|THE APACHE MISSION|
May 5, 1999
TOM BEARDEN: The Apaches arrived in Albania nearly a month after they were requested by the NATO commander -- delayed by bad weather, a shortage of airlift capacity, and the need for more crew training. The angular AH-64 attack helicopters bristle with guns, missiles and rockets. They're designed to kill tanks, armored personnel carriers, and troops. Apache units played a major role in the 1991 Gulf War, destroying more than 500 Iraqi tanks, hundreds of armored personnel carriers, trucks and other vehicles. Tactically, the Apaches hug the ground, fly down ravines, duck behind hills, hide behind trees. They search for their targets from concealment, and launch hellfire missiles to hit them from as much as four and a half miles away.
COLONEL OLIVER HUNT, Commander of the 11th Aviation Regiment: Army aviation operates in the ground environment. We utilize the same terrain features as a tank, an armored unit or an infantry unit would. We operate in the ground regime. We use terrain to our benefit to ingress into the enemy
TOM BEARDEN: Each Apache -- with a crew of two -- can carry up to 16 hellfire missiles. They can also carry 75 unguided Hydra rockets to attack troops in large areas and 1200 rounds for the swivel-mounted 30 millimeter automatic canon. The Apache's sensor systems allow it to fly and fight both day and night, in all kinds of weather. It makes for a very lethal package and a vulnerable one. As last night's crash proved, flying at night is dangerous even when no one is shooting at you. This is the second night training accident since the unit arrived in Albania. In the first crash, the crew suffered only minor injuries.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL GARRIE DORNAN, Army Spokesman: The way we train is we train at night under blackout conditions. We train in a demanding environment because in the long run this method of training will save lives and accomplish the mission and that's really it, the bottom line is again you cannot take the risk out of this business, we're flying in mountainous terrain, unfamiliar terrain.
TOM BEARDEN: That terrain can also conceal a host of threats -- from soldiers with rifles to portable surface-to-air missiles.
|Looking for reasons for the crash.|
| JIM LEHRER: And to Colonel Michael Hackerson, an Apache
pilot and chief of army war plans at the Pentagon, and Thomas McNaugher,
a senior policy analyst at RAND, a research organization. He served in
the army in Vietnam and as a reservist during the Gulf War. I spoke with
them earlier this evening. Colonel, first, what can you tell us about
what happened last night?
COL. MICHAEL HACKERSON, U.S. Army: Well, Jim, there's not much that we know right now that's been reported back here in Washington. Apparently, what we do know is there was a crew of two on board a CW-3, a very experienced pilot, and CW-2.
JIM LEHRER: That's chief warrant officer.
COL. MICHAEL HACKERSON: Chief Warrant Officer Three and Chief Warrant Officer Two. The aircraft -- what we have right now, apparently, is it did burn after the accident. The team that's investigating the accident will have a lot more information in the future on it.
JIM LEHRER: But it was a nighttime training mission, correct?
COL. MICHAEL HACKERSON: It was a night-training mission conducting in preparation for operations to go into Kosovo.
JIM LEHRER: What is known about what the weather was?
COL. MICHAEL HACKERSON: I don't know at this time. That's part of the decision process the commander goes through, but I don't have a weather forecast and what it looked like in the mountains.
JIM LEHRER: Has enemy fire been completely ruled out?
COL. MICHAEL HACKERSON: I really don't know at this time. That is one of the things -- the area that they're in is a bit of a hostile environment in that it's a northern area of Albania, but I don't really know much more than that about it.
JIM LEHRER: Now, there are 24 Apache helicopters there. Now, two of them have crashed. Is this considered a normal percentage of failure among these Apaches?
COL. MICHAEL HACKERSON: Actually, it's really an anomaly, because for the last three years, we've had no fatalities, and that's at flying over 100,000 hours a year. So in the total span of the aircraft's lifetime, we've flown well over a million hours and have had a total of 14 fatalities. So this is something we'll look at very closely, because it is truly an anomaly.
JIM LEHRER: Do you see it that way, too, Mr. McNaugher?
THOMAS McNAUGHER, RAND: Yes. And we don't know the story, but I do think that it probably has something to do with the general risks of bringing in Apaches. I mean, these aircraft survive by staying low and by moving fast. They're training very hard at night to do that, and there's just a lot more to run into down close to the ground than there is at 10,000 or 15,000 feet. So I don't think we should be entirely surprised. These people are pushing the edge of the envelope in their night training, I think, probably pretty hard.
