The Associated Press has this catalogue of helicopter losses in Iraq in 2005.
- June 27, 2005: A U.S. Apache AH-64 attack helicopter crashed in Mishahda, north of Baghdad, killing both pilots.
- May 31, 2005: An Italian AB-412 helicopter crashed eight miles south of Nasiriyah, killing four Italian troops aboard in what a spokesman said was likely an accident.
- May 26, 2005: Insurgents shot down an OH-58 Kiowa helicopter near Buhriz, north of Baghdad, killing two U.S. soldiers.
- April 21, 2005: A Russian-made Mi-8 helicopter is shot down by missile fire north of Baghdad, killing 11 people, including six American contractors, U.S. and Bulgarian officials say.
- Jan. 26, 2005: A CH-53 Sea Stallion transport helicopter crashed in bad weather in western Iraq, killing at least 31 Marines aboard.
The Washington Post carries this story about the loss of an MH-47 Chinook in Afghanistan on June 29, 2005.
A large U.S. military helicopter crashed Tuesday afternoon while carrying 17 American troops to reinforce a counterterrorism mission in eastern Afghanistan, U.S. officials confirmed. "Initial reports indicate the crash may have been caused by hostile fire," the military said in a statement this morning. ... Afghan officials said the CH-47 Chinook helicopter was hit by a rocket while flying over Konar province, near the Pakistani border. A purported spokesman for the Taliban Islamic militia asserted responsibility for the attack. U.S. and Afghan forces "quickly moved into position around the crash to block any enemy movement toward or away from the site," the statement today said. "Coalition aircraft remain overhead."
It's only a matter of time before there is speculation about whether the insurgents are being supplied with newer and more effective MANPADs by nations eager to see the US fail in its war on terror. Readers can compare these to the tempo of Soviet aviation losses in Afghanistan most of which were probably caused by US-supplied MANPADs (Stinger). The Taliban have now claimed that the MH-47 lost trying to rescue the SEAL team in contact with the enemy was shot down by a "new weapon". According to the New York Times:
The unit of four commandos was investigating reports of sighting of Taliban fighters last Tuesday when it encountered and engaged a large force of enemy and, under fire, called for additional support. Reinforcements were sent that afternoon aboard the Chinook that crashed as it approached the battlefield, probably brought down by a missile.
A video purportedly showing insurgents in Afghanistan shooting down a Chinook helicopter surfaced on the Web today, according to the SITE Institute, for Search for International Terrorist Entities, which tracks terrorist Web sites. Last week, a spokesman for the Taliban movement, Abdul Latif Hakimi asserted that Taliban fighters had used a "new weapon" to shoot down a Chinook in Kunar Province, and had videotaped the incident.
Hakimi's claim should be taken with a grain of salt. Most helicopter losses to missiles occur when the aircraft is either taking off or setting down and not when they are transiting en route. At sufficiently low altitudes and airspeeds unguided projectiles (like machinegun bullets or RPGs) can down any helicopter and no countermeasures are possible against it. What about 'new weapons'? The real weakness of MANPADs is their limited engagement horizons and the difficulty of netting them into an integrated air defense environment. A MANPAD operator trudging along with his unit will have no idea that a helicopter will be on him until it is almost too late. Low flying, fast helicopters flying evasively have a statistically small probability of blundering into a MANPAD operator ready to fire and looking in the right direction. But the MH-47's loss occurred at its most vulnerable, when it was descending into a combat situation. If ever there were a shootdown that did not require a new weapon, this was it.
(Speculation alert) But that does not mean that enemy MANPAD-based air defenses cannot be improved. If he were provided with a missile launcher with a long-standby time capable of being cued by networks of aircraft spotters carrying communications devices linked to a GPS device, the effectiveness of the enemy air defense would increase by an order of magnitude. Enemy missileers and machinegunners could get one or two minute's warning and the relative bearing of an incoming threat -- and that would prove deadly for the helicopter. Electronic warfare could nullify such devices but perhaps such a threat had never been tactically encountered before. Any new enemy weapon which played a part in the hunt for the SEAL recon team would likely be a new communications device.