Military Review, March 1979. Lieutenant Colonel Retsae H. Miller, U.S. Army is with the Department of Tactics, USA CGSC. He received a BA from the University of Miami and an M. A from Webster College and is a graduate of the USA CGSC. He has commanded Air Cavalry and Assault helicopter units and served with Air Assault Infantry. Assignments include service with the 1st Cavalry and 10lst Airborne Divisions in Vietnam and with the Army Sectton, U.S. Military Group, Honduras
The United States emerged from the Vietnam conflict as the undisputed expert in tactical employment of helicopters. However, the Soviets appreciated the role of helicopters in future warfare and are rapidly expanding their use of attack helicopters and airmobile forces. In an oversimplified way, our doctrine calls for the Army to win the ground battle and the Air Force to win the air battle. But there is a gray area: the 100 feet above the battlefield.

There is where the helicopters will be flying.

What happens if the Soviets use their attack helicopters in an air-to-air role against our attack helicopters waiting to pounce on their massed armored and mechanized units?

In the event of a Soviet Airmobile assault, do our helicopters attack the Soviet helicopters, or do they continue to fight the battle to our front?

If we are to win the land battle, we must have air-superiority at the treetops. Within present dollar constraints, what can we do? One answer is to equip our Advanced Scout Helicopters (ASHs) with air-to-air weapons, in this way, the ASH can provide our attack helicopters security against Soviet attack helicopter, become a potent weanon against Soviet airmobile forces and continue its role as scout. A larger question remains unresolved: Do we have the time and funds to go through a long and expensive research and development cycle, or would an off-the-shelf commercial helicopter be just as effective once it has been militarized?

[Editor: the current ASH, the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior has air-to-air Stinger missiles and is the off-the-shelf answer for now. The RAH-66 Comanche is the expensive R&D answer which struggles to remain funded]

World War I introduced three very lethal weapons. They were the machinegun, the tank and the airplane. German military planners were quick to realize the impact of these systems. Between World Wars I and II, the German Army refined its concept of warfare and built its ground forces around the mass employment of mechanized forces. One only has to look to the successes of Rommel and Guderian to realize the extent to which the German High Command had adopted the use of these new tactics and weapons. In contrast, only a few far-sighted individuals in the U.S. Army such as George S. Patton Jr. had fully realized the impact that armor was to have on future warfare.

In South Vietnam, the U.S. Army quickly embraced the concept of air-mobile warfare. Tactical necessity and the obvious advantages to be gained by using the helicopter to provide both firepower and mobility in a war that was classified "low intensity" overcame previous prejudices toward helicopter vulnerabilities. The United States emerged out of Vietnam as the world's leader in helicopter warfare. However, as the emphasis shifted from the rice paddies of Vietnam to the complex problems associated with fighting in Europe, the U.S. Army began again to question the survivability of helicopters in combat. Forgotten were the previously favorable findings of the Howze Board and 11th Air Assault tests of the early 1960s that examined the use of helicopter-borne forces in mid-intensity conflict even though these findings were verified in actual combat. In conditions approximating mid-intensity warfare, as experienced in Lam Son 719 and An Loc, we learned that helicopters could survive if flown in the "nap of the earth" and equipped with aircraft survivability equipment. These findings were further substantiated by tests conducted at Fort Hood, Texas, by Project MASSTER.

The "nap-of-the-earth" envelope limited helicopters to a relatively small layer of maneuver area determined to be that air space that begins just a few feet above the ground and extends upward to approximately 100 feet. Because of the lethality of air defense systems, it is now a foregone conclusion that all helicopters, friendly and enemy, will have to operate in this portion of the atmosphere. As the German High Command realized the importance of armor before World War II, NATO's potential adversary, the Soviet Union, has realized the importance of the role of the helicopter in future warfare. The Soviets' use of both attack helicopters and airmobile forces is expanding at an alarming rate. This implies that NATO's use of the air space at or near the treetops could be hotly contested by Warsaw Pact helicopter forces if hostilities were to erupt.

[Editor: since this article was written the Russians have fielded an Air superiority helicopter, the Ka-50 Wherewolf]

It must be realized now by U.S. planners and our NATO allies that the helicopter will have a significant impact on winning or losing the land battle. This means that our helicopter systems, doctrine, force structure and training must concentrate, on winning the helicopter battle in order to ensure success on the ground. In order to accomplish this, we must gain and maintain air superiority at the treetops.

