Warplanes: March 29, 2002

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The AH-64 Apache attack helicopter was the scapegoat of the Kosovo War. Sent to an isolated airfield with no infrastructure to speak of, the 24 Apaches took far too long to get ready for combat, then were never used after two crashed in training flights. But the story is different in Afghanistan. The Apache can fly from the small captured airfields, not least because it needs less support that jet bombers do. Being based closer, refueled from forward stations that amounted to little more than "a flat spot and a fuel truck", and able to operate in the jagged mountains, the Apache was the most effective air support platform of the later phases of the war. Fitted with advanced sensors and a variety of weapons, Apaches provided the fire support that kept troops moving forward during Operation Anaconda. Jet fighters could not attack targets close to enemy troops, but Apache helicopters, being essentially a ground-maneuver system, could work directly with the troops and provide direct fire on enemy strongpoints. Seven Apaches were committed to one battle, and while none of them were shot down, four were so badly damaged they had to fly back to base for extensive repairs. There were bullet holes in 27 of the 28 rotor blades of the seven helicopters, but all kept flying. In one case, a helicopter was forced to land under enemy fire when a damaged engine leaked oil, but by using the spare oil carried by that Apache and another one, the damaged aircraft was able to take off and make it back to a refueling point.--Stephen V Cole


 


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