The three most significant (and symptomatic) technologies have been tactical nuclear weapons, the helicopter and precision - guided munitions.[1]

There is a paradox emerging in our land combat doctrine. On the one hand, we say that "the tank, with its cross- country mobility, its protective armor, and its formidable firepower, had been and is likely to remain the single most important weapon for fighting the land battle." [2] On the other hand, we assert that the infantry with the proliferation of precision-guided munitions will be able to "...inflict heavy losses on armored forces at both long and short ranges." [3] (Furthermore, these PGMs may have a significant psychological effect which would increase the latent function of conventional fire--"what can be seen can be hit and what can be hit can be killed.") If in fact large numbers of highly reliable PGMs dominate the battlefield what will be the consequences? Critical to this paper is the assertion that mass as an element of combat power can be dominated by fire. If it is, all movement will be greatly restricted or cease altogether. [4]

Mass in the form of armored vehicles brought mobility back to the battlefield during World War I by rendering most fire ineffective. However, today we are faced with the real possibility, if not the probability, that mass in the form of armored vehicles will be vulnerable to ever increasing quantities of effective fire.

As an illustration, the present United States Army division has over a hundred forward observers, and artillery and mortar tubes capable of firing a guided ('smart') shell. Since an observer can guide in a shell every 15 seconds, division artillery could theoretically kill every armoured vehicle in a Soviet division in one minute. If individual targets are not visible but nonetheless grouped in a known location as in an assault, mortars with infrared seekers can have an even higher rate of kill. [5]

Armor protection is not keeping pace with out "...ability to penetrate armor .... " [6] Though there is an ongoing rather heated debate on this issue one must at least address the problem and ask some crucial questions. [7] For example, does the defense now dominate the offense in land combat as a result of the new weapons technology? "On the ground and in the air...the advent of the missile suggests that the day of the main battle tank and warplane may be ending. The superiority of the offensive may be declining in favor of the defensive." [8]

As the vulnerability of armor increases one can envision a situation where tanks may be completely stopped. The use of relatively inexpensive munitions, such as mines and PGMs coupled with the high cost per armored vehicle may greatly curtail the use of these vehicles. Will we be forced to react in an historically predictive pattern of accepting exorbitant losses in a vain attempt to gain the initiative? When the infantryman was the base element of mass during World War I we learned how vulnerable he was to the effective fire of machine guns and artillery. However, the reaction of those in command was an unimaginative policy of attrition which sent huge quantities of a vulnerable mass against extremely effective fire. Are we planning to do the same thing today with an extremely vulnerable armor mass? Is our only response to extremely heavy armor losses more and more tanks? I suggest we examine once again the essence of combat power and try to understand why the tank became the base element of land combat. The tank rendered fire ineffective by being invulnerable to it and by avoiding it. However, today the vulnerability of the tank is growing, and its ability to avoid fire is decreasing. Some have suggested that the only hope for the tank is to build it light enough to have the agility to avoid fire and thus, survive. There is, however, in my opinion, clear indication that mobility on the battlefield can and will be retained through the employment of another vehicle--the helicopter.

While it is true that the helicopter is vulnerable to a wide spectrum of fire, it is also true that it has a tremendous ability to avoid fire through speed and by using the protective cover and concealment of the ground. [9] This last point is especially important. The helicopter must be viewed more as a surface vehicle than as a supra-surface vehicle in that it is terrain dependent for its survival in combat. Furthermore, its unique capability to land almost anywhere, create a mass anywhere on the surface, or extract a mass makes it, in essence, more of a land oriented platform a than an airplane. (With the possible introduction of nuclear weapons on the battlefield, survival will be more and more a function of mobility.)

Let us assume for a moment that war takes places in central Europe and is limited to that geographical area. In terms of the concepts presented here the point of contact would be Central Europe, and NATO combat power would be relative to that of the Warsaw Pact. Let us also assume that, at least initially, fire remained conventional. Most of the literature examining this scenario addresses the relative strength primarily in terms of mass in the form of armored vehicles. [10] In these rough comparisons it is evident that the balance favors the Warsaw Pact nations. However, rarely do we find any significant weight being attached to the imbalance which exists in the number of helicopters available to the two sides. [11] In fact, there are many who discount the role helicopters are likely to play.

