U.S. Army Loses Two Apache Attack Helicopters in Alaska Crash: Army Aviation Grounded After Multiple Deadly Accidents

Following a training mission on April 27 two U.S. Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopters were destroyed in a crash in Alaska, with three of the four personnel manning them killed and a fourth injured. The aircraft came from the 1st Attack Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, which formed shortly before the Vietnam War and operates three companies of Apaches. The accident occurred near the town of Healy in central Alaska, and is the second involving Apaches based in the state this year – with another having crashed in a February injuring two soldiers from the Army’s 25th Attack Battalion. The latest incident comes less than a month after two Black Hawk transport helicopters crashed during a routine training mission in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, leaving nine soldiers dead. The Army on April 28 ordered a 24 hour safety stand-down of its aviation units in response to the latest incident. While the Army’s aviation has seen multiple recent accidents, crashes affecting fixed wing aviation in the Air Force and Navy have been even more frequent since 2020, with some of the most serious affecting the Air Force’s new fifth generation stealth fighters and B-2 stealth bombers

The Apache first flew 48 years ago in 1975, and underwent a protracted and difficult period of development before entering service in 1986. Developed primarily to provide close air support against enemy tanks, the helicopter was designed to be considerably heavier and better armoured than its predecessor the AH-1 Cobra and carry more firepower. The aircraft did much to bridge the performance gap with the Soviet Mi-24, which had entered service 14 years prior in 1972 and had a highly comparable performance. While Russia has since moved on from the generation of the Mi-24 and the Apache to field new Mi-28 and Ka-52 attack helicopters, the Apache still has no successor in service in the Western world with investment instead being focused on upgrading the older aircraft. The result is that the Apache lacks many of the key features of new generations of attack helicopters such as the ability to perform extreme manoeuvres or fire cruise missiles. Notable performance attributes, however, include an ability to operate at very high altitudes, and in the case of more modern variants integration of a powerful sensor suite including the Longbow Radar. The viability of attack helicopters, and of using manned aircraft for close air support more generally, has increasingly been brought to question over the last year by the limited contributions made by Russian rotary wing aviation in its ongoing war with Ukraine, as successful air denial using a Soviet ground based air defence network has seriously restricted the ability of all non stealth aircraft to operate.