Friday, February 9, 2007



Time to leave. Henry_Allen

Questions mount over US helicopter losses
By Rob Watson
Defence and security correspondent, BBC News

Yet another US helicopter has now been lost in Iraq.

This time it was a CH-46 Sea Knight transport helicopter, which came down near


Al-Qaeda in Iraq claims to have brought it down, though the US military has

indicated it may have been mechanical failure.

But whatever the reason, five helicopters have now been lost already this year

with the US admitting at the weekend that the other four had been shot down.

Not surprisingly perhaps two key questions are now being asked.

New techniques?

First, are there any indications that the insurgents in Iraq have decided to

step up attacks on US aircraft?

Second, have they developed new techniques or acquired new equipment to make any

attacks more successful? Both questions are hard to answer definitively.

It is clearly the case that insurgents have wanted to shoot down US helicopters

ever since the invasion in 2003.

Until now the US military has avoided losses by flying low and

fast...but no method is entirely fail-safe

And as the US military does not provide details on the number of attacks on

aircraft it is difficult to know whether or not there has been an upsurge.

Last weekend, a US military spokesman in Iraq Major General William Caldwell

said it was premature to conclude that the threat posed to aircraft by

insurgents had dramatically increased over the last few weeks.

But if it is hard to establish whether there is a new focus on targeting

helicopters, have the insurgents got better at shooting them down?

In the past insurgents have tended to target helicopters using small arms fire,

rocket propelled grenades and shoulder-fired missiles like the Soviet-era SA-7.

Good 'luck'

Certainly some insurgent groups have said they now have new ways to bring down

aircraft, but it is not clear whether it is merely a boast or a reference to new

anti-aircraft missiles.

Military analysts say they have seen no evidence of any new weapons, though they

certainly do not rule the possibility but neither do they rule out the idea that

it may well be just the insurgents good "luck" that accounts for this year's


Relatively speaking the insurgents have had limited success in bringing

helicopters down given the huge number of flights they have flown.

After 1.5 million hours of flying time, some 55 helicopters have been lost since

May 2003, about half to enemy fire according to figures compiled by the

Brookings Institution.

But the US military is not taking any chances. The US command in Iraq has

already ordered changes in flight operations in the face of the recent losses.

Although they will not specify what those changes are, Major General William

Caldwell said the US was "making adjustments in our tactics and techniques and

procedures as to how we employ our helicopters".

There is no doubt helicopters are vulnerable if they can been seen and if

enemies have the right weapons. Until now the US military has avoided losses by

flying low and fast and by varying the routes and time of travel, but no method

is entirely fail-safe.

What is also not in doubt is the importance of helicopters to US forces in Iraq.

With travel by road long considered the most dangerous option helicopters have

been the mainstay for getting around Iraq quickly and relatively safely.

It is hardly surprising the insurgents would want to make life as difficult for

American forces in the air as it is for them on the ground.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/02/07 18:30:07 GMT


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