Armoured (sic) formations of all arms supported by intense air-to-ground attack, will still, I believe, be the principal and most effective way of carrying out this latter task, rapidly followed up and accompanied by infantry on their feet, at night. I have little faith in air-mobile troops in such a situation..." (Emphasis added) [12]

Furthermore, when comparing the relative strength of armored units, most analysts are careful to specify that the comparison is based on the vehicles likely to be present at the point of contact. In order to insure sufficient mass at the point of contact, there has been a determined effort to preposition large numbers of vehicles in the probable theater of employment - Central Europe. There is recognition by many of the decision makers that once the conflict begins relative combat power will depend mostly on what is on hand and not as much on what can be moved to the point of contact. [13] This is certainly a contentious issue; however, present national policy does provide for pre-positioning of large quantities of war material which would be available as mass if combat power were actualized.

I believe a crucial issue which must be examined in greater detail is the relative strength in terms of helicopters at the point of contact. In rough terms, potentially the United States enjoys a 3 to 1 advantage over the Soviet Union in helicopter strength. [14] (See Table III.) However, when we look at our projected deployment for the year 1984, we find only about 15% of our total assets deployed in Central Europe. [15] In relative terms, therefore, the Soviets may enjoy parity at the point of contact.

* Taken from The Military Balance 1977-1978, p. 4-6
ArmyAir Transport Force
Mi-24 (Hind)310
Marine Corps
(Plus Navy, Air Force and Reserve Aircraft)

"With combat experience in Southeast Asia, the U.S. Army is the world's foremost exponent of air mobility." [16] (Emphasis added.) We learned, at great cost, the value of helicopters in Vietnam and the effect they can have on relative combat power. In the restricted terrain of Southeast Asia, it was the primary means of mobility in the battle area. We can look to the future in Central Europe [17] and see similar terrain restrictions; urban sprawl continues unabated and might significantly restrict surface movement. [18] In addition, the number of people operating privately owned motor vehicles has reached 20 million in the Federal Republic of Germany alone (FRG). [19] These trends clearly indicate the need for vehicles which can provide a high degree of mobility.

Possible roles of helicopters in the initial stages of conflict have been pointed out in an interesting study done by Brigadier General Robert Close, The Feasibility of a Surprise Attack Against Western Europe. [20] In the scenario presented by General Close the Soviets use large numbers of helicopters to achieve surprise and effect deep penetrations of Western Europe before NATO forces can react. [21] By rapidly closing with NATO forces and by placing portions of their mass in the urban areas, high value fire in the form of nuclear weapons are eliminated as a possible reaction by NATO forces. [22] (This is assuming that these fires were to be directed only against the attacking military forces.)

The rapid movement afforded to the Soviets by the use of helicopters could only be effectively countered by equally mobile NATO forces. Here again, the number of helicopters on hand at the beginning of hostilities is critical. (For an example of current helicopter deployment in Central Europe, see Table IV; and, for an example of how it is envisoned in the FY 86-90's time frame, see Table V).

U.S. - Less AVN Det/SEC (Corps)
OH/LOH - Observation Helicopter
AH - Attack/Antiarmor Helicopter
UH - Utility Helicopter
CH - Cargo/Medium Lift Helicopter
1-Atk Hel Trp21123
HQ Trp--814
HQ Co------
Cbt Svc Co--2516
2/Atk Co42246
Maint Co----1
Corps Avn Bn--------
HHC Avn Bn------3
Corps Avn Co----810
Corps Composite for 2 Div US Corps
(FY 86-9O's) [28]
US - Less Avn Det/Sec (Corps)
Note: U.S. aviation requirements are those recommended by the
TRADOC ARCSA III Study Report dated 31 October 1976.
Atk Hel Trp1810----3
AC Trp910--7--
HQ Trp----6--13
HHC, CAB ----------
Div Avn Col--1022--14
Cbt Spt Avn Co------15--
2 Atk Hel Co3620----6
Air Cav Trp910--7--
Maint Co--------1
HHC GS Avn Bn------------
Corps Avn Co------20--17
Cbt Spt Avn Co--------15--
2 Mdm Hel Co48--------2

The real value of the helicopter, in my opinion, is as a vehicle to transport troops, equipment, and supplies, not as a weapons platform. "Movement must be recognized as an equal partner with fire-power..." [25] and "mobility of supply is no less important than mobility of troop movement." [26]

If the tank is stopped on the battlefield, helicopters can be used to regain the initiative. Though we have a tendency to see enemy AA weapons as ubiquitous we can use helicopters to conduct high speed, small mass paralyzing attacks on enemy "nerve" centers. "The Army is convinced that the rotary-wing aircraft can play a key offensive role by seeking out and destroying enemy armor and armored infantry units by massing helicopter firepower." [29] Our experience in Vietnam indicates that although high loss rates can be expected, with the use of proper training and recovery techniques these losses can be held to a minimum and crew survivability can be enhanced.

