"Risks and Restraint: Why the Apaches Never Flew in Kosovo"[front page, Dec. 29] was a disturbing account of waste and poor planning in our military. Billions of dollars were spent to develop a capability that was not used because of weather, terrain, risk and, best of all, because another service (Air Force) could do it better.

If the Apache couldn't cut it in Kosovo, where can it be used? Perhaps the next conflict can be fought during the summer in a flat region. And, by the way, does it really take thousands of soldiers and tanks to protect the Apache while sitting on the ground?

For some of us, this brings back memories of Vietnam, another war where politics and poor planning stifled our technological advantages.




The article "Why the Apaches Never Flew in Kosovo" never answered the question. For the record, here is the answer.

Helicopters do not constitute an independent force and cannot successfully be deployed against a dug-in enemy using 50-caliber or better antiaircraft guns, because they will be shot down.

If the enemy has heat-seeking antiaircraft missiles, helicopters will be shot down that much faster. If the enemy has guided missiles or sophisticated weapons such as fighter planes, the helicopters may not even make it over the enemy front lines.

For the Apache helicopters to be effective, they must be an integral part of an independent force, such as an Airmobile Cavalry Division, that also includes Army fixed-wing fighting aircraft. The emphasis is on "independent," because the Army cannot rely upon the Air Force or the Navy tactical air forces when the going gets rough or the weather gets nasty.

The Army initially structured the 1st Airmobile Cavalry Division with these capabilities. The division fought successfully in Vietnam until a policy decision stripped the Army of fixed-wing combat aircraft, making the helicopters alone too vulnerable. This is why the the Apaches never flew in Kosovo.




The U.S. Army has taken the brunt of the blame for the failure to commit the Apache helicopters in the effort to save lives in Kosovo. But the blame lies higher up the chain of command. When the decision was made to fight in Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic should have had to face U.S. and allied land, sea and air forces. Instead, he suffered only air and missile attacks.

Had we deployed some airborne divisions to Albania, Mr. Milosevic might have thought twice about his brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing. It is argued that our allies did not want to commit ground forces. But deploying and threatening could have saved many lives. Our allies know how to play poker.

When we go to war, we should go with a full team--land, sea and air. The answer to aggression is to take out the aggressor--on the ground.