2008: After a spike in helicopter losses in Iraq last year (seven in one
month), losses have been sharply reduced. This was due to several factors.
First, there was one group of Iraqi terrorists who were using heavy
machine-guns, and predictable flying patterns by some American pilots, to stage
ambushes last year. Then there was the beginning of the surge offensive, which
put helicopters into the air more often, and less predictably. The Iraqi ambush
gang was caught and destroyed, and helicopter pilots changed their tactics
(they now fly higher, on random flight paths, and in twos instead of larger
groups.) Another important factor is pilot experience. More of the pilots in
the air now, have been to Iraqi before. Experience counts. Finally, the surge
offensive of 2007 put most of the opposition out of business (either because
they were killed or captured, or because they changed sides.)
dangerous anti-aircraft weapon has always been the machine-gun. However,
aircraft losses to ground fire have been declining every year, since 2003,
mainly because of good defensive tactics. The losses in early 2007 were largely
the result of getting sloppy.
the most vulnerable aircraft, helicopters, have been spending more time in the
air. In 2005, U.S. Army aircraft (mainly helicopters) flew 240,000 hours over
Iraq. That increased to 334,000 hours last year, and went over 400,000 hours in
2007. The more time helicopters are in the air, the more opportunities someone
has to shoot at them.
2003, the United States has lost 63 helicopters in Iraq. Most of them belong to
the U.S. Army, the rest are marine and civilian (mainly security contractors.)
In 2007, helicopters were fired on about a hundred times a month, and about 17
percent of the time, the helicopters were hit. In Vietnam (1966-71), 2,076
helicopters were lost to enemy fire (and 2,566 to non-combat losses). In
Vietnam, helicopters flew 36 million sorties (over 20 million flight hours). In
Vietnam, helicopters were about twice as likely to get brought down by enemy
fire than in Iraq. In both wars, the main weapons doing this were machine-guns.
Today's helicopters are more sturdy, partly because of Vietnam experience, and
are more likely to stay in the air when hit, and land, rather than crash. That
means choppers that do crash in Iraq, have fewer of their passengers injured
than in Vietnam.