Murphy's Law: May 22, 2002

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The intense urban fighting on the West Bank made Israeli helicopter pilots realize that they had not really developed formal tactics and procedures for this sort of thing. Until recently, the only Israeli attack helicopter action had been precision strikes against terrorist leaders. This typically involved Israeli AH-64s firing Hellfire missiles at vehicles or through windows. This tactic proved successful in most cases, although the Hellfire's anti-tank warhead often proved incapable of killing everyone in a room. The larger scale use of attack helicopters forced Israeli pilots to develop tactics on the job. Israel has 129 attack helicopters (30 Hughes 500s, 57 AH-1s and 43 AH-64s.) The AH-64, with better fire control and Hellfire missiles, was generally used against moving targets, while the AH-1s used Tows against buildings. The Hellfire could be used with ground troops using a laser designator, preserving the element of surprise (the AH-64 could be several kilometers away, unseen and unheard by the enemy.) The biggest problem was the Israeli rules of engagement, which were designed to limit civilian casualties. Helicopters were often called in to provide heavier firepower for ground troops because the pilots had a better view of the situation than the people on the ground. To increase their situational awareness, the attack helicopters usually had at least one UAV operating in the area and received urgent information directly from the UAV controllers. Pilots also learned not to fly too low too often, since the loss of even one attack helicopter would provide enormous encouragement to the Palestinians. The helicopter pilots also developed a lot of flying techniques that enabled them to sneak up on enemy troops, even though helicopters are noisy and rather visible. The details of these tricks are kept as secret as possible lest the Palestinians develop new tactics.

The improvised tactics worked, as civilian casualties were very low for this kind of urban fighting. Despite Palestinian attempts to claim "massacres of civilians," foreign observers and journalists were not able to find any evidence of high civilian casualties. Traditionally, battles fought in such high population density areas over a month would have resulted in thousands of casualties. But the Israelis did not use artillery, relying on precision munitions (missiles) from helicopters for additional firepower.

 


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