A crucial issue with regard to the effectiveness of helicopters in combat is the psychological preparation of the crew. Our current emphasis on the vulnerability of the helicopter may instill an overcautious attitude in our aviators. The situation may be likened to that of the submarine captains prior to World War II. These men were ingrained with the idea that technology had advanced to the point where their ability to survive once detected, was extremely limited. Thus, they practiced great caution in their pre-war training so as to avoid detection. It was soon learned however, that this overcaution was unfounded and it greatly reduced the effectiveness of the submarine. [30] "War experience teaches that no new weapon proves so deadly in practice as in theory...." [31]

A key element to the effectiveness of helicopters in the high threat environment of Vietnam during the Easter Offensive was the survivability of the crews. For an example see Table VI which shows the casualties sufferred by H Troop 7/17th air cav for the six month period 1 May - 31 October 1972.

H/7/17 CAV
* Data taken from Enclosure 1 of the Operational Report Lessons Learned,
H Troop (air) 17th ACS 1 May 1972 - 31 October 1972.
A/C hit229163647
A/C shot down41OO308

Another essential role that helicopters can play on the battlefield of Central Europe is providing psychological integration for the many disparate units scattered throughout the battle area. Just as in Vietnam where the helicopter's air lines of communication prevented a sense of hopeless isolation from setting in, one can imagine small, highly dispersed units in Central Europe being integrated by means of the helicopter.

It is beyond the scope of this work to examine in detail the many roles helicopters could play in a European environment. [32] What is suggested by the model of combat power presented earlier and by our experience in Vietnam is that helicopters may play a significant if not a dominant role in future land combat. If this is accepted as a possibility one must ask what our present deployment policies are, and I question whether or not they are realistic. It is my assertion that the balance of combat power could favor the NATO forces if enough helicopters are available at the point of contact to provide greater relative mobility.

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1. Steven L. Canby, The Alliance and Europe: Part IV - Military Doctrine and Technology. p. 2. [ Return ]

2. U.S. Army, Operations, FM 100-5, p. 2-6. [ Return ]

3. Ibid., p. 2-7. [ Return ]

4. An excellent discussion of the relationship between mobility and firepower is provided by William G. Stewart, "Interaction of Firepower, Mobility, and Dispersion." [ Return ]

5. Canby, The Alliance and Europe, p. 4. [ Return ]

6. FM 100-5, p. 2-8. [ Return ]

7. For examples of the different view points see Finley T. Burke, The Implications of the PGM Era; Richard Burt, "New Weapons Technologies and European Security," Orbis, Summer 1975, p. 514-532; Philip A. Karber, "The Soviet Anti-tank Debate," Survival, May/June 1976, p. 105-lll; Jeffrey Record, "The October War: Burying the Blitzkrieg." [ Return ]

8. Elizabeth Monroe and A.H. Farrar-Hockley, The Arab-Israel War, October 1973: Background and Events, p. 34. [ Return ]

9. For a discussion of specific techniques see Charles A. Block, "Helicopter Tactics in a Non-Permissive Air Defense Environment," Unpublished thesis, Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island: 1976; George N. Ivey, "Helicopter Survivability on Mid-Intensity Battlefield," Unpublished thesis, Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, 1976; Robert R. Lund, "Can Helicopters Survive Today's Antiair Threat to Support Amphibious Operations?" Unpublished thesis, Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, 1976; U.S. Army, Employment of Army Aviation Units in a High Threat Environment, FM 90-1 (Washington: 30 September 1976). [ Return ]

10. For example see The Military Balance 1977-1978 (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies); Steven Canby, The Alliance and Europe; John Erickson, Soviet- Warsaw Pact Force Levels; Robert Lucas Fisher, Defending the Central Front: The Balance of Forces; William Schneider, Jr., "Soviet General-Purpose Forces," Orbis, Vol. 21, No. 1, Spring 1977, p. 95-106; "NATO and the New Soviet Threat," Congress Record, 25 January 1977, p. S1411-S1417. [ Return ]

