Dispatches From Iraq

Received via Mike Sloniker 12 May 2003

Apache Longbow Battalion Destroyed Two Republican Guard Battalions During OIF

By Neil Baumgardner

The 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation, equipped with Boeing's [BA] latest AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter, destroyed more than two battalions-worth of Iraqi Republican Guard forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), including tanks, air defense artillery, and infantry fighting vehicles, as the attack helicopter battalion provided close-support for the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) on its march to Baghdad, according to the battalion commander.

"We have flown 830 hours in a combat zone to date," Lt. Col. Daniel Williams, commander of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation, based at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga., said in an e-mail to Defense Daily. "The aircraft works, and particularly when used with ground forces, we destroyed everything we were asked to destroy and more and never dropped a mission to include MEDEVAC (medical evacuation) escort and quick reaction force no-notice missions in support of ground units. We experienced a 90-percent operational readiness rate. Our BDA (battle damage assessment), while modest in comparison with Desert Storm standards, was sufficiently high for the conditions we encountered."

During OIF, the 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation destroyed some 25 tanks, 27 infantry fighting vehicles, six artillery pieces, 52 air defense artillery pieces and over 100 other enemy assets including ammunition storage facilities, bunkers, trucks and buildings, according to an essay by Maj. David Rude, the battalion operations officer, that was also provided to Defense Daily. There were no instances of fratricide, he said.

The statement, the first detailed, public statement by Apache battalion officers since the conclusion of OIF, comes after Lt. Gen. William Wallace, the commander of the Army's V Corps, said the Army "altered" the use of its Apache attack helicopters after an attack by the 11th Aviation Regiment on the Iraqi Republican Guard Medina Division, previously thought to be the first combat action by the Apache Longbow, was stopped by intense enemy air defense fire. Wallace said the 3rd Infantry Division's Apache Longbows were used extensively to provide close-support, otherwise known as close-combat attack (CCA) (Defense Daily, May 8).

According to Williams, the 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation was actually the first to use the Apache Longbow in combat.

"In fact, we were engaging the enemy for several days from inside Iraq prior to the now infamous deep attack," he said. "We fired the first RF (radio frequency) Longbow Hellfire missile used in anger against the observation posts along the Kuwaiti/Iraqi border--the first direct fire shots of the ground war--and scored a direct hit along with 13 other conventional missiles. Finally, we killed the first tank (T- 54) in the vicinity of An Nasiriyah with a Longbow."

The Longbow fire control radar and Longbow Hellfire missile are made by the Longbow Limited Liability joint venture between Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Northrop Grumman [NOC].

According to Rude, the 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation extensively used the Apache Longbow's Alliant Techsystems [ATK] M230 30mm cannon and AGM-114K semi-active laser-guided Hellfire missiles made by Lockheed Martin. However, Rude said the use of the AGM-114L Hellfire Longbow missile needs to be reviewed.

"The utilization of the RF missile in CCA must be reevaluated," he said.

Wallace did not say exactly how the Army changed its employment of the Apache, but according to Rude, the unit's mission quickly changed from deep attacks to close support.

"As the enemy's situation template evolved into an urban centric disposition instead of presenting itself as a fielded force in the open desert, the 1st Battalion 'Vipers,' 3rd Aviation Regiment's mission profile transformed from battalion massed or phased attacks against armor and artillery to continuous close combat attacks in support of the Division's main effort brigade combat team (BCT)," he said. "During execution, the Vipers routinely employed en route combat maneuvers (ECM) and close combat maneuvers (CCM) to enhance aircrew maneuverability and survivability through sustained running fire tactics, while avoiding the age-old adage of "stacking and racking" gunships in a stagnant battle position."

The change in tactics by the 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation in OIF parallels those employed by Task Force Corsair, which included Apaches from the 1st Battalion, 229th Aviation, during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

Lt. Col. Paul Bricker, the commander of the 2nd Battalion of the 82nd Aviation and Task Force Corsair during OEF, said the Apaches did very little hover and firing and instead moved to running fire to avoid ground fire (Defense Daily, May 1).

Rude said the 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation also provided a "ring of steel" around the advance of the 3rd Infantry Division.

"This concept was centered upon a terrain-oriented objective, and the operation commenced with reconnaissance by fire to clear enemy direct fire weapon systems within a two-kilometer circle around the objective," he said.

"AH-64s then shifted immediately to a four-kilometer circle around the objective to destroy enemy direct and indirect weapons systems. Once that area was cleared by AH-64s, responsibility for clearance of fires in that area shifted to the advancing ground task force commander. At that time, the Apaches focused reconnaissance and fires to an outer, eight-kilometer ring to protect the ground force."

The 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation also provided security for MEDEVAC flights and search and rescue operations, as well as general support for the division's advance, Rude said.

"Despite the fact that the Viper Battalion did not achieve significant battle damage assessment figures that would resemble results from attacking classical, deep attack target sets, we boldly executed 10 battalion air combat missions in support of friendly troops in contact against a determined enemy, whose tactics and uniform were both unconventional, without the loss of a single aircraft to enemy fire," he said.

Rude's one criticism of the Apache was the aircraft's current forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensor, which is contained in the target acquisition designation (TADS).

Lockheed Martin is currently developing a new Arrowhead modernized the target acquisition designation system (M-TADS), which is expected to dramatically extending the visual viewing range of the crew.

"The Apache's current FLIR provides target identification, even with CIPs (combat identification panel) and TIPs (thermal identification panel), out to only 3.0 kilometers, well short of its point target killing range," Rude said. "Generation Three FLIR, a "must-have" for the Longbow Apache to identify targets beyond 3.0 kilometers and further mitigate air-to-ground fratricide, and the integration of two-way, real-time friendly blue icons onto a moving map display on the Longbow's cockpit's Tactical Situation Display (TSD) will further enhance the Longbow Apache's role in the close fight in the next war."