Five helicopters shot down in three weeks . These seem to have been brought down with plain machine guns, but the irony is bitter indeed. It was portable ground-to-air missiles supplied by the CIA that enabled the Taliban to run the Russians out of Afghanistan. How long until a black-market Russian shoulder-fired (or one of our own Stingers that weren’t gathered up from the Mujahideen) brings down a US chopper?
Why do we use so many of these low, slow, delicate, sitting-duck aircraft anyway? The officers I knew from the Kennedy School’s DoD executive program many years back were quite bitter about it; the Army Air Corps took its monopoly on fixed-wing aircraft with it on the way to becoming the Air Force in 1947, allowing the Army to fly only small observer planes (think, Piper Cub on steroids), and the rules have stuck. Accordingly, the Navy and Marines can supply their own ground-support by airplanes or helicopters as they see fit, and use the latter quite sparingly in combat, but the Army has had to constantly ask for air support from one of the other branches, or, understandably, build up a helicopter service many of whose functions would be much more safely and effectively performed by airplanes.
Luckily, all the services’ higher-ups know they’re on the same team, collaborate selflessly and seamlessly, and interservice rivalry that might compromise the mission is unknown in the US Military.
UPDATE: A reader points out that the Afghanistan era Stingers are almost certainly hors de combat by now, though others may be in circulation. He also provides an interesting eavesdrop on real experts talking about helicopter vulnerability to plain old machine gun fire.