11. When one compares the total NATO assets versus Warsaw Pact the imbalance is more obvious. See The Military Balance. There are indications however, that the Soviets are making great efforts to catch up. See Alexander Malzeyev, "Mil Mi-24--The First Soviet Combat Helicopter," Interavia, January 1976, p. 44-45; "Mil Mia-24 Hind A Assault Helicopter," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 1 March 1976, p. 16-17, Major Peter J. Blake, "Soviet Airmobile Tactics," United States Army Aviation Digest, April 1977, p. 1-3; and LTC Walter Urbach, Jr., "Behind the Hind," Ibid., p. 4-5; David A. Bramlett, "Soviet Air Mobility: An Overview," Military Review, January 1977, p. 14-25. [ Return ]

12. Michael Carver, "Documentation: NATO Strategy," Survival, Jan/Feb 1977, p. 36. [ Return ]

13. "Decreased warning time severely limits the reinforcements that could be moved from North America and the " United Kingdom to NATO Center. This greatly magnifies the importance of forces already in place on the continent, the bulk of which are and of necessity must be European." "NATO and the New Soviet Threat," Congressional Record, 25 January 1977, p. S14 [ Return ]

14. For a detailed discussion of moving helicopter units to Europe see LTC John A. G. Klose, "Get Ready - Get Set - Go!!" U.S. Army Aviation Digest, December 1976, p. 6. Also see other articles dealing with "Reforger 76" in that issue of Aviation Digest. [ Return ]

14. This is based on figures provided in The Military Balance 1977-1978. For example see Table III. It is interesting to go back for the past ten years of The Military Balance and note that comparison tables of helicopter strength are not provided. [ Return ]

15. "Establishment of the Cobra force and reorganization of the air units that operate Cobras to enhance the antiarmor capability is only a portion of the major increase in air power the Army plans to put into Europe by the end of 1984.

By that time, the Army plans to have 1,566 aircraft in n Europe, including 360 anti-armor missile-equipped helicopters." David A. Brown, "Cobra Bolsters U.S. Stance in Europe," Aviation Week & Space Technology, November 14, 1977, p. 41. [ Return ]

16. FM 100-5, p. 2-30. [ Return ]

17. "Defined as the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany south of the Elbe and the Benelux countries." "NATO and the New Soviet Threat," p. S1413. [ Return ]

18. "Present doctrines for mobile ground operations and material employment are based on open spaces that are shrinking rapidly, engulfed by development." See Paul J. Braken, "Models of West European Urban Sprawl as an Active Defence Variable," in Reiner K. Huber, Lynn F. Jones and Egil Reine, ed., Military Strategy and Tactics Computer Mode1ing of Land War Problems, p. 219. [ Return ]

19. "Motor vehicles licensed in the Federal Republic Germany of 1 July 1974 numbered 20,424,226 (including 230,364 motor cycles, 17,341,265 passenger cars, 1,135,784 trucks, 57,808 buses and 1,543,000 tractors)." John Paxton, ed., The Statesman's Year Book (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1976), p. 969. [ Return ]

20. General Robert Close, The Feasibility of a Surprise Attack Against Western Europe, NATO Defense College, 24 February 1975. [ Return ]

21. "Soviet doctrine emphasizes offensive operations based on seizing the initiative and exploiting the surprise factor, for both nuclear and conventional operations .... This advance would be assisted by the extensive use of helicopter-borne assaults to seize objectives designed to facilitate the Soviet advance and also airborne operations, used in similar fashion to exploit the initial nuclear blow." John Erickson, Soviet-Warsaw Pact Force Levels, p. 32. [ Return ]

22. For a discussion of "urban hugging tactics" see Paul Braken, "Urban Sprawl and NATO Defense," Military Review, October 1977, p. 32-39. This same tactic was used extensively by the NVA to avoid the American fire. [ Return ]

23. Army Concept Paper on Airmobile Operations, August 1977, p. B-10.[ Return ]

24. Ibid., p. B-12. [ Return ]

25. D.K. Palit, The Essentials of Military Knowledge, p. 38. [ Return ]

26. B. H. Liddell Hart, The Revolution in Warfare, p. 89. [ Return ]

27. Army Concept Paper on Airmobile Operations, August 1977, p. . [ Return ]

28. Ibid., p. [ Return ]

29. "New Helicopter Combat Roles Planned," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 29 September 1975, p. 53. [ Return ]

30. See Clay Blair Jr., Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War Against Japan. [ Return ]

31. Hart, The Revolution in Warfare, p. 32. [ Return ]

32. See for example David A. Brown, "Helicopter Play New Role in Europe," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 28 November 1977, p. 62. [ Return ]