14 Years have passed since Operation “Defensive Shield” in which the IDF operated in Judea and Samaria against Palestinian Terror organizations. The IAF’s Combat Helicopter Division was the dominant aerial force during the operation and proved its abilities as an ideal weapon in urban warfare. The Combat Helicopter Squadron Commanders from the operation recreate what it feels like to combat terror from the cockpit
A quick browse through the pages of history will reveal that in their first years, combat helicopters mostly combated armored forces and that is their official mission. Nonetheless, their main mission in Operation “Defensive Shield” was attacking terror targets and massive assistance to ground forces in order to reduce the risk of them getting hurt. The arrival of the advanced “Apache” combat helicopters to the IAF in September 1990 and their immediate entrance into operational activity in Lebanon, brought an immediate improvement in the IDF abilities when facing terror targets.
“In fact, until 2002, most of the operational activity took place in Lebanon”, explains Lt. Col. (Res.) S, the “First Cobra” Squadron Commander during Operation “Defensive Shield”. The first times a combat helicopter fired were in 1990 when a terrorist boat penetrated Israeli borders and arrived at Nizanim Shore and in 1996 in the “Western Wall Tunnel” Riots in which IDF forces clashed with armed Palestinians. These were both isolated events in which a combat helicopter was operated in order to achieve an operational objective, mostly restoring the quiet to the area. Later on, the presence of combat helicopters in the Palestinian Authority rose and consisted of a peak in the division’s operation facing disorganized forces.
The combat helicopter’s doctrine was updated during the operation and dedicated measures were developed based on the requirements that arose throughout the combat. “The targets were usually quality targets such as weapons labs and arms dumps. We had to hit small details, like a house window”, describes Col. (Res) Zvika, the “Northern Cobra” Squadron Commander during the operation.
“Everything happens in minutes”
Is a Combat helicopter an independent weapon or an assisting tool for ground forces? Can a Combat helicopter operate alone against guerilla forces or always arrive as a power increaser for the combatants on the ground? Judging by Operation “Defensive Shield”, both scenarios are possible. “Combat helicopters often arrive first at the scene, so in isolated incidents such as terrorist penetration of the country’s borders or extraction under fire, you may find yourself alone in the first minutes of the mission”, says Col. (Res.) Zvika. “In a case such as this, we utilize our height advantage and attempt to identify the enemy and fire upon it until the ground forces arrive. A combat helicopter doesn’t operate completely independently, unless it is attacking a target with preliminary and accurate intelligence”.
How does it work? “You arrive in the field, join a force, it tells you what it needs from you and everything happens in minutes”, Col. (Res.) S completes the picture. “You learn to arrive at a new scene and understand it quickly, the conditions change rapidly. I remember an event when a group of hikers got lost and terrorists opened fire on them. We got up in the air and led the search with the goal of getting ground forces to them as fast as possible. The aerial POV that the mission required could only be provided by a helicopter and in a scenario which requires fire – a combat helicopter is the answer”.
Thunder and not a Shot
When the campaign is carried out against disorganized forces, psychological and mental warfare receive a double meaning and the IAF utilizes this ability. “We executed many noise missions. When a combat helicopter arrives in the field, the enemy begins to act differently, a strike from the air is unexpected and causes much fear. In these cases thunder is enough, instead of fire and that is in itself proof of the affectivity of aircraft in warfare against guerilla forces”, rules Col. (Res.) Zvika.
“When you are up in the air, the enemy doesn’t know what you see and what you don’t and its need to hide intensifies, it assumes that if it can see you, you can see it”, explains Col. (Res.) S. “When the heads of the terror organization hide in houses, it delays them and damages their flexibility, which works to our advantage. Combat helicopter fire makes them occupy themselves with defense at the expense of attack”.