April 11, 2010: A web site recently featured an American AH-64 helicopter gunship video that showed a two man Reuters camera crew, operating with Iraqi terrorists. The Iraqi gunmen and the journalists were killed, and the web site accused the Americans of murdering the journalists. To make the point, the web site operators added markers on the video to make their case. Their assertion was that all those killed were innocent civilians. At one point, a van rolled up to try and retrieve a wounded gunman, and was itself shot up. There were children in the van, although they survived. But this was not the whole story, as the web site ignored a lot of other stuff that was going on.
First, some of the men in the video were clearly carrying weapons. Moreover, terrorists were often accompanied by a camera crew, so that the attack on American or Iraqi forces could be photographed, for use in propaganda videos (to attract recruits, and other support.) The web site also did not mention the fact that there was a firefight (between terrorists and U.S. troops) going on a hundred meters away from the armed Iraqi civilians being observed by the AH-64.
The mass media generally went along with the "it was murder" line, while more knowledgeable journalists and military personnel pointed out the fact that this was a legitimate combat operation, and that the journalists (who were not in the employ of the terrorists) were being very foolish to accompany armed terrorists on a combat mission.
Such combat videos have been quite common on the Internet over the last seven years. The AH-64 helicopter gunships, and AC-130 gunships always record their operations, and often have to receive permission from a headquarters, or commanders on the ground, before they attack. This is to avoid killing civilians, or friendly troops. Normally, armed men out and about at night are assumed to be up to no good. They are usually attacked by the 30mm autocannon carried by the AH-64 (the AC-130 carries 20mm and 40mm autocannon). The AH-64 also carries Hellfire missiles, which are also used for these night attacks on gunmen, or anyone caught trying to set up a roadside bomb.
It's an expensive form of warfare. Each 30mm round costs over $100. Each Hellfire missile costs over $70,000. But the highly accurate cannon fire from the AH-64 30mm autocannon is very popular. This is partly because of the increased emphasis on reducing civilian casualties.
The 127 pound M230 30mm cannon fires about ten rounds a second, and AH-64s normally carry 1,200 rounds. The most common round used is the HEDP (high explosive dual purpose), meaning that the round not only penetrates up to 50mm of armor, but generates fragments that kill or wound personnel within four meters (12 feet) of detonation. Each round carries .76 ounces of explosives, is 7.8 inches (20 cm) long and weighs 11.8 ounces (339 grams), while the projectile weighs half a pound (229 grams). A direct hit on a person is fatal, and messy.
Effective range of the 30mm cannon is about 4,000 meters. Time in flight to 3,000 meters is 12 seconds. The fire control system takes care of all the necessary aiming adjustments for long range shots. The Apache also has a red-dot laser indicator for the 30mm cannon. This reduces friendly fire incidents. When in doubt, the AH-64 gunner can flip on the red-dot and ask the guys down below if the right target is about to be hit. The red-dot also has an intimidating effect on the enemy, if you are trying to induce them to surrender. When there is no one on the ground, once permission to fire is given, the targets are rarely missed.
Currently, all Apaches are being equipped with communications gear that will allow the real-time exchange of video, and other sensor data. Not just with other Apaches, but with air force warplanes and ground troops. But the sensors are all about finding targets for the highly accurate, and lethal, 30mm cannon.