Attrition: Carnage in the Air

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March 30, 2007: The U.S. has lost 130 helicopters in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last six years. Two-thirds of the losses were to accidents, the rest to enemy action. The Pentagon is not happy with the slow pace that manufacturers are taking to build new helicopters, to replace those lost. Currently, it takes about two years to get a new helicopters built, to replace one lost in action. However, the U.S. Army and Marines have over 5,000 helicopters in service, so the losses are not having any impact on operations. What does have some impact is the increased efforts the maintenance troops have to deliver in order to deal with the damage done by operating hundreds of helicopters in a hot and dusty environment. There are hundreds of helicopters that have been run down so much by these operations, that they require extensive refurbishment. This takes several months per aircraft.

During the Vietnam war, 4,642 helicopters were lost (between 1966-71), 45 percent to combat action. Helicopters were about twice as likely to be brought down by enemy fire in Vietnam, compared to Iraq and Afghanistan. More helicopters were used, more frequently, in Vietnam. In Iraq and Afghanistan, American forces spend more time on the roads, despite the dangers, in order to stay in touch with the people, and the terrorists.

On the plus side, the helicopter crews are getting a lot of experience, making American helicopter pilots the most skilled on the planet. The constant refurbishment of helicopters means that these aircraft are updated with more modern components and electronics. This increases the capabilities of these helicopters.

 


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