with deployment of new ones and removal of others in the coming months. To be continued.

An other column in English on Mars Attaque. An other try to share my articles to a non-French speaking audience (at a twice-monthly or monthly rate, don't know yet... and a need also to improve my writing skills in English with exercices.

2 commentaires:

Frédéric a dit…

Bonsoir. Je signale une faute de frappe à Tonnerre.

F. de St V. a dit…

Merci. Toujours attentif...