Attack helicopter employment in the COIN fight

@jenrick, excellent writeup. Much of it was entirely new to me and in this one area I have become increasingly nerdy. I hate GWOT both as a term and as a principal. But fortunately, with DCS we needn’t worry so much about newer techniques overshadowing the classic anti-armor and pink team doctrines. There is no functional infantry in DCS. Players (who survive) are really doing little more than plinking technicals at max missile range. I often see recently deployed infantry in DCS standing in a perfect circles just 10 meters from enemy personnel and vehicles and neither are firing at each other. It’s fun but the whole thing is a bit of a joke really.

1 Like

Yep. Awesome write-up… and succinctly sums up a whole lot of frustrations that I had with ‘airpower’ in a COIN environment. And not just airpower… Precise targeting doesn’t mean squat if you have the wrong target. Which is why I think DCS is poorly suited to accurately simulating those kind of conflicts. Dropping a few technicals around a building and calling it a mission doesn’t make it COIN warfare. Personally, I will stick with missions and campaigns that mimic peer/near peer conflict. At least that way I have a workable ROE and no real idea what is accurate or not so I can’t be judgemental… Give me a FLOT any day.

Hubris! That and it would seem the only lesson we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

Edit: “Dropping a few technicals around a building and calling it a mission doesn’t make it COIN warfare.” On second thought, it does if you can add a 50/50 tag in the mission editor for “oops, they were on our side”.

1 Like

Same here. For the same reason I would ‘call out’ newbie soldiers for referring to to the enemy as “bad guys”. It over simplified and painted as black and white what remains a very complex and nuanced situation. I would try to get across that it was inevitable that they would see bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.

1 Like

I just read a book by an RAF Harrier pilot in Afghanistan that often covered just that subject (“Joint Force Harrier”) was very enlightening, even though I’ve seen plenty of documentaries from the ground side and read books by those relying on it - and suffering the consequences of it going wrong (such as “Attack State Red” and the excellent two books by Doug Beattie in Afghan.

1 Like

To comment on a few things from our F1 derailment:

Absolutely, I’m talking about the purely military aspect. The human terrain issue is a whole separate one.

Institutionally, I’d say the Army fights the previous war usually, which depending on how you want to view it was the first gulf war. Which to an extent makes sense, the conflict started as a conventionally conflict, and wasn’t projected to be a nation building counter insurgency operation.

Just a couple years of ROTC. I’m a big grognard/arm chair historian, and am in the minority of folks who read an Army FM for something other than a sleep aide.

As much as I enjoy the systems depth and flight physics of DCS, ARMA 3 does the infantry support fight so much better than DCS.

100% agreement, and to be honest I don’t think many DCS players want the ambiguity of the COIN fight.


Makes sense. Wargaming conventional wars is more fun. That’s why we leave out NBC for the most part, they take all the fun out of it even in video games. And we prefer black and white, clear cut battlespaces with defined, identifiable sides.

It’s not near as much fun to fight an enemy who may be daylighting as the chief of police while nightlighting as the leader of an insurgent cell, and that’s true in video games as well.
We players tend to cry foul when the rules of the game aren’t clearly defined for us.

ETA: I’ve often wondered in the last 15 years if the (a) military is too large, clumsy and culturally inert an organization to fight a COIN operation with a high chances of success. There’s not too many successes I can point to off the top of my head. Northern Ireland? South Africa? Philippines? (Ongoing)

-Oh look, we’re already drifting! :joy::man_facepalming:

:dizzy: Mod Edit: Time stream shenanigans. You would think that this conversation continues in the next post, but it actually continues here: link


:dizzy: Mod Edit: Time stream shenanigans. If you are feeling dizzy and wondering why you suddenly jumped back a few days after the post above this, please jump to this link to correct your timeline: link

I think so but also look at time frame this took place. Apache’s as I understand it are the eyes and ears of the Division moving up that route it was taking so Apache’s were heading up there to scout etc. Now, in today’s immediate environment, there are so many other options like reapers, predators, other drone, scout etc., etc. and now the new Apache E is much more data orientated than this particular one I’m guessing.

1 Like

In a modern IADS the higher you go the more likely you are to get swatted by a double digit SAM system. Small arms and MANPADS are lethal, but you have a better chance than trying to doge an SA-15 with an A-10.

Modern attack helo’s (we’ll go whiskey cobra’s forward) were developed to be a maneuver element versus a CAS platform, and big army peer conflict, doctrinally should be employed as such. There are very few platforms that can hide itself in terrain like and infantryman almost, fire off 8-16 ATGM’s in a matter of minutes, and redeploy tens of kilometers in a matter of minutes to do it again. Pointing an air cav battlation at an enemy motor rifle battalion and saying “kill that” is what they were designed to do. We have used them and view them as some kind of CAS or “flying artillery” due to how they have been used for the last 20 years, but that was actually using them out of their intended roll.