To what extent does the Soviet Union appreciate the advantages gained by the helicopter and air-mobility?

The recent Ogaden War in Ethiopia supplies the answer.

Small AFVs like the ASU-57 and BMD can be carried inside the MI-6 Hook and its successsor the MI-26 HALO

Small AFVs like this ASU-57 can be carried INSIDE heavy lift helicopters

Soviet Mi-6 helicopters supported the Cuban-Soviet attack against Somali forces by flying troops, supplies and equipment over the Ahmar Mountains. Some observers reported the transportation of PT-76 tanks by these helicopters. The entire operation was a coordinated combined-arms attack using armor, massed artillery, tactical air and helicopters to envelop the Somali strong point in the vicinity of Jijiga.

I quoted an Arab military attache' as saying:

"it was over almost before it started. It was the kind of maneuver that up to now has been done only on paper maps in staff colleges."

The implications are ominous.

In this age of systems analysis of tomorrow's possible battlefield in Europe, combined arms planners have attempted to find the best solution to the complex problem of fighting out-numbered and winning. Allocations of NATO ground combat power versus Warsaw Pact ground combat power have been closely scrutized in order to maximize effectiveness and reduce the risks of defeat. The emergence of the active defense has been the fallout of this scrutiny. It is apparent that Air Force planners have applied themselves to the tasks of developing tactics to be employed in winning the air battle in Europe. Emphasis has been placed by Air Force planners on fighting air battles above 100 feet and by Army planners on conducting ground combat, but who is looking from ground level to 100 feet! Exactly how will we fight in this vital area of the battlefield?

The JAWS (Joint Air WeaponS exercise) that resulted in a draft manua] entitled Joint Air Attack Team major Tactics (JAA TT) is the first step toward achieving an understanding of how. we should use this air space to our best tactical advantage. Air-to-air engagements by helicopters were examined by the U.S. Army Aviation Center during the ACE (Air Combat Engagements) studies' conducted at Fort Rucker, Alabama, in the fall of 1977. The result was the funding of a joint project (Air Force and Army) entitled J-CATCH (Joint Countering of Attack Helicopters). This project has been tasked with the development of methods of countering the growing Soviet armed helicopter threat. In order to gather additional insights into the relative value of this air space, let's examine several scenarios in which our attack helicopters are employed as a combat multiplier to provide the flexible response vital to the conduct of the active defense. Upon completion of the description of each vignette, we will attempt. to assess the impact of the introduction of Soviet attack helicopters into these situations.

Scenario One
A U.S. mechanized division is conducting an active defense along a 100-kilometer froht. The division has established a combined arms task force as its covering force. Helicopter killing zones were established forward of the covering force's battle positions: The division's two attack helicopter companies have been placed under operational control of the covering force commander. Notification of attacking enemy columns and their lengths, direction and speed has been passed to the covering force commander who launches his two attack helicopter companies. The companies' mission is to engage a motorized rifle regiment that is now approaching the kill zone that was established on the most dangerous avenue of approach.

The two attack helicopter companies are vectored to attack positions by SOTAS. (Standoff Target Acquisition System) and attack upon notification that the regiment is in the zone. Attack ships firing 2.75-inch multi-purpose rockets begin the attack by saturating the enemy column in order to degrade or destroy the enemy's air defense umbrella. As the last sup-pression rockets explode, TOW firing helicopters press their attack from their positions around the kill zone.

The attack is completed in less than 30 minutes, and the helicopters withdraw to rearm, refuel and prepare for further commitments.

What if Soviet attack helicopters were employed to the front and flanks of this column as a security element?

Or what if manpads were employed in overwatch positions as the column moved toward and through the kill zone? It is unlikely that a surprise attack by our helicopters would be feasible.

Or what if our attacking helicopters were counter-attacked by Soviet attack helicopters during the engagement?

The resulting U.S. helicopter losses probably would be unacceptable. In other words, the attacking enemy motorized rifle regiment would close at full strength with our covering force element.

