Air Defense: When Bullets Won't Work


September 19, 2007: On September 12th, a U.S. MC-130 transport was hit by rifle fire while dropping six tons of food supplies to a besieged Mali army garrison. The MC-130, a SOCOM version of the C-130 transport, suffered minor damage to the hull. It's virtually impossible to bring down, or even seriously damage, an aircraft like the 40 ton, four engine, C-130, with rifle, or light machine-gun, fire. A heavy machine-gun (12.7mm or larger) might take out an engine or two, or even injure some of the crew, but is also unlikely to bring a large aircraft down. The MC-130 must have been flying relatively low for a rifle bullet to even register a hit. Apparently, the GPS guided parachutes were not used for the drop. These devices allow the aircraft to make the drop at high altitude, and far away from the landing point.

The army base, near the Algerian border, has been under siege by Tuareg rebels. The, Tuaregs like the Kurds, are an ancient people with tribes in several North African countries. The Tuareg, who are related to the Berbers in Algeria, and more distantly to the ancient Egyptians, have been fighting for centuries to establish their own country. They long ago learned that, if you fire at unwelcome aircraft, you will at least encourage them to fly away.

During World War II, the Russians developed a tactic to bringing down low flying fighters. Troops were trained, upon hearing the order, to fire their weapons into the air. A strafing fighter, flying through such a wall of bullets, would often suffer serious damage to the engine or flight controls. In practical terms, this tactic did not bring down a lot of aircraft, but it was good for morale when the enemy had warplanes attacking your troops. And the incidents where the massed fire did bring down an aircraft, spread far and quick among the troops.


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