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Chapter V. Armed Helicopter Missions


This list of missions is composed of the basic type tasks most often accomplished by the armed helicopter. Because of the versatility of The helicopter, these tasks cannot be considered all inclusive. Even with the high gross weight associated with the armed ship, it is still possible to perform med-evac, command-liaison, extractions end even emergency resupply. It should be remembered however that the primary mission or the armed helicopter platoon of the assault helicopter company is at all times direct support by means 0£ armed escort to their own company.

A. Visual Reconnaissance:

1. The point reconnaissance: Most reconnaissance missions will be conducted by an element no larger than a fire team. If an entire platoon is employed the platoon commander will generally employ his second and (if he has three) fire teams at altitude in a reinforcing role. The firs team making the reconnaissance will keep the platoon commander informed of the current situation so that all information may be used in making his decisions. Care must be taken to fully understand your mission. Why is the reconnaissance being made? The mission requirement will have an effect on your tactics and your exposure. First in order after locating the point of concern is a through high recon of the point and surrounding area. For this, a loose, distant, free floating staggered trail is the best formation. During the high recon (about 1000' absolute) make sure you observe very carefully the lay-of-the-land, the likely target areas, ground routes of approach and escape, the wind and any unusual features in the vicinity of the point to be reconned. Be alert for ground fire; you may find all you want to know without making a low recon.

Once a thorough high recon is made you proceed with the low recon, remembering the terrain so as not to violate the rules in Chapter III. Commence the low recon on leaving 1000 feet and continue down making a ground. track in keeping with good tactical thinking, i.e., not parallel to the tree lines, not lingering in the dead man. zone and all with a good steady air speed, (80-85 kts). Several passes over and around the area will be necessary, so make each in a different direction if possible. In general, make flights below 500' at contour.

2. The area reconnaissance : Basically, the area reconnaissance differs from the point recon in that it covers more area and thus more terrain features. Care must be taken to make a longer and more complete high recon before dropping down for a low recon. It the area is very large and/or particularly threatening it is wise to divide it into sub-areas making a new high recon in each. It is important to remember that a large area will take a long time to check out. Don’t rush.

3. The route reconnaissance: Normally a route reconnaissance will be made in conjunction with a convoy escort. The route to be reconnoitered will most often be a road or highway. Before beginning the route recon remember that a highway is very much a linear terrain feature. A road is also likely to cross the path of a power or communication line which are becoming more common in Vietnam. Do not fly parallel to the road for any length of time and plan to check out a short length of the route at a time. Fly three or four kilometers down the road making a high recon just as you do for an area recon and. then come back at a lower altitude making a low recon. In this way you have the opportunity to observe the whole area at altitude before flying low near the route. Once the recon The completed return to altitude. In all reconnaissance reports remember to speak in the ground commander’s language. Be concise in your descriptions. A route recon is not limited to convoy escort but is also applicable to the recon of a ground units axis of advance. This recon may be conducted in the same manner as described above, but the recon element meet remain more flexible and responsive to the ground commander. often the entire concept of the ground operation will depend on the intelligence that you are able to report to the ground' commander.

B. Support of Company Airmobile Operations: 1. General: The sole mission of the armed helicopter during combat assaults is providing
protection for the troop carrier helicopters. The manner in which this is accomplished should be generally the same each time, the variance being dictated by the combat situation that exists.

2. The Assault: a. Number. The most desirable number of armed helicopters to escort an Airmobile company is six . This may vary from two aircraft to six aircraft. Under four does not give the flexibility needed to cope with any situation, such as one or more downed aircraft en route to the landing zone.

b. Positions: With an even number of armed helicopters, the number
will be split with half on each side. If an odd number exists the last aircraft will become the slot. (See Figure 1). The positions of the platoon commander will be either lead on the right or the slot depending on the need for his visual observance of the situation. Normally a fire team will be on each side, whether light or heavy depends upon the number of escort aircraft. As the number of escort aircraft decreases, everything will remain the same except the lead aircraft will drop back. Five escort aircraft will maintain the same pace-setter, lead on the right, who will take up a position approximately 200 meters from the rear of the troop carrier formation. With three escort aircraft this distance would be approximately 300 meters. Less than three armed escorts should never be used due to the lack of firepower and flexibility, with the exception of battalion operations when additional fire teams are available from battalion.

c. Formation: The sole mission of the armed aircraft is protection for the troop carriers. This means giving maximum protection before they are likely to receive fire; not covering territory that the troop carrier:
have already passed. The formation will be flown at or just below the flight leader. Dress for the armed aircraft will be right and to the front. Maximum firepower can be delivered when all machine guns can be fired without traversing past the inboard stops. This is also true with regard to the M-3 and M-5 systems. The less the turn, the quicker and more accurate the return firepower



d. Enroute escort: This will be accomplished at altitude with the troop carriers so as not to become engaged with any target that has no direct bearing on the mission. However, short flights my necessitate covering the slicks from a lower altitude than theirs. This may come about due to the time required to climb a heavy gunship to altitude. There seldom should be occasion when the escort aircraft should descend while enroute, except to provide cover for a downed aircraft. Area suppressive fire is just as effective at altitude.