Scenario Two
Enemy, forces have forced the withdrawal of the covering force and are now attempting to conduct a breakthrough of of the main battle area. The U.S. division commander has identified the area in which the enemy will attempt his breakthrough. He is attempting to meet this threat with a 3-to-1 combat ratio and is shifting forces laterally to achieve this objective. In order to gain time to accomplish his realignment of forces, he now employs his two attack helicopter companies on the flanks of the massing enemy echelons. Unopposed by other aerial syetems, the attack helicopters engage the enemy along with the integrated fires of artillery, tanks, ground guided missile systems and A-10 close support aircraft. It is probable that the U.S. ground commander could reposition his maneuver elements during this time and prepare to prevent the breakthrough.

This situation could be changed drastically by the entrance of enemy attack helicopters. Our attacking helicopters could be totally neutralized if they were attacked while attempting to destroy the enemy's massing armor. In addition, the enemy helicopters would be free to roam in our rear areas and could destroy targets of opportunity at will.

Scenario Three
During the enemy's buildup and eventual massed armor and mechanized attack, he launched large numbers of Hip troop-carrying helicopters accompanied by MI-6 heavy lift helicopters carrying BMDs and PT76 tanks internal and escorted by Hind attack helicopters.

Even though he sustained 30-percent losses, the enemy inserted a force equivalent to a motorized rifle division behind the main battle area.

The U.S. division commander is now in the position that French forces defending the Maginot line found themselves at the beginning of World War II- that of fighting in two directions simultaneously while oriented to fight only in one direction. By using the principles of mass, mobillty and surprise, the enemy used vertical envelopment by motorized forces to reduce the combat power of our forces in the main battle area.

Without the means to counter such forces, the outcome of this situation should he obvious.

How Should We Proceed?
Recent simulator studies imply that the most efficient counter-system to an attack helicopter is another attack helicopter. If air superiority at the treetops is vital to winning and the most effective counter-system to the helicopter is another helicopter, air-to-air engagements between helicopters are inevitable on any future European battlefield involving NATO and Warsaw Pact armies.

Based on preliminary in-vestigations, it also can be expected that helicopter air-to-air engagements at the treetop level will be fleeting, violent, intense and of short duration. This means that detection, speed and maneuverability PLUS accurate, long-range destructive weapons systems will be key factors toward winning victories in the air space just above the treetops.

What must we do? We could increase our buy of the incoming AH-64 advanced attack helicopter with its basic weapons system, Hellfire, or we could increase the purchase of additional AH-1 TOW Cobras. Both of these helicopters could prove to be effective helicopter killers.

Will present dollar constraints support either course of action? The question really should be "Can we not afford to field adequate helicopter countermeasures?" By the mid to late 1980s, the U.S. Army should have in its inventory the total quantities of AH-64 and AH-1S attack helicopters programed for purchase to meet force structure requirements. Attack helicopters and air cavalry units have been programed to offset superior numbers of armor and motorized rifle elements of the Warsaw Pact. Given the additional requirement of providing a defensive capability against Soviet attack helicopters, will there be adequate U.S. helicopters to engage enemy armor while employing a portion of these attack helicopter in an overwatch security role?

The threat will demand that helicopter security fqrces be employed to protect those helicopters that are engaging armor targets. Additionally, a large numbers of attack helicopters will be required to meet enemy air-mobile forces to destroy these forces before they reach their objectives. All of these factors imply that and increase in the numbers of attack helicopters is not only justified but is a necessary element of survival.

20 x ASH*
8 x UH-60S w/4 TOWS(1O per platoon)
4 Dragons
8 Motorcycles
8 Ground Lightweight Laser Designators
*Each aircraft equipped with 10 to 12 air-to-air missiles

How can this be accomplished in a climate of severe funding constraints? In addition to the ongoing purchases of AH-64 and AH-1S attack helicopters, could we not increase the numbers of attack aircraft by arming future scout aircraft?

In the spring of 1978, a consensus was reached by the attendees at the Aviation Employment Conference that a definite requirement exists for an Advanced Scout Helicopter (ASH). Agreement could not be reached as to whether it should be armed or unarmed. All agreed that it should be equipped with the Target Acquisition/Detection system (TADS) and with the pilot night vision system viability equipment increased weight requirements to 7,000 pounds. (This approximates the size of the UH-1H.)

