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Thursday, April 22, 1999 Published at 08:39 GMT 09:39 UK

Apache: The all-weather attacker

By BBC Defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus

The AH-64 Apache attack helicopter is one of the most potent weapons systems in the US arsenal.

Click here to watch the Apache helicopter gunship in action
It has a crew of two and its chief mission is to destroy enemy tanks and armoured vehicles.

The twin-engined attacker can operate both day and night, whatever the weather.

The helicopter can carry up to 16 Hellfire laser-guided missiles and its role is to destroy tanks and other armoured vehicles far ahead of its own front line.

New capability

Nato has ruled out suggestions that the 24 Apaches being deployed in Albania are the first move towards a land war.

[ image:  ]
But their ability to fly low, taking every advantage of the terrain, before popping up to unleash their weapons should give Nato commanders a new capability to engage Yugoslav units.

Announcing the addition of the Apache to the Nato force, the Pentagon said the Apache would give Nato the chance to "get up close and personal" with Serbian armour.

The recent controversy over the bombing of a civilian convoy by Nato warplanes illustrates the difficulties facing pilots operating at altitudes of around 15,000 ft.

Jeremy Cooke: "Apaches bring Nato firepower into Belgrade's back yard"
But flying low clearly exposes the helicopter crews to greater risks.

With Yugoslav forces widely dispersed and equipped with large quantities of shoulder-fired surface-to-air Manpads missiles and old-fashioned rapid-firing guns, good tactical intelligence will be the key to the Apache's success.

Previous missions

The AH-64 played a key role in the US intervention in Panama in 1989, when most of its missions were at night.

[ image:  ]
But the Apache really came of age in Operation Desert Storm - the US-led campaign to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

Apaches are credited with destroying more than 500 Iraqi tanks as well as hundreds of other vehicles.

Indeed Apaches opened the Alliance air campaign in the Gulf when they destroyed key air defence radars, opening up "a key-hole" in Iraq's air defences for the first waves of strike aircraft.

Mark Laity reports from Nato HQ in Brussels: "A very very effective system"
Apache helicopters have also been deployed with the Nato-led forces in Bosnia.

Over 800 Apaches have been delivered to the US Army and the helicopter has been exported to Egypt; Greece; Israel; Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

[ image: Firing a Hellfire laser-guided missile]
Firing a Hellfire laser-guided missile

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Internet Links

Aviation Encyclopedia: AH-64 Apache

Boeing Rotorcraft: AH-64 Apache

Federation of American Scientists: AH-64 Apache


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