C. The Approach: As the troop carriers begin their decent, the escorts do likewise. All escorts descend at the same time so as not to have any restrictions to returning fire because of the troop carriers at a lower altitude. Escort descent is terminated at approximately 5OO ft. above the terrain and this altitude is maintained throughout the rest of the approach and landing phase. With five or six escort aircraft the lead escort should he passing the troop carrier lead about the time troop carrier lead begins to flare for touch-down. Indicated airspeed should to 80 knots or greater from the time the escort leader starts his move forward. Suppressive fire is commenced depending on the terrain, angle of approach and enemy situation on the approach path. The amount of ammunition expended is given by the platoon commander in his suppressive fire instructions. The run should be made well forward of the touch-down or the troop carriers before breaking right or left, depending on escort aircraft position. The right side will make a steep turn right, so as to minimize the time the armed ships are out of position to give supporting fires. With three or four armed escort, the escort leader will delay starting his run forward so as to be in a position short of the touch-down point as the troop carrier leader is touching down. (See figure 2).

f. The Departure: As the troop carriers begin their take-off for departure, the armed aircraft in position on each side will pick up the lead. The armed aircraft that picks up lead will generally depend on the length of time the troop carriers are in the landing zone and the surrounding terrain that must be covered. Formation for departure will again become the same as for the en route escort. If for some reason the troop carriers must .-make more than an immediate 90 degree turn from the landing zone, there are two methods that can be used by the armed helicopters to get into formation for the departure. The method selected depends on instructions from the escort leader. The first method is to maintain the same formation as in the approach. This places the armed aircraft on the inside of the turn in a very reduced airspeed with limited zones of fire. The second method is the crossover. The armed helicopters on the right during the approach will cross-over and take position on the left upon departure. The left side will cross-over and take position on the left as the right side begins its change. This method will be used only in case of extremely, tight turns because of the coordination required to execute.

g. Downed Aircraft Procedure: The fire team. That drops out or the formation will depend on instructions received from the platoon commander. Normally the fire team on the same side as the disabled aircraft drops out to cover the troop carrier. If all armed helicopters are needed for the assault, then an effort will be made to have a fire team which is available in the immediate vicinity take-over the overhead cover mission of the downed aircraft.

h. The Reconnaissance and Mark: On company assaults the reconnaissance and marking or the landing zone will be accomplished by a fire team from the armed platoon. The order of his action will be to make a high reconnaissance, low reconnaissance, suppress any hostile fire received, mark the landing zone with smoke and give recommendations to the troop carrier leader. After reconnaissance and mark have been completed the fire team will rejoin the escort on which ever side is most easily reached after first coordinating with the other fire team in escort.

i. Suppressive Fires: Unless the tactical situation dictates otherwise, the aircraft on the right and left will be a M-3/M-5 aircraft. If suppressive fire is to be used and there are no restrictions to fire, these two aircraft will start their move forward on final approach in the assault so as to work-over the likely hostile positions with the troop carriers landing just behind and between this suppressive fire. If only one M-3/M-5 aircraft is available, this same procedure will be used on the most dangerous or exposed side of the troop carriers.

C. Overhead Cover for Ground operations: Armed helicopters may be used in an overhead cover roll in support of ground operations resulting from air assaults or conventional ground operations. All are similar in nature, but each has a few differences. To satisfy the need for continuous overhead cover, fire teams are rotated on station. As one team expends its ordnance or runs law on fuel, another comes on station to take its place. In cases where one heavy fireteam is used for overhead cover, one ship at a time may be sent to refuel/rearm in order to maintain a light fireteam in support continuously. If the situation does not call for continuous overhead cover, the fire team can standby at a nearby location where they can respond to a radio call from ground commander or the command and control aircraft.

1. No other armed helicopter mission poses as many challenges to the armed ship commander as does the mission of over-head cover. The changing situation, the unforeseen difficulties and the possibility or elaborate supporting fire coordination, makes this your most difficult task.

2. First in the order or business is to establish radio contact with the ground commander and make positive identification of the location or all his troops. Advise him that you are on station and that you are prepared to provide fire support as necessary, if he would mark his position with smoke and give the azimuth and distance to the target. Your continued visual and radio contact with the ground troops will make you the best source of information about the progress of the ground plan in the immediate area. After initial contact with the ground commander and you have all friendly elements located you will remain in the immediate area and stay responsive to the ground commander.


3. From time to time you may be required to escort an unarmed ship into the operational area for re-supply or medical evacuations. You may be called on to make a recon ahead of the ground element. When not involved in a specific task, remain at altitude and closely monitor the movement on the ground. If and when the ground troops make contact you will probably be called on to make a strike on the forces. A complete description of this type fire mission is described under Attack Considerations in Chapter III. Also, remember to use your supporting forces, Air Force fighters, Artillery, etc., if a situation on the ground should arise that you cannot handle.

4. Remember your mission and don’t become involved in something that may distract you or cause you to leave the operational area. You must remain responsive to the ground commander and be available when he needs you.