Francis Harris / London Telegraph – 2006-01-20 23:55:53
WASHINGTON (January 18, 2006) — American helicopters in Iraq are facing a new threat from so-called aerial bombs, which are fired into the air from the ground and explode close to passing aircraft.
The new home-made weapons, known to the Americans as “aerial improvised explosive devices” have been used on numerous occasions.
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“The enemy is adaptive. They makes changes in the way they fight, they respond to new flying tactics,” Brig Edward Sinclair, a US army aviation commander, told Defense News, which first revealed the new threat.
He refused to say whether they had brought aircraft down. The aerial devices are placed along known flight paths and are triggered when insurgents see a low-flying helicopter approaching.
They are then fired to a height of about 50ft before a proximity fuse detonates the explosive, filling the air with thousands of metal shards.
Based on old anti-aircraft or artillery shells, the bombs would have a devastating effect if detonated close to a thin-skinned helicopter.
Any new threat to helicopters is deeply worrying for coalition forces. Rotary-wing aircraft are widely used in Iraq and although at least 25 American aircraft have crashed in the past three years, they are considered to be safer than road transport.
Ambitious insurgents also know that helicopters are likely to carry more people than road vehicles and that a crash is likely to prove fatal.
In the past fortnight US forces in Iraq have lost three helicopters. In the most recent incident an Apache attack helicopter crashed on Monday, killing two crew.
The earlier crashes of a reconnaissance helicopter and a Black Hawk, in which a total of 14 servicemen died, are still officially unexplained.
Brig Sinclair, who leads a team in the US working on helicopter anti-insurgency tactics, said the army was altering flight paths and seeking new technology to counter the threat.
But another new insurgent technique is proving still harder to counter: guerrillas have begun targeting medical evacuation helicopters.
The new ambush tactic exploits an already tested formula.
Insurgents first attack an American patrol with a roadside bomb. When troops summon helicopters to evacuate the wounded, insurgents detonate further devices pre-positioned on likely helicopter landing sites.
According to Defense News, the Americans say they have lost “more than one” aircraft to this new tactic.
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