06 April 2010

COIN for Aviators -- a scenario

While rushing from meeting to meeting today, I had a lot of time to think about the video that's been making its rounds on the Internet.

For those of you who aren't aware, Wikileaks released a video shot from the Target Acquisition Display Sight (TADS) of an AH-64D Apache Longbow belonging to the 1st Air Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Hood, Texas. The video shows the pilots of the aircraft shooting their 30mm cannon into a group of Iraqis whom they believed to be insurgents. Unfortunately, the attack killed journalists from Reuters, some of whom may have been mistaken for armed gunmen based on video footage of cameras slung over their shoulder somewhat like a rifle. You can view the nearly 40 minutes of footage at Youtube. (WARNING: Extremely graphic)

I'm going to limit my discussion to the first engagement in the video. Some of the subsequent engagements in the video, such as the van and the triangle-shaped building, are fodder for another day; I have plenty of questions about the latter portion of the video.

I should also caveat any criticism with the fact that we in the blogosphere can simply hit pause and rewind in the safety of our living rooms before we comment. No one involved in the video had that luxury. Unfortunately, life and death decisions are made in a split-second, and sometimes, they might not be the best decisions.

The pilots responded to a report from Troops In Contact (what pilots call a "TIC"). In the video, this is the "Bushmaster" element. It's certainly tragic that the journalists were killed, but unfortunately, these things happen in war. Given the situation, it's understandable to see how the pilots might have killed the Iraqis in the first engagement.

To answer a question I received in a previous post, yes, this might be the only real glimpse the pilots had of the target. If I remember my one hour in the Apache simulator correctly, the gunner would be looking through a display in the cockpit similar to this device in the center. It would greatly restrict his view outside. (Gun bunnies, correct me if I am wrong)

The pilot would be watching much of the airspace around him, and not just concentrating on the action below. Not to mention, the aircraft would normally remain a safe distance away from the action. It is likely that the black-and-white video you saw on Youtube would have been their best view of the situation. A similar situation existed in Kunduz province in Afghanistan last year, when German forces directed an American F-15E to drop a bomb on two tanker trucks they believed were surrounded by insurgents.

However, some better counterinsurgency training for the pilots might yield better results. Let's take a look at another situation. A pair of scout helicopters (such as the OH-58D) observes a man digging along the side of a road. This is suspicious, of course, since this is a good indicator that the man might be emplacing an improvised explosive device (IED).

You have a .50-caliber machine gun and a pair of Hellfire missiles at your disposal. Do you:

a.) Engage with the .50-caliber machine gun?
b.) Engage with the Hellfire missile?
c.) Wait and report the information to ground forces

If you picked c, you might be a counter insurgent.

Why not shadow the digger from afar, report the incident to the local "landowner", and ask them to dispatch a quick reaction force (QRF)? The QRF might be able to detain the digger and determine whether or not he actually did emplace a bomb. Even better, if the local police are trustworthy, they might be able to apprehend the man. If the digger was innocent, no harm done. If he was a bombmaker, local police might be able to learn about his bomb making cell and connections, leading to further arrests in a bomb-making network.

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