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Monday, March 24, 2003

Geronimo

Apaches have created an amazing amount of trouble for the US armed forces. I just saw the image
of an Iraqi peasant with a rifle next to a US helicopter which he claims he bagged. I am not comparing
this guy (I forgot his name) to Geronimo and his band of 70 men women and children. I am thinking of the
relative damage done to the US armed forces by our adversaries and by Apache helicopters.

In the Kosovo war,
the only Nato deaths (actually the only casualties) were of the pilot and copilot of an Apache on a
training mission. This after there wree mechanical failures on the west coast of Italy, the east coast of Italy
and in Albania (I don't know if those were 3 different helicopters or one which kept breaking). In this
case again, it looks to me like the helicopter was the problem. First what could a rifle do ? Second I saw no
external damage except for the landing carriage seemed damaged by a very sharp landing. My guess is that the
helicopter just conked out. Fortunately, it appears that the pilot and copilot were not injured or
even captured (although they must be in great danger).

Now I am aware of the temptation to overinterpt results with small data sets. Also to get to Kosovo, the apaches
had to fly hundreds of miles when they were designed to be carried on planes to a staging area and assembled
near the battle zone. Still, I think someone (not employed by the defence department or the contractor)
should investigate the maintenance and failure history of Apache helicopters. Are they performing fine
except on prime time ? I'd like to know.

More generally and still with a small sample, helicopters are clearly dangerous. So far this war, most coalition
deaths are in helicopter crashes (including one in Afganistan). In the last gulf war, a large fraction of
UK deaths were from friendly fire on a helicopter. In Somalia, the significant (humanitarian effort stopping)
US deaths occured when NSA forces armed with low tech weapons downed a helicopter (and not the only one).

Now it is clear that helicopters can be very effective weapons. The faster than a tank, closer than a plane
combination makes them, maybe, the only anti tank weapon more deadly than another tank. Still I wonder if
military doctrine has to adapt to the extremely low number of casualties which are possible and acceptable in
wars against much weaker opponents.

This is part of reconsidering Cold war doctrines. A weapon which
is very effective but inevitably risky was a good choice if the aim was to hold out against the Warsaw pact.
Is it necessary to send people into such risks to spead victory in a war with a final outcome which is not in
doubt ?

This should be exactly the kind of question which interests Rumsfeld, but, somehow, I doubt he's interested.

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