Murphy's Law: A Matter Of Interpretation

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November 3, 2013: The commander of an American helicopter gunship unit, whose troops were pilloried in the media in 2010 for “murdering civilians,” has now (since he is retired) gone public with his side of this story. The retired commander pointed out that the U.S. Army did conduct an investigation and cleared any of the helicopter crews of any crimes. The helicopter battalion involved had carried out over 5,200 missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, of which only 314 involved firing on ground targets. That’s five percent of the missions which involve weapons, which is meant to refute the charge that his helicopter crews were “trigger happy.” The commander also pointed out details which are obvious in the video and indicate that there were clear indications that everyone down there was a hostile.

This all began back in 2010, when web sites began showing a leaked American AH-64 helicopter gunship video that showed a two man Reuters camera crew, operating with Iraqi terrorists. The helicopter crew did not know there were journalists down there in the middle of the night. The Iraqi gunmen and the journalists were killed, and many accused the Americans of murdering the journalists. To make the point, some web site operators added markers on the video to make their case. The assertion was that all those killed were innocent civilians. At one point in the video 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 of their own 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 and that the audio on the video had the helicopter crew clearly interpreting what they saw as weapons, not camera equipment.

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 decade. 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 57.7 kg (127 pound) M230 30mm cannon fires about 10 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 4 meters (12 feet) of detonation. Each round carries 21.6 gr (.76 ounces) of explosives, is 20 cm (7.8 inches) long, and weighs 339 gr (11.8 ounces), while the projectile weighs 229 gr (half a pound). 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.

 


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