2008: In the 1980s, the UH-60 began replacing the Vietnam era UH-1
"Huey" transport helicopter, while the AH-64 replaced the AH-1
helicopter gunship. Not only were these two new designs more effective, they
were a lot safer, and expensive. By 2005, the U.S. Army had retired all of its
UH-1s. The results of this shift were dramatic. The number of accidents went
from over a thousand a year in the early
1990s, to less than 200 a year now. The accidents were more expensive, because
the AH-64 and UH-60 were more expensive (costing more than three times as
much.) But a lot of that money went into making the new choppers safer, and
more survivable, for their crews, when they did get into trouble.
choppers are also safer, and sturdier, in combat. Since 2003, the United States
has lost about 70 helicopters in Iraq. Most of them belonged to the U.S. Army,
the rest were marine or civilian (mainly security contractors.) During the peak
period of combat (2005-2007), helicopters were fired on about a hundred times a
month, and about 17 percent of the time, the helicopters were hit. But few of
the helicopters hit were brought down, much less destroyed. Contrast this with Vietnam (1966-71). There,
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. As in Iraq, the main weapons doing this were machine-guns. Today's
helicopters are more robust, partly because of Vietnam experience, and are more
likely to stay in the air when hit, and land, rather than crash. The 1960s was
also a period of learning how to use helicopters on a large scale, in a combat
environment. That experience also went into developing safer ways to fly, and
use, helicopters in combat.
in Iraq, aircraft losses to ground fire have been declining every year, since
2003, mainly because of improved defensive tactics. Moreover, 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 to over 400,000 hours in
2007. The more time helicopters are in the air, the more opportunities someone
has to shoot at them.