Murphy's Law: Survival Outranks Politics

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July 20, 2016: While not much publicized, the United States has agreed to provide a dozen or more AH-64 helicopter gunships and about as many HIMARS rocket launchers to support Iraqi combat operations. Iraqi politicians, mainly the pro-Iranian ones, had opposed the use of HIMARS and AH-64s in western Iraq (Anbar province) to retake Ramadi and Fallujah. But Mosul is a much larger operation and the need for success is more urgent. Survival outranks political preferences.

Some AH-64s have been in Iraq for nearly a year but they have been confined to protecting major Iraqi bases where most of the 8,000 American troops in Iraq are based. Now the Iraqis want the AH-64s to help out with the planned offensive to drive ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) out of Mosul by the end of the year. The 10 ton AH-64E will be used. This is the latest model of the AH-64 and carries a pilot and a weapons officer, as well as up to 16 Hellfire missiles (plus the 30mm automatic cannon). Sorties average three hours. The AH-64E can operate at night and has a top speed of 260 kilometers an hour. Egypt, the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and neighboring Saudi Arabia have all received the AH-64E and speak very highly of it. Compared to the earlier D model the AH-64Es have more powerful and fuel efficient engines, as well as much improved electronics. AH-64Es also have Internet- like capabilities enabling these gunships to quickly exchange images, video, and so on with other aircraft and ground troops. Each AH-64E can also control several UAVs and launch missiles at targets spotted by these UAVs. The AH-64E radar has longer range and onboard computers are much more powerful than earlier ones. The electronics are easier to upgrade and maintain. The combination of improved fire control and Internet capabilities greatly increases the combat effectiveness of the AH-64.

HIMARS is another weapon popular with nearby states. The UAE has bought dozens of HIMARS rocket launcher vehicles from the United States since 2006. UAE has also bought over a hundred of the larger, longer (300 kilometers) range ATACMS rockets for HIMARS. Each ATACMS takes up an entire pod and each ATACMS carries 300 smaller bombs that can destroy armored vehicles or personnel. The usual armament of HIMARS is a single pod each with six GMLRS (GPS guided multiple launch rocket system) rockets. The key to the combat success of HIMARS is its use of the 227mm diameter 309 kg (680 pound) GMLRS GPS guided rocket. GMLRS was first used in 2004 and has a range of 85 kilometers and the ability to land within meters of its intended target at any range. This is because of the GPS, plus a less accurate back up inertial guidance system, ability to find its target. Most users buy the rockets equipped with an 82 kg (180 pound) high explosive warhead.

HIMARS is a cheaper and lighter version of the original MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System). HIMARS is a truck mounted launcher, with each vehicle carrying only one six rocket pod (instead of two in the original MLRS). The 12 ton truck can fit into a C-130 transport (unlike the 22 ton tracked MLRS vehicle). The first of the initial 900 HIMARS vehicles were issued to American combat units in 2004. The U.S. Army is using most of the HIMARS, with the marines getting the rest. UAE is one of a growing number of export customers.

 


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