I have some thoughts on their employment in the COIN environment I’ll come back and add later. The short version, we in the west frequently equate a lack of technical sophistication (lack of MANPAD’s, etc) with a lack of tactical sophistication and intelligence. We have made that mistake throughout our military history, and it has cost us.


Purely IMHO, but I think another factor is the ‘military mindset’ and that the key decision makers (Generals, etc), although usually smart people who make good decisions, tend to view things through a ‘last war’ or even the war before that prism:

i.e. in this case - Attack helicopters have always been good (cold war scenarios), so attack helicopters will always be good. Not necessarily the case when some of the fundamental ‘rules’ have changed?

1 Like

I thought the scene in the “Apache Warrior” where the infantry, militia in the Iraqi city the Apaches were flying over pointing their guns up and just firing was pretty smart and organized. Showed creativity where lack of technology was present.

I couldn’t agree more. Some of the most sophisticated intelligence networks I have experience with are those of the ‘other side’. They more than made up for their lack of ‘tech’ and were very good at exploiting our (over)reliance on it.

1 Like

I’d really like to hear this: my system works for A-10,AV-8, F-16/18/15E platforms.

NATO-centric yes but I categorize things as, roughly, slow-fixed wing (think A-10), fast (AV-8) and multirole (others too but not related to this subject). It makes tasking simpler.

This is all pertaining to the past, not present day gear BTW. Think 1960-2000-ish.

I want the Apache in there but don’t have a clear picture of how to task them. I have some, but not many, references to how they were used here and there.

I always fall back to the the fact they are close to the troops; even an A-10, while it can get there faster, and stick around longer (than a Harrier/Viper/Mud Hen/Hornet), it’s still not there when things get funky. And the cycle time (fly there; break things; fly back to rearm/refuel, lather, rinse, repeat) would be longer.


Well, doctrinally they can be. They weren’t originally designed to operate out of FOBs, but FARPs. In a scenario like Team Yankee, they’d be re-arming from forward resupply teams, maybe a dozen klicks behind the line, probably not even shutting down while the folks on the ground shove new TOWs onto the racks.

Weren’t the first shots of Desert Storm fired from Apaches taking out parts of the ADA C2 network?

That’s what I heard/read. So…they have a deep strike mission too :wink:

Mods - we might break this off to a new topic to keep the F1 thread at least moderately on topic?

So as I put in my previous post, doctrinally in the “modern” cold war era, helo gunships (at least in he US) were designed to function as independent maneuver elements on the scale of an armored cavalry battalion. Their job was to find, fix, and kill the enemy, not to support ground troops in the CAS sense. Their job was extremely similar to an armor formations job. They got supporting fires and air assests to support them in this mission just like a tank company would. They could be parceled out like a tank platoon as well, attaching them to a specific unit for a specific mission. The combined arms theory utilized air cav units as basically faster, farther reaching armored units. Create a breakthrough and exploit it to run riot in the enemy’s rear.

Then came the GWOT.

During the initial invasion of both theaters, the employment of helo gunships remained largely unchanged. Find the enemy, fix them, kill them. As the fight settled into COIN operations, things changed. If you want to get in the fight, you don’t accomplish that by saying “that’s not my mission.” We suddenly started dusting off ideas and concepts from Vietnam to start to integrate helicopters into situations that doctrinally they weren’t supposed to be involved in. Grounds force commanders started getting helo’s where they never had them before. This led to new TTP’s, even if doctrine never really changed.

So that brings us to using helo gunships in the COIN environment. The US military against a clearly defined target set is the best in the world at making that target go away. We can remove entire grid squares within a couple hours of tasking, or go into a compound and selectively remove certain individuals. However, when the target set is much less defined, the ability to force project becomes much less one sided. In the GWOT we faced an enemy who had extensive experience in combat. A lot of lessons had been learned during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as well as Vietnam. These would all be put to good use against us.

One of the major issues that bit us in the GWOT, was underestimating our opponents. Yes, compared to a soviet motor rifle regiment, an insurgency is not that big of air defense threat. In the Ukraine right now, we’re seeing just how dangerous the airspace is for helicopters against modern air defense systems. A lot of the helo losses seem to stem from trying to use airpower in a way military’s have been able to against low capability threats, versus how doctrinally air powered was planned to be used. Rather than platoons of Shilkas and SA-13s with MANPADS galore, we faced an enemy with small arms and the occasional heavy machine gun. However, they were able define the battle space on multiple occasions, creating AAA ambushes just like in Vietnam and Afghanistan, that were highly effective.