JIM LEHRER: And why do they do that? Why is it necessary to do that?
THOMAS McNAUGHER: Well, as I say, you know, they aren't -- I think they're not going to survive with electronic suppression. They're going to survive by hiding in the terrain and by moving fast. And to do that in Kosovo, you've got to do it in the mountains around Tirana to practice.
|Is there a problem with the Apache?|
JIM LEHRER: Now Colonel, much has been said about these Apaches. As Tom Bearden said in the setup, it took a while for the request to be processed, it took them a while to get there, and they've been there a while, and they still have not been introduced into any combat situation, and there have already been two accidents. So what -- is there a problem with the Apache that we should know about?
COL. MICHAEL HACKERSON: No. Actually, the unit that is down there right now is very well trained. It had been in Bosnia, had been then back to Europe for about seven months and is returning then back into theater. So they're very familiar with the environment, and they were ready to go. The challenge you run into is moving a large force like that into a very austere environment. What we've seen is, I mentioned to several folks, it is parking patience, because the airfield they're going into in Tirana is also the primary air field for humanitarian support. So what we've been sequencing in the commander forward has been deciding the priority between moving a force protection force in and then moving in humanitarian assets to make sure they take care of the folks on the ground. The aircraft were ready to go. Now, they will also take advantage of this time to continue their training, because I used to tell a lot of folks that "hard" is not the kind of training we do; "hard" is coming back telling someone that I've not done some of the training I needed to do. So they're forward, they're taking advantage of this time, and when called on, they will be going into combat.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. McNaugher, what is your analysis of why it's taken so long? At least from a layman's point of view, it seems like an awfully long time between, hey, we need Apaches, and, hey, when are they going to start actually doing something.
THOMAS McNAUGHER: I think the problem is less with the Apache than with our conception of what we want here. The guiding principle here of this operation so far is to keep casualties to a minimum, to zero. I think everyone understands if you go to ground war, you're not going to be able to do that. The Apache is sort of nibbling at the edges of ground war. It's an aircraft, but it's an instrument of ground warfare. It's going to be used, I think, outside the normal realm of its doctrine, although Colonel Hackerson knows a lot more about this. It's going to be used without ground support, without ground spotters, deep strike into an area where the enemy isn't all that heavily armed, where there is clearly an air defense threat. And I think, you know, there's probably -- whatever the logistics problems that have taken time setting this up, there's probably been an operational problem. How do we want to run this operation in a way that minimizes our risk? And that takes time to put together.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree? Is that true, Colonel?
COL. MICHAEL HACKERSON: It does take time, and in the environment that we're operating in, which would be across the border, even though there aren't ground forces -
JIM LEHRER: Across the border from Albania into Kosovo.
COL. MICHAEL HACKERSON: Across the border from Albania into Kosovo.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
COL. MICHAEL HACKERSON: Even though there aren't ground forces, we practice to also work with the Air Force. And so one of the things I think you'll see is what we call joint air attack training or joint air attack, where we'll work with the Air Force. What we provide them is a very precise look at targets, the high-value targets that we're going to be finding, armor and armored vehicles and artillery or even command and control nodes. What we provide is an eye on the target, a precise laser to designate it on a common code, which the Air Force can then launch missiles, or we can launch our own missiles, to make sure that we have an identified target to cut down on any chances of further casualties for anyone in the battle field.
JIM LEHRER: But Mr. McNaugher, isn't there something just inherently more dangerous about a helicopter mechanically and otherwise than there is a normal aircraft flying at 15,000 feet?
THOMAS McNAUGHER: Well, I do think when you're close to the ground there's just a whole heck of a lot more to run into, especially at night going fast.
JIM LEHRER: Also, less ground.
THOMAS McNAUGHER: And a lot less reaction time. And you can't punch out of a helicopter the way you can a fixed-wing aircraft. You know, my concern here is -
JIM LEHRER: Meaning you can't bail out. There's no time because you're too close to the ground.
THOMAS McNAUGHER: You can't do it anyway, even if you were at 10,000 feet. But you don't have many seconds before you hit the ground. So there's very small reaction time. There's more risks that go with putting in the Apaches. I think those risks go up the more you start snooping around, looking for the paramilitary groups that are actually doing the harm. I realize that we want to take out Serbian tanks, but I don't think what's really happening here, the harm being done to the Kosovar Albanians is being done largely by tanks. It's being done by people, paramilitaries from the Serbs, and those are the people that you want to go after. I think the Apache can do that better than anything we've brought to bear yet, but only if it's willing to go in and snoop around and look for them. That raises the risk, because the minute this aircraft slows down to look, it becomes a little more vulnerable.
|Do the pilots know the risk?|
|JIM LEHRER: You're an Apache pilot yourself, Colonel. Is
there any doubt in your mind that all of these folks who are flying these
Apaches in Albania know exactly what that risk is?
