Saturday, May 7, 2011

Vietnam -- Another Article

From Army/Air Force Avaition Magazine

Fixed Wing And The Attack Helicopter
By Richard T. Edwards

For over the course of the past four decades -- give or take a few months -- I have watched, with great awe, the metamorphosis of the attack helicopter.

We've gone from the tadpole signature of the UH-1C through the slender 36 inch wide AH-1G with its French Curve canopy to the appreciatively awkward looking, yet ginger replacement: today's AH-64 Apache.

Each of these machines -- besides invoking mayhem and damnation upon foes-- were designed to provide higher levels of protection for their crewmembers, increased range and flexibility, keen target acquisition, and the reduction the vulnerability signature. In-other-words, more lethal but not as vulnerable.
Where the fixed-wing aircraft enter the picture is when increased enemy fire suppression is needed or, in the case of Vietnam, we simply ran out of enough 10 and 17 pound warheads and required "fast movers" to kick in and finish off the task at hand.
It is my belief that the two should not be placed under the same branch of the military for two very good reasons. The first deals with logistics. Simply put, fixed wing -- the kind that require a runway for vertical lift -- are not logistically practical when something as light footed as the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) tends to want to move an entire Brigade from a jump point to another in due fashion and limited in scope only by the low fuel warning light coming on.
The A-10 Warthog with its twin engines -- about the same shaft horsepower as that of the C-141, loaded with ammo boasts of requiring 1900 to 2100 feet of runway. Somebody has the build that runway and somebody has to build the second -- otherwise a whole lot of AF pilots become Airborne parachutists and we lose a lot of A-10s.
From a tactical position it simply makes no sense to jump A-10s across the enemy lines -- much less to compromise fuel points and a landing zone positions in the process.
Furthermore, A-10s have a longer range, make incredibly more noise, and tend to crash and burn at anything below stall speed. As units like the 10st move across the FEBA, nap of the earth flying tactics often become a snails pace kind of find the enemy before he finds you game with Army Aviation and A-10s would simply make great burning black smoke in any attempt to maintain pace along the way. When the element of surprise is compromised so are far more lives of our Army's finest.
Fixed wing do tend to yield credibility at higher altitudes. Where line of site and SLR - side looking radar -- reconnaissance would aid in the movement of troops. The Army does have fixed-wing called the Mowhawk that fits this bill. [Editor: not anymore! Congress forcibly retired them in 1996!]
Even at that, its hard to get comfortable with the notion that something at 20,000 feet can accurately aid in the assistance of moving helicopters and manpower across enemy lines. As General John M. Brandenburg put it, in 1978, talking to the AAAA Annual Convention, "It was the most harriest thing I've ever done."
The current theater of operation thins the credibility of the AH-64 only because of the lack of terrain features and application. Its core design being that of a tank killer with a stand-off range as far as the missiles will go to target accurately and with deadly results.
There were two distinct roles the attack helicopter played in Vietnam; one was to provide the Air Cavalry gunship style 20mm cannon, 7.62 mini-gun, 40mm gernade gun -- known as a "chunker", and limited rocket support. The press called all AH-1G Cobras gunships. And yet the AH-64 owes its linage to the Aerial Rocket Artillery or Aerial Field Artillery.
It was billed by me as being the flying aerial artillery platform in a military publication, Rendezvous With Destiny published in 1970.
In it, I wrote of the distinct differences. I won't go on and on about it. Suffice to say, we carried 18 pairs of 10 pound rockets, 18 pairs of 17 pound rockets and sacrificed over target time -- we carried less fuel -- verses longer target time and less rockets.
I also wrote about and was witness to all the quirky things the development cycle went through. Form the AH-1Q to the Production S-Model Cobra and the coming of the AH-64.
In my way of thinking, it isn't a question of whether or not the A-10 should become part of the Army inventory, its more of the fact that the SIMPLER, EASIER-TO-MAINTAIN AH-1G -- souped up, of course -- should have been the tool for the job in the Middle East after all the tanks had the tops popped by the AH-64s.
Ending, -- and anyone who reads this knows and knows me also expects what I'm about to write. In Vietnam we had a saying, "Killing is our business and business is good" March 3rd, 1971, Time Magazine.
I wrote "Today, the tank killers have a new saying, 'Tank killing is our business and someday business will be good'" Army Magazine, February, 1979.
And it was.

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