Air Defense: Hamas Gets Bigger Guns


March 17,2008: Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas has smuggled at least a dozen Russian KPV 14.5mm machine-guns into Gaza (through tunnels from Egypt). This now enables Hamas to threaten Israeli helicopters, which have been largely immune from smaller caliber (7.62mm) machine-gun fire, and RPG rockets. In the few weeks that the 14.5mm weapons have been active in Gaza, one Israeli helicopter hass been damaged by 14.5mm fire.

The 14.5mm machine-gun was developed during World War II, as an anti-aircraft weapon mounted on Russian tanks. It has continued to be a standard weapon on Russian armored vehicles, being used against ground targets most of the time. The KPV weighs 108 pounds (without tripod or vehicle mount.) It can fire about ten rounds per second, and usually has a belt of 40-50 rounds. So the gunner has 4-5 seconds of fire, before having to load another belt (which can take ten seconds or more).

What Hamas is trying to do is emulate some Iraqi Sunni Arabs who, a year or so ago, used truck mounted 14.5mm machine-guns to ambush U.S. helicopters. In the space of a few months, half a dozen American choppers were downed, partly because some pilots followed the same route too many times. Thus, multiple machine-guns, including at least one heavy machine-gun could be placed along the route used by helicopters, and fired in a coordinated matter. This tactic is called "flak trap," and dates back to World War II (or earlier). This tactic works if you can use surprise, and the concealed, truck mounted, heavy machine-guns did that.

Over the last half century, the most dangerous anti-aircraft weapon has been the machine-gun. However, aircraft losses to ground fire have been declining, at least for the U.S. and Israel, for decades. This is mainly because of good defensive tactics.

Since 2003, the United States has lost 40 helicopters in Iraq to ground fire. In Vietnam (1966-71), 2,076 helicopters were lost to enemy fire (and 2,566 to non-combat losses). In Vietnam, helicopters flew 36 million sorties (over 20 million flight hours). In Vietnam, helicopters were about twice as likely, compared to Iraq, to get brought down by enemy fire. As in Iraq, the main weapons doing this were machine-guns. Today's helicopters are more robust, partly because of Vietnam experience, and are more likely to stay in the air when hit, and land, rather than crash.

Israeli helicopters spend most of their time at a high enough altitude (a few thousand feet) to be immune from 7.62mm (AK-47 and machine-gun) bullets, or RPG rockets. But the 14.5mm machine-gun has a range of nearly 5,000 feet. The bullets weigh over two ounces (about 8 times as much as a 7.62mm one), but so far, only one Israeli helicopter has been hit, and was able to fly back to its base.

The U.S. turned the tables on the terrorists who came after their helicopters with truck mounted 14.5mm machine-guns. Using UAVs and electronic intelligence collection, the trucks were located, ambushed and destroyed. The Israelis will do the same thing, even though Hamas will probably have their 14.5mm weapons operating from residential neighborhoods. This causes the Israelis to be more careful in how they take their shot, usually with Hellfire missiles. But Hamas wants civilian casualties, as they make for great propaganda.




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