View Full Version : Apache Flaws Stem from Doctrine and Tactics

07-11-03, 06:15 AM

Guest Column: Apache Flaws Stem from Doctrine and Tactics

By Maj. Wade Hasle, USMC

Editor’s Note: The following is a letter sent to the editor of Rotor & Wing magazine in response to a column that appeared in a previous issue. The original column is not available online, but this letter was and is worth sharing. The author, a Marine aviator, offers his views on the differences in performance between Marine Corps AH-1Ws and Army AH-64s.

Accolades to Giovanni de Briganti for his column, “Iraq: Apaches in Question – Again.” Having studied the topic of the operational effectiveness of the AH-64 Apache and AH-1W Super Cobra for a number of years, I have a few insights that can enlighten the debate.

First and foremost, the AH-64 is a very capable platform. Mr. De Briganti’s statements to the contrary, Apache weaknesses and potential failures need to be placed in a proper context. That context is in comparison to America’s other attack helicopter, the AH-1W Super Cobra. He was on the right track when he compared mishap rates, pilot proficiency and training between the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps, but the answer is much more complex.

This poignant and otherwise overlooked comparison is the first I have ever seen in public print. Finally, we might have an open forum on the subject.

One for one, the Apache has a better forward-looking infrared (flir), greater fuel capacity and increased maneuverability, and basically brings more ordnance to the fight when compared to the Super Cobra. Apaches also possess an advantage in crashworthy seats and landing gear. U.S. Marine AH-1Ws may not measure up as well on paper, but maintain strong advantages in other areas.

The Apache received a lot of bad press over the years, starting with Task Force Hawk. None of the information I have read, heard or discussed with those present then ever put the Apache at fault. To understand why there have been problems, one must not look at the aircraft but Army policies, doctrine and training.

It took months to get Task Force Hawk into theater. Delays had to do with the relatively large size, transportation and force protection of Task Force Hawk. Once in Albania, the crews began training in a demanding mountain environment with which they were not familiar. Coupling this unfamiliarity with training at night and with unfamiliar night vision goggles (NVGs) made it even tougher. Two resulting crashes on which the media focused were not because of aircraft weaknesses, but a lack of proper preparation and training time for the Apache crews.

In contrast, the AH-1W crews are extremely familiar with and rely only on NVGs for night operations. NVGs are better than IR imagery in tricky maritime environments. (The Apache’s back seat flir monocle would not work from the deck of a ship in inclement weather.) This reliance on NVGs allows the AH-1W crews to see identical perspectives from identical devices. Having both pilots on NVGs can be a crew coordination advantage not enjoyed by a crew of Apache pilots using two different systems (flir and NVGs).

The NVG experience of the Marine crews would definitely have helped Task Force Hawk crews. Also, training is always a two-way street. The Marines would have gained valuable lessons from the soldiers.

Another question should be raised. Why wasn’t the Aviation Combat Element of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), which carried a detachment of AH-1Ws and UH-1Ns, [permitted] to train alongside Task Force Hawk? Ultimately, it was the lack of ground forces engaged in combat and not the crashes that prevented the use of both AH-64s and AH-1Ws. It would have been a hard fight for both attack helicopter variants, if we had actually used them.

In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the media focused on the Apaches’ large amount of battle damage. Apaches are the scapegoats of a weak doctrine. The Army exercises Apache units as maneuver elements in a deep air support: air interdiction (DAS:AI) role. AH-1W crews train for DAS:AI missions but the likelihood of actual execution is relatively remote. Instead, the AH-1W’s primary mission is that of close air support (CAS).

Marines tend to reduce a target using combined arms, an approach in which the AH-1W is only one element of a larger supporting picture. Targets are caught between simultaneous direct and indirect fire from both air and ground. Combined arms keep the enemy pinned down and incapable of returning fire upon attacking aircraft.

The Marines do not possess the assets to employ 30 attack helicopters in a fashion similar to Army forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom at Karbala Gap, nor would the Corps with its present doctrine. Sending Apaches “alone and unafraid” on a DAS:AI mission to engage the enemy is not wise.

Returning with more than 90 percent of the aircraft battle-damaged, with only one lost, is more of a testament to the aircraft and crews’ strength than weakness. If this report is indeed true (as I can only ascertain information from public media sources, as Mr. de Briganti does), failure lies not with the aircraft, but with doctrine and employment of them. The Army needs to revisit potential roles of its attack helicopters. The Apache was not nor will it ever be a single point of failure.

Mr. de Briganti poses the question of training and proficiency differences between the Super Cobra and Apache crews. As a whole, Army warrant officers have more flight hours than Marine commissioned officers. The Army historically has had a lower mishap rate than the Marines. So a lack of Apache pilot proficiency isn't the answer. The answer, I do believe, lies within the training. The differences in the services’ approach to training are huge and varied, but a few points are worth mentioning.

Differences begin with the crews. Marines train to operate and fly from either seat in the AH-1W. Army policy dictates that AH-64A Apache crews train in one seat. There are dozens of pilots in the Army that have ratings in both seats, but not the 100 percent level Marines can claim. From a Marine’s perspective, this seating advantage rounds out the pilot’s skill and experience level. As I understand it, the AH-64D has a common cockpit. This might allow future seating flexibility, if the Army chooses to use it.

There is a huge rift in tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). The Army tends to focus on hover fire. This seems to be a result of a few factors. First, the Apache has the power to hover with 16 Hellfire missiles. Second, hovering is easier for ordnance-delivery training. Third, Army ranges are overly strict with live-fire procedures, keeping maneuver space to a minimum.

Marine AH-1W tactics, techniques and procedures focus on running fire as much as, if not more than, hover fire. This is not to say that Marine tactics, techniques, and procedures are superior. Rather, the constant movement of AH-1Ws is due to other potential missions that include CAS, DAS, Forward Air Controller (Airborne), Escort, and Air-to-Air. Having these abilities forces Marine AH-1Ws to move about the battlefield in response to support requirements. Also, AH-1Ws are employed as divisions of four using fixed-wing-like maneuvers rather than large flights firing abreast. All of this helps improve their survivability.

Apache crews appear to be learning the virtues of running fire. Reports from Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan and even Operation Iraqi Freedom attest to the rule that speed is life. We must face the facts. Any helicopter is obsolete on the modern battlefield if used unwisely. A $20-million Apache is no different.

Probably the largest impact on the perceived difference described by Mr. de Briganti between AH-64 and AH-1W combat results can be attributed to the Marines’ training and readiness syllabus. It raises an inexperienced pilot from initial instruction through five distinct levels of training to that of an instructor. Each event has completely defined lessons, briefing requirements and execution standards. It is thorough, with room for flexibility, and uses a building-block approach toward flight leadership. Compared to the Army’s essential task training (as explained to me by many Apache pilots), the Marines clearly have the upper hand.

What does the answer boil down to? It lies not with the Apache, but with a lack of proper Army doctrine and realistic tactics, techniques and procedures. My objective is not to preach Marine superiority, but to provide a different slant. The Army has many strengths, including a promising integrated simulation plan for pilots and realistic force-on-force training. These are programs from which the Corps can learn.

Apache pilots are extremely dedicated warriors. This letter is not to denigrate their efforts in any way. We have much to gain from each other.

Each service will learn from the war on terrorism, but only those who apply what is learned will win.

Maj. Wade Hasle, USMC is AH-1Z Operational Test Director at NAS Patuxent River, Md.