COL. MICHAEL HACKERSON: They do. And that's our biggest focus for all these years is to mitigate that risk. We've operated in the same environment, even a more lethal environment in the old Soviet regime, because we trained to go against Soviet-style forces deep in their rear. So we've mitigated a lot of the risk with survivability equipment on the aircraft, learning a lot of lessons even as far back as Vietnam. As an example, when you talked about survivability of the aircraft, the Apache is the most survivable aircraft out there today.
JIM LEHRER: Why? Why is that?
COL. MICHAEL HACKERSON: It's designed for a of couple things.
JIM LEHRER: We've got one here.
COL. MICHAEL HACKERSON: The drive train of the aircraft is designed to withstand a hit from a 23 millimeter antiaircraft gun and keep flying to get us back to friendly lines. The engines are separated much like an a-10, because that gives of you the ability, if one engine is knocked out, to fly on one engine.
JIM LEHRER: A-10 is a -
COL. MICHAEL HACKERSON: An A-10 and other ground attack aircraft.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
COL. MICHAEL HACKERSON: Which also has the engine separated so that they can, if they lose one engine, fly on the other one. And with that -- and the seats and armor plating is throughout the aircraft a tradeoff of weight for armament protection, primarily for the crew and key weapons and engine systems. And then on top of that, we've designed the aircraft, because normally if it fails, it will drop vertically. So this aircraft is -
JIM LEHRER: Just straight down.
COL. MICHAEL HACKERSON: Straight down, if everything fails. If it does that, this aircraft is designed to be dropped three stories, and the crew survives and walks away. Witness the other night when a crew -
JIM LEHRER: That's what happened in this that case.
COL. MICHAEL HACKERSON: That's right. And they walked away, and they're back for duty. So it is designed specifically to be the most survivable aircraft in the world today. We build aircraft, but we grow pilots, and that's our challenge: To take care of the crews and make sure we get them back.
|Time to reassess the mission?|
|JIM LEHRER: Mr. McNaugher, do you think because of these
two accidents out of 24 there should be a reassessment of the use of these
Apaches in Albania in this Kosovo situation?
THOMAS McNAUGHER: No. I think, for better or for worse, it's what you have to expect. We are now going into a somewhat higher-risk period of this conflict. On the other hand, as I said a moment ago, we are going to bring to bear a former firepower on the actual perpetrators of violence in Kosovo that I don't think we've been able to do. So the good news is we will be able to actually influence what's going on, the harm being done to Kosovar Albanians with the Apache. The bad news is the risks go up. I don't know what caused the training accidents, but it wouldn't surprise me if it's a reflection of the increased risk, the need to train more rigorously.
JIM LEHRER: Do you expect, Colonel, for there to be a kind of "hey, wait a minute. Let's look at this again before these Apaches are actually employed in combat," because of this unusual situation?
COL. MICHAEL HACKERSON: We constantly look to mitigate the risk, and so what they will be doing in the unit is analyzing the risk, figuring out if there's anything else that they could do. They have a very extensive checklist of the things that we go through, looking at maintenance of the aircraft, survivability, proficiency, and matching of crews to the aircraft. And so they'll be looking at all of that, looking at the terrain, the environment, to make sure that they've minimized all those risks. We had a very similar period just before the beginning of ground operations in Desert Storm. I was the aviation planner for third army. And as you see pilots getting into this very potentially hostile environment, they tend to train even closer, tighter. What you're seeing is like any sports team. They'll settle down now. They'll be ready to go. They'll have looked at this. It's a very tragic accident, but at the same time, you'll see a confidence that will build. This is a very tight brotherhood of aviators.
JIM LEHRER: But these two accidents isn't going to make them wary, isn't going to make them... Isn't going to scare them a little bit?
COL. MICHAEL HACKERSON: It's a reminder that if they want to be old aviators like me they'll take a good look.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Well, Colonel, Mr. McNaugher, thank you both very much.
THOMAS McNAUGHER: Sure. It's a pleasure.
|Support the kind of journalism done by the NewsHour...Become a member of your local PBS station.|