Dispatches From Iraq

Received via Mike Sloniker 30 April 2003

Apache: Defenders see ROE as Karbala culprit
Source: Defence & Public Service Helicopter
28 April 2003

by David S. Harvey

Roger Krone, Senior Vice President of Boeing Army Systems says the Army's rule of engagement (ROE) will most likely turn out to be 'limiting factor' on how Apaches were employed in Iraq when the lessons learned are released later this summer.

Krone, responding to a round of press criticism over the helicopter's effectiveness said that a constraining ROE can currently require pilots to close to 1000 meters to carry out a reliable target ID.

'When thus constrained,' Krone says in an e-mail to Army aviation supporters, 'crews must expect small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades from multiple directions.'

Krone was only one voice responding to critical barbs aimed against the aircraft last week.

Events near Karbala on the night of March 23-24 have been tuned up into something of an indictment in the press.

The phenomenon - not reflective at all of overall Apache performance during the war - is built around the single incident over Karbala, an event which resulted in a large number of D model Apaches supposedly damaged and the highly visible downing of one aircraft and the capture of two pilots.

Bill McCorkle a senior official with the Army's aviation and missile command (AMCOM) in Huntsville - also in an e-mail - supported the ROE points.

'The ROE require positive ID, which in turn requires closing to within a kilometre of the target and ground fire weapons.' McCorkle adds: 'the situation should not be tolerated.'

He points out that 'mature demonstrated technology has existed for several years to provide Hellfire Longbow size missiles with 30-50 km standoff range, high resolution IR seeker imagery and full bandwidth video link back to the Apache to perform the positive ID function.' There would, he says, be 'plenty of time to execute an avoidance or loitering manoeuvre.'

In his judgment, there should be no need for Apache pilots to come within range of small arms fire, or even the S2S SAM system. He adds: 'the aviation community needs to express a near-term requirement for this capability.'

Another voice rising in defence is that of Col Mike Riley.

Riley commanded the first Longbow battalion to go through conversion training. He is currently TRADOC's System Manager for the aircraft.

Late last week he, too, took to the e-mail airwaves to make a number of points:

The aircraft took their crews to and from the fight in the 'deepest darkest places' in Iraq while enduring some of the 'most intense ground fire ever experienced;'

  • Of the estimated number of over 1,000 sorties there was only one aircraft downed. 'And it was later recovered.'

  • Overall Apache readiness exceeded DoD standards, in spite of the temporary effects of the March 23-24 fight.

  • The 101st (Airborne), using their Apaches in concert with their ground forces destroyed more than two Iraqi divisions, helping to clear a path for 'the race to Baghdad;'

  • when called upon, the sustaining base re-supplied the theatre with six replacement Apache Longbow aircraft in less than 24 hours.

    There is, in short, much frustration in the aviation community over a shortage of 'rebuttal data' from the Army to refute critics.

    The Army's Center for Lessons Learned - the main agent for releasing details of combat experiences - is not expected to report out until at least July.

    And supporters say the fact no aviation reporters were 'embedded' with Apache units is opening the way to an open season of one-sided criticism.

    The comments of Krone, McCorkle and Riley can thus be seen as the opening shots in what will be an interesting process.

    Still to come, however, are the vital details - what exactly happened that night? Some press reports - those stemming from the Army's own newspaper reporters - suggest the operation was mounted hastily, and may, from its inception, have suffered a fuel supply problem.

    Then there are reports that the Iraqis laid one of the few successful traps of the war: suckering the Apaches over Karbala before turning the town's lights off.

    This shouldn't have spoiled the IR ID targeting function, but it certainly would have caused some pilot disorientation. More importantly it would have thrown the helicopters into higher contrast for ground-based militia gunners.