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.