To the ground forces supporting fires of any type (artillery, air, heck orbital for that matter), exist to provide additional fire power above and beyond the units organic fires. How heavy/effective the fire is, how accurate that fire is, the risk it creates to ground force by its employment, and how fast it can be on target are the major concerns. Attack helicopters score well on all of the metrics a ground force commander looks it. They provide a heavy volume of well-aimed fire, that is precise, and usually highly effective against the targets commonly encountered. If they are close by, they are responsive and get in the fight quickly. Other air assests are usually not as responsive, and don’t usually have the same breadth of ordinance options on board to address threats.

We learned in Vietnam that to support troops on the ground as effectively as possible someone in that “kill chain” has to be close to the fight. This unfortunately puts air assets in the heart of the enemy’s air defense capabilities both in terms of range and effective altitude. If you just need a JDAM dropped on a building a kilometer away, we can do that in almost complete safety. If you need an irrigation ditch suppressed, and it’s 25 meters away from the ground forces that is a much more dangerous proposition.

The “smart” employment of attack helicopters is to keep them back, maximize their weapons and sensor advantages. Unfortunately, this isn’t the most effective form of support for the ground forces. They want up close and personal support and scouting to minimize their risk of being ambushed. As we found in Vietnam and relearned in Vietnam, combining scout assets with attack assests is probably the smartest option. It is still not immune to the AAA ambush but it maximizes the ability to detect it ahead of time, or failing that to fight through it.

For DCS purposes, you have to look at are you trying to emulate how we actually employed helo’s? Or what the “smarter” answer would have been? The first was with the goal of supporting the grunts as much as reasonably possible, the later would be maximizing the effectiveness of the platform while minimizing the risk. If you’re looking at building out decisive engagements against fixed targets, that is another issue, that is much closer to how attack helo’s were designed to be used.


Awesome stuff there dude! And it really helps. As for…

Well, both really. But most of my influence is from research via books, to include ‘official’ documents where publicly available.

I’ve found (and this may not have much to do with the real world - or even be correct) but it is easier to ‘infer’/imply the type of mission for me. Contrived examples is all I can think of right now but:

If your task is to find and kill armor (not counting targets of opportunity) within a grid square one might call that: Armed Recon. Now, where that fits in above I’ve no idea.

If HQ gives you the exact coordinates of, say, some arty - well behind the FLOT I might call that ‘interdiction’.

But, from reading your excellent post, I think my issue was more about “does this sound right - make sense?”. I couldn’t answer that to my own satisfaction ← the real issue. I’ll refer back to this when I add the Apache[1] in. I’ll have more questions then :slight_smile:

[1] It’s actually already ‘in there’ and accounted for like all the rest but the CAS missions is complex nut to crack - to do it justice.

Many thanks

I don’t think I have ever agreed with anything else I have read here as much as I agree with this.

The only thing I would add is that when it comes to COIN Ops. It doesn’t matter if it is a team of ‘door kickers’, JDAM or ‘that one stray round’ from a 155 barrage. If it hits the wrong building it can wipe out months of careful planning and a couple of risky Ops. Such as, hypothetically, spending six months establishing a reliable source only to have them (and their family) taken out. Not because they had been compromised, but because some else had a grudge and wanted to collect a ‘bounty’.

What I’ve always wondered is why the lessons from Vietnam and the Soviet-Afghan War weren’t put to good use against the enemy.

:dizzy: Mod Edit: Time stream shenanigans. To jump to the continuation of this topic, in it’s new location, follow this link: link

Ok. That didn’t work as I hoped it would. For those joining us, this post is at the end of the merge of topics from the original thread. I will add some guidance in the posts above to attempt a correction to the time stream :slight_smile:

Sorry about that. Moving topics from one thread to another doesn’t merge them, but it does append them. I added a few ‘redirect links’ to try and point someone reading this thread fresh, in the correct order. Otherwise, just wave your fingers in front of you in a timey-whimey, stardust sprinkling fashion and pretend that I didn’t put us into a loop.


More of a scout helicopter employment in the COIN environment example, but in Ward Carroll’s recent interview, Casmo discusses a “scout” mission where an army convoy they happened to be flying over was ambushed. Since the convoy vehicles had their frequency printed in large digits on their IFF panels, the Kiowa scouts were able to call up the convoy commander and offer CAS. More on topic, he later discusses a convoy interdiction in the Apache of a suspected Wagner group unit.