Exercise last summer in Germany provided experience in dealing with Iraqi air defense
March 20, 2003
CAMP UDAIRI, Kuwait — The German government may oppose a U.S. war with Iraq, but the German army has given American pilots invaluable aid in foiling Iraqi air defense.
The German Bundeswehr invited the U.S. Army’s 11th Aviation Regiment to fly AH-64 Apache helicopters in its Schwarze Himmel (Black Sky) exercise last year.
Pilots from the 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment from Illesheim, Germany, opposed the Bundeswehr’s Roland anti-aircraft missile system.
“We flew against them day and night. We put our own guys inside them,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Warren Aylworth, the regiment’s tactical operations officer. “We in 11th Regiment learned more about the Roland than anybody else in the Army.”
The Roland was built in the 1980s as a joint French and German venture. It was purchased by the Iraqis and remains among the world’s finest air-defense artillery systems, Aylworth said.
“It is the Iraqis’ most numerous and most capable air-defense system,” he said.
The invitation to join in Schwarze Himmel came in 2001, he said, long before the United States had any serious plan to attack Iraq. The Germans were looking for aircraft to simulate an attack on its Roland batteries.
Aylworth said the regiment was busy at the time, with one of its two squadrons at Fort Hood, Texas, being retrained to use the new AH-64D Longbow model Apache.
Regimental leaders considered declining the invitation.
“It would have been really easy to say no,” Aylworth said. “[But] we knew live-fly against modern air-defense artillery would be a really good experience.”
Because of the restrictions placed on helicopter exercises in Germany, it took many months to get German government approval.
Aylworth said the Army had plenty of classified knowledge about the Roland, but something was missing.
“What the secret documents don’t tell you,” he said, “is how they work with real air crews flying against them.”
The exercise took place in the skies south and west of Würzburg, Aylworth said, and he thought the Apaches did extraordinarily well.
He sat with a Bundeswehr gunner in a Roland battery for an entire night without seeing any blips on the radar screen. At first, he said, he grew irritated because he thought the Apaches had not challenged the system.
Only the next day did he learn that several Apaches had flown directly over the battery without being detected.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tim McCray, 34, was one of the pilots who stared down the Roland.
“We were pretty sure that our tactics would make us invisible to their radar,” McCray said. “My confidence level went up about threefold after that.”
McCray said the pilots know ways to fly and stay out of the radar’s sights.
They also realized they could spot the radar as soon as the enemy turned it on, which would allow Air Force fighters to instantly destroy it with their missiles.
“It really put us at ease, knowing we’ve got the right tactics and the right equipment,” said Maj. Steve Wilson, the squadron’s S3 (plans and operations) officer.
Aylworth said at the time of Schwarze Himmel, the Army wasn’t thinking specifically of Iraq when it looked at the Roland. Later last summer, though, when it became apparent 11th Aviation might be part of a second Middle East war, he returned for a closer look with the full cooperation of the Bundeswehr — even as German Prime Minister Gerhard Schroeder campaigned for re-election on a platform of steadfast opposition to war with Iraq.
The Germans aren’t the only allies who have helped the Army learn about air defense artillery that will be arrayed against Apache attack pilots in Iraq.
During the Victory Strike III exercise last October in Poland, pilots from the regiment’s 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment tested the Polish SAM 8, a Russian-built surface-to-air missile system.
Aylworth, who had flown against the batteries as a pilot, got a chance to look inside them.
“As an old cold warrior, I trained 18 years to defeat these things,” he said.
Aylworth said that during the more than a month of war preparations in Kuwait, he has personally briefed every Apache pilot who will be involved in the attack on his newfound knowledge of the capabilities and drawbacks of the Roland and the SAM 8.
“Now we know with complete confidence that even if they have trained crews,” he said. “We can beat them.”