Are combat helicopters too vulnerable now?

The US Army announced that it was ending the FARA program aimed at developing combat and reconnaissance helicopters to replace the OH-58 Kiowa and part of the AH-64 Apache that it is using.

The credits thus freed, i.e. several billion dollars in the years to come, will make it possible to finance the acquisition of new UH-60M Black Hawk maneuvering helicopters and CH-47F Chinook heavy transport helicopters, while reconnaissance and The attack will be carried out by light drones and lurking munitions.

This decision, which surprised even the industrialists participating in the program, is not, however, the result of a new programmatic reversal of which the Pentagon has the secret. Indeed, the war in Ukraine has shown the extreme vulnerability of combat helicopters when they approach the line of engagement, but also the effectiveness of drones and lurking munitions to replace them.

Russian combat helicopters neutralized in Ukraine, and replaced by reconnaissance drones and lurking munitions

60 out of 133! This is the rate of documented losses (destroyed or damaged) recorded by the fleet of Ka-52 Hockum-B combat helicopters Russian armed forces in Ukraine, after two years of war. Once the lost Mi-28N, Mi-24 and Mi-35 are added, the Russian armies would have lost 90 rotary combat wings, out of the 135 helicopters shot down, destroyed on the ground or damaged since the start of the conflict.

Ka-52 Hockum-B shot down in Ukraine
Russian armies have lost almost half of their 133 Ka-52 Hockum-Bs since the start of the conflict in Ukraine

This extraordinarily high loss rate, far exceeding that of tactical aviation, which was also very exposed, led the Russian general staff to considerably reduce the use of its combat helicopters near the line of defense. commitment, causing them to lose a large part of the operational added value they were supposed to provide.

While the role of combat helicopters has been significantly reduced in recent months along the front line in Ukraine, that of reconnaissance drones, as well as lurking munitions, has skyrocketed, precisely to fulfill the missions of these devices now too exposed.

Far from representing an alternative displaying degraded performance to reconnaissance helicopters, the use of more or less light drones to search and identify opposing forces and equipment has made it possible to significantly increase the transparency of the battlefield, in its completeness. as in time.

At the same time, lurking munitions, such as the Russian Lancet or the American Switchblade, make it possible to pose a constant threat to opposing infrastructure and armor, effectively replacing attack helicopters in this mission.

US Army abandons FARA program

This implacable observation, which can hardly be ignored, certainly weighed heavily in the decision made public on February 8 by the Pentagon, to end the FARA program high-performance reconnaissance and attack helicopters, launched in 2018.

Invictus Bell combat helicopters
Bell was selected with the B360 Invictus as one of two FARA finalists

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