Thursday, February 27, 2020

J-CATCH: When attack helicopters shot down fighter jets

It's been long enough to be a fuzzy memory now. But if you look long enough in the corners of Cold War history, you can find the story of when helicopters showed what they can do against fighter jets.

Yes, helicopters can shoot down planes. Even some of the deadliest planes in the world.

J-CATCH (Joint Countering Attack Helicopter) was a series of exercises the US Army and Air Force held in the late 70s that sounds like something a teenager with a flight combat simulator on his computer would try. The Army had its helicopters armed with machine gun pods, meant to approximate the firepower Soviet helicopters. The Air Force jets swept in... and were promptly cut to pieces. The kill ratio in early exercises, which included F-4s and F-15s, was 5:1 in favor of the helicopters.

This exercise, along with the presence of the heavily armed and armored Mi-24 Hind helicopter in the Soviet arsenal, led the United States to develop specific tactics for fighting attack helicopters. The kill ratio swung back in favor of the fighter jets, though it was still lower than one would expect.

Helicopters are considered more fragile than planes. They're much slower, usually carry shorter-range weapons, and aren't designed to combat air superiority aircraft. But J-CRAFT showed that the element of surprise, combined with some Red Team ingenuity to leverage the maneuverability of the helicopters, could turn the tables. It isn't a strategy the United States intends to carry out, but it's a fun piece of history and a demonstration of what asymmetric warfare in the air might look like.

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