Jewish World Review Feb. 24, 2004 / 2 Adar, 5764
Operation Iraqi Freedom was an overwhelming but not a complete
demonstration of the superiority of American arms and tactics. We did
suffer one defeat at the hands of the Iraqis, a defeat about which we should
be more concerned than it appears we are.
On the night of March 23rd, 2003, the 32 Apache Longbow helicopters of the
11th Aviation Regiment launched an attack on a brigade of the Medina
Republican Guard division, which was dug in near the Karbala Gap.
The defenders were alerted that the Apaches were coming by an Iraqi general
in the town of Najaf, which the Apaches overflew on their way to Karbala.
That general used his cell phone to speed dial Medina division commanders to
let them know the Apaches were on their way. They were greeted by a hail of
Only one Apache was shot down. (It's pilots were captured, and later
rescued.) But nearly all the other helicopters suffered sufficient damage
to render the Apaches "not mission capable" for days, in some cases weeks.
The Iraqis had night vision goggles (supplied by our friends, the Russians,
on the eve of the war), but for the most part their anti-aircraft weapons
were unsophisticated machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and AK-47
The debacle the night of March 23rd produced an immediate change in tactics.
Thereafter, Apaches were not used until after Iraqi air defenses had been
suppressed by fixed wing Air Force aircraft, chiefly the A-10 Thunderbolt
But the Army has yet to come to grips with the inherent vulnerabilities of
attack helicopters. The A-10, like the Apache, was designed chiefly to kill
Russian tanks. But the A-10 is cheaper to buy and cheaper to maintain than
the Apache, and much less vulnerable to small arms fire.
Though we spend more on defense than the next seven nations combined, our
troops often go without stuff they really need because so much money is
poured down expensive rat holes. A grotesque portion of the Army's budget
is devoted to Army aviation. We would be better served with fewer attack
helicopters, and a more nimble successor to the A-10.
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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a
deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan
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