ANALYSIS by Spearhead Staff Editors
The video-tape plays back in a grainy black-and-white, a harsh
white moonscape over which crawl the dim shapes of Iraqi vehicles,
barely visible at nearly five kilometers despite the magnification
of the light-gathering and Forward-Looking Infared lenses.
One by one, the square box in the scope narrows onto the moving
target, blinking as it frames the vehicle to indicate laser lock-on.
A few seconds later, the screen flares white before clearing
to reveal a black mushroom cloud, all that's left of the Iraqi
armored crewmen who thought they could sneak away from Kuwait
and live to fight again. Within minutes, dozens of tanks lay
destroyed while the rest of the column is immobile, abandoned
by drivers whose only thought is to be someplace where these
things no longer happen.
If you didn't know it was real, you'd swear it was science
fiction -- a scene from H.G. Wells as the Martians use their
awesomely advanced technology to render earthly defenders powerless
against an onslaught that could be stopped only by an act of
Perhaps Saddam Hussein really believed that his version of
Allah would come to his aid. It was not an opinion widely shared
by Iraqi troops, many of whom surrendered under the relentless
hammering. And it was not a prospect widely feared by Spearhead
crewmen of the 2nd Battalion, 227th Combat Aviation Brigade,
who administered the punishment to the Iraqi armored columns.
Yet short of abandoning their armored vehicles and walking
home, an option many Iraqis chose, only divine intervention offered
escape from the battalion's Apaches. It is a lesson that should
be well heeded by the detractors of Army aviation.
The AH-64 has long been attacked as too expensive, too unreliable,
and too vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire. Combat aviation advocates
should listen to these complaints, certainly, and to the worries
of ground crew who spend long, hard hours keeping the Apache
airborne. Anything can be improved.
But at the same time, critics should now realize that one
$11 million Apache can, and did, destroy $15 million of enemy
armor in a single sortie. They should also note that the extra
flying hours the helicopters logged during Desert Shield and
Desert Storm actually seemed to improve the Apache's reliability.
Gaskets and other key points stay lubricated under continuous
use, but tend to dry and crack under the occasional use of garrison
duty, thereby increasing maintenance and failure rates during
It's also true that very few, if any, Apaches were lost to
ground fire despite operating beyond air cover during critical
missions throughout the war. In fact, Army Apaches from the 1st
Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, conducted the first strike
of the Air War by taking out Iraqi early warning radars deep
inside far Western Iraq. Both sites were destroyed within 30
seconds, allowing waves of Air Force strike aircraft to penetrate
undetected in Desert Storm's first bombing missions. The Apaches
returned without a single loss to hostile fire or to mechanical
While considering cost, critics should consider how expensive
it would have been had American tankers and infantry been forced
to wade into entrenched Iraqi armor without the benefit of Apaches
to locate and hit enfiladed positions from above and from behind.
They should wonder about the expense Iraqis could have inflicted
had they not abandoned their vehicles in horror at the unseen
and unstoppable devastation the choppers inflicted upon their
columns. They should remember that cost is not only dollars spent,
but also lives lost.