Development of the ASH also implies large expenditures of research and development dollars and years of waiting before ASH becomes a reality. Balancing dollar constraints against the urgent need of increasing our attack helicopter fleet, where can we make tradeoffs? Should we not rethink the ASH's mission and design requirements? Could the ASH provide the increase in attack capability while still performing its traditional role as a scout? How survivable must the ASH be? If the decision were to arm the

2.75, TOW Cobras or Hellfire Suppression - + eqwpped AH64 hrlnrj heltc" pters attack hekcopters * 'ASH Overwatch ASH Overwatch AS} I. wh, lt nrm: lrnc, nt would he the prt~ viding :1 small TOW- equipped ' ol~, st t, ff'txtive'? Ih, we w[{ IIY need t{] helieor) ter for the Ilepuhiic of Korea. un( l(~ rgll exh: tustivc, research and (lt, v(, l{ lpm(, nt, {) r (LI) U II{ an off- the sht, lf hellc{~ pt~ r s( itl> f'y our need'! It is un-dcrsto{ jd that many alternatives rtin~ in~ fr[~ m off" tht, shelf thn] ugh new d{+{~ l{] pn] ent currentlv are bwng stu[ lit,( l l)} th(~ I) epa; tment of the Army. It is imperative that we forcgO rtw,; lr( h and IIf, veloprnent and seek an adv~] nrwl stout aircraft that could he lmrchaswl off the, shelf and a~ med with [ilrt( l- air miisilm. The ASfl would h: ivt, to IN, e( luippecl with a radar rivtv[ tit) n system t& t would permit I e: ll' y w: lrning and long- range ~nga~ cmcmt of' enemy helicopters. Ad-ditl~ lnally, it must be highly m~{ ncu~ 'er: ll) le and capable of high tlirsjw(,[ ls (shove 150 miles per hour):
At present, Hughes Aircraft's helicopter is a modified version of its civilian counterpart, the MD. The MD500 is capable of lifting a useful load 2,000 pounds (internal or external), flying at 175 miles per hour, and has a fuel endurance of three and one-half hours. On the international market, the Augsta A109 and BO105 are in production and possess similar characteristics.

The fact remains that an off-the-shelf helicopter with the required capabilities exists and could be equipped with a lightweight helicopter radar detector, a miniaturized TADS PNVS system, survivability equipment and air-to-air missiles. Its primary armed mission would be to intercept and destroy enemy helicopters. Other missions to be performed would be that of a scout. The ASH so equipped would be the nucleus around which we could reorganize air cavalry units. The air cavalry troop could be reorganized as shown in Figure 1.

The air cavalry's mission would remain reconnaissance and se curity, with increased emphasis on security. The security mission would require the employment of ASH, armed with air- to-air missiles, in overwatch positions when attack helicopters (AH-1S or AH-64s) were conducting their attacks on armor targets. This would prevent surprise attack by enemy helicopters. In vignette one, we described the surprise attack on an enemy armored column forward of the covering force.

Now let's add ASH employed in its security role. Helicopters could be positioned as depicted in Figure 2.

This attack could be enhanced further by adding A-1O close support ships to ensure armor kills and perhaps increase protection from other AIR SUPERIORITY enemy aerial weapons systems. In the event of the launch of massive air-mobile forces as described in scenario three, the ASH, AH-1S and AH-64 could be employed to destroy these forces while en route to their objective areas.

The use of the air space just above ground maneuver systems is critical to winning on tomorrow's battlefield. We must take immediate steps to ensure that we have the capabilities to control this area of the battlefield. Our potential adversaries have recognized its importance and, as indicated by the Ethiopian experience, are moving toward expert use of this air space to gain dramatic tactical advantages. In all probability, he who fails to win air superiority at the treetops will fail to win the war.


"I wrote a letter to Armor mag about our need for a light tank like the PT-76 after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I sent along a picture from a newspaper article showing a long line of Soviet vehicles (10 or so) being transported by helicopter (sling loaded). Most were wheeled but two were PT-76s. I pointed out we had nothing like it and it had proved to be very effective in VN when used by the NVA. It could cross any terrain in the country and carry 8 to ten NVA inf. on the deck. I recommended that we by something along the lines of the SADF Eland armed with a 90mm cannon that had destroyed hundreds of tanks in Mozambique.

Although it didn't appear in the mag, I did get a letter from a Col. stating that the HMMWV would be able to perform all the missions I was talking about. He said they were going to put an armored cab and turret on some of them.