Outpost of Freedom
May 6, 1999
There is been much controversy and speculation, of nearly ever nature, since the first announcements were made that 24 Apache attack helicopters were going to be deployed to the NATO war in Yugoslavia. Firs and foremost was why it takes nearly a month to prepare and deploy these helicopters, which are supposed to be combat ready. From the beginning, we were introduced to a multitude of explanations, yet the talking heads of government and NATO never touched in the truth, and what was behind that truth. After all, when, when helicopters come with w healthy price tag of from 16 million to 28 million dollars, it is nice to know that they really are combat ready.
The first speculation came with the belief that the Army’s most sophisticated helicopter, with the "Longbow" configuration, would be put in to service to assure maximum firepower and crew safety. The "Longbow" )AH-64D) is far more sophisticated than the original Apache (AH-64A). More sophisticated inter-aircraft communication, fire control computers, greater weaponry capabilities and safety, all make this the desirable choice for a war far from the open sands of Iraq.
So, why did the Army choose to send the relatively obsolete "A" model to support the bombing effort? Quite frankly, the Longbows number less than 10 percent of the 700 Apache helicopters in service with the US military. They are used for training, but are probably over worked and unfit for immediate combat duty.
The A-models, however, though nearly sixteen years old, are more plentiful, and can be brought up to combat readiness much more rapidly than the more advanced younger brother. Even so, they had to be made ready for the mission.
Whether those helicopters currently in Albania came from Germany or Colorado (both claims made by the government), it was necessary that they be overhauled before they would be deemed mission ready. Most if not all of the contingent went first to the maintenance depot in Alabama. There, they were outfitted with new tail sections and weapons struts. You see, the design has a flaw in that both the weapon struts and tail sections bear great stress, resulting in early failure of these components. Considering the severity of their newly assigned mission, it was imperative that they be brought up to reasonable usefulness and available flight capabilities, prior to deployment. The probable reason for the decision not to use the Longbow was the fact that the manufacturer could not possibly upgrade or repair sufficient numbers to deploy in a timely manner. It wouldn’t look right to have a mixed arsenal, so they opted for the A-models, only.
So, while the talking heads were providing a multitude of excuses: overburdened runway at Tirana; necessity to provide all support services prior to arrival; awaiting Presidential directive, and any other plausible reason, the reality was – they were not ready, and it was going to take no less than three weeks to make the most meager force available.
So, finally, on April 21, 1999, the first contingent of Americas wonder helicopters arrived at Tirana airport. Six, of the 24 assigned helicopters, arrived amidst a degree of fanfare. Over the next few days, more helicopters arrived. Weather, however, delayed the all-weather helicopters while they were in Italy. As the next contingent departed Italy, on April 24th, one of them had engine problems and stayed for repairs. It is either still in Italy, or has been shipped back to the United States for extensive repairs.
Finally, on April 27, 1999, the last five (of the now total of twenty-three) arrived in Albania. Ironically, this arrival was celebrated by the crash and burn, or so the story goes, of one of the earlier arrivals. Pictures of this first crashed Apache can be seen at The Committee Against U.S. Intervention, or the Outpost of Freedom/Apache Down. Though reports had this helicopter going down in flames, by the pictures, there appears to have been very little fire.
So, this mighty warrior of the skies, this tank-buster, this new world equalizer as achieved an unbelievable record of an 8 percent reduction in force – prior to actual combat deployment! This is America’s secret weapon! This will achieve what the high altitude bombing, smart, or otherwise, will not. Well, it was supposed to, anyway.
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. On May 4, 1999, a third Apache was removed from service. The cause has been described as anti-helicopter devices, power wires and not mechanical. It appears, however, that this might have been a result of enemy fire. Still – the helicopter have not been deployed into combat – and, have achieved what might best be described as a friendly fire casualty rate of 12.5 percent.
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