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Saturday, April 24, 1999 Published at 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK

World: Europe

Analysis: How good are the Apaches?

Apache attack helicopter: A fearsome reputation

By Defence Analyst Nick Childs

The Apache helicopters sent to Albania to assist in the air assault on Yugoslavia are a fearsome spectacle with a fearsome reputation.

Kosovo: Special Report
Their makers say they are the most advanced, combat-proven attacks helicopters in the world and they will certainly add a new dimension to Nato's air campaign.

"Our task specifically is to engage and destroy enemy ground mechanised armoured and personnel targets," said Captain Mark Arden of the US Army.

"I am confident that we're going to conduct our mission to the best of our abilities and I think we will do well. The Apache is the most lethal weapons system devised to engage ground targets in the world."

Arden: "We will do well"
The Apache can fly day or night, using laser and infra-red targetting systems. The crew use night-vision goggles. The helicopters can carry 16 laser-guided missiles, up to 76 other rockets, and a rapid-fire cannon.

Gulf War record

[ image: Heavily-armed with rockets]
Heavily-armed with rockets
In the Gulf War, they were credited with destroying more than 500 Iraqi tanks. Key is the fact that they generally operate at low-level, so they can spot targets more easily than high-flying aircraft. But that is also their chief vulnerability.

"The helicopter's speciality is hiding behind rocks and trees, and using cover in order to exploit its capability," said Paul Beaver of Jane's Defence Publishers, who has himself flown the Apache.

"Now the problem is the Americans are very concerned about losing lives. The cohesion of the Nato alliance is no longer a secondary matter. The primary aim of Nato is to keep the alliance together."

"American body bags will turn American public opinion so quickly and at the moment the Americans are the only people who can deploy Apaches," he explained.

Low-level risks

Of course, the Americans have thought of the problems of flying at low-level. Sometimes Apaches fly in groups, with some providing self-defence while others search for targets.

Beaver: Apaches designed to avoid air defences
They can operate in conjunction with ground-based rocket systems, which can be used to clear a path for the helicopters. They have also been deployed to Albania.

But there is still the risk of the individual, hiding behind a rock, with a portable anti-aircraft missile.

"It's the shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles that's the real concern," said Mr Beaver.

"The Apache is designed either to avoid it with self-defence systems or else to be able to withstand some hits. Its gearbox, for example, can run dry for 30 minutes. That means you can get home if you get hit."

No 'silver bullet'

Cohen: Apaches are not a "magic solution"
Even so, US Defence Secretary William Cohen has warned against expecting just 24 Apache helicopters to be the decisive factor in the conflict.

"We should not look to the Apaches as being some kind of silver bullet, as a magic solution to the problem of the Serb forces going after the Kosovars on the ground and purging them," he said.

"We never represented - in fact I think we made it as clear as possible - that an air campaign was not going to be able to go after those forces on the ground until such time as we did all the other damage to the integrated air defence system, control, communications, and other types of air defence which would pose a serious threat to our aircraft."

In the Gulf War, the Apaches really did wreak havoc amongst Iraqi forces. It was that spectacle which in part led to public pressure to bring the war to quick end, the fight seemed so unfair.

But the Apache crews know Kosovo is a very different environment, full of many more threats than the open deserts of Iraq.

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