Tuesday, January 17, 2006

'Aerial IEDs' Target U.S. Copters

By Greg Grant
Defense News
January 16, 2006

Insurgents are attacking U.S. helicopters in Iraq with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that leap into the air and detonate when an aircraft passes nearby, said a U.S. Army aviation general.

Insurgents, who place these aerial IEDs along known flight paths, trigger them when American helicopters come along at the typical altitude of just above the rooftops. The devices shoot 50 feet into the air, and a proximity fuze touches off a warhead that sprays metal fragments, said Brig. Gen. Edward Sinclair, commander of the Army’s Aviation Center at Fort Rucker, Ala.

The bomb-builders may be obtaining radio-guided proximity fuzes from old Iraqi anti-aircraft and artillery shells and mortar rounds.

Sinclair said these aerial IEDs have been used against multiple U.S. helicopters. He declined to say whether such IEDs had damaged any aircraft.

The new weapon is one way insurgents are taking on Army aircraft, which come under fire between 15 and 20 times a month, Sinclair said. Other methods include small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and advanced shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles.

“The enemy is adaptive,” Sinclair said. “They make changes in the way they fight; they respond to new flying tactics.”

The insurgents have even used conventional roadside bombs against medevac helicopters, he said.

The basic medevac ambush works like this: Insurgents attack an American patrol with an IED, inflicting casualties. When a medevac helicopter touches down on one of several nearby landing zones, the insurgents detonate preplaced bombs.

The Army has lost more than one helicopter in such medevac ambushes, according to U.S. military officials in Iraq.

The service is responding by altering its flight paths and seeking technological defenses, Sinclair said.

In 2003, Sinclair formed an Army Shoot Down Analysis Team to study trends in insurgent tactics and weapons. Launched after enemy missiles downed three Army helicopters, the team recommended new flight tactics and high-tech countermeasures — especially against shoulder-fired missiles.

After the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the Army rushed cockpit missile warning systems and advanced countermeasures dispensers to equip all its helicopters in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army has so far spent $1.5 billion on technological countermeasures.

Meanwhile, Army leaders are working to find money to replace helicopters that have crashed or have been shot down in theater. Close-air support missions and an operational tempo five times that of peacetime flying have taken their toll.

Since 2003, the service has already received $2.6 billion in emergency funding to replace worn out or damaged helicopters. The money will buy 16 Apache attack helicopters, among other things.

Army officials said they are seeking additional supplemental funds for a further 100 aircraft to replace at least that many that have been lost to combat and accidents.

An industry source said that figure could include up to 30 Apaches.

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