The US Army's AH-64 Apache helicopters operating in the Middle East could deter enemy fighter jets from attacking US and allied interests in the region, while also providing intelligence on the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).
Apache attack helicopters conduct reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, and provide force protection, sending a clear signal to malign actors, notably Iran, that should they decide to take action against US or allied forces, the United States has the capability to respond, officials say.
The Apache helicopter first saw combat in 1989, and more than 800 are in service with the US Army.
At least another 100 Apaches could be added to the US Army's arsenal in coming years, Flight Global reported on October 13.
Apache manufacturer Boeing said it expects a contract for at least 100 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters in the second quarter of 2022, according to the Flight Global report.
The attack helicopters would be delivered to the US Army and international customers, Boeing said, without specifying how many are intended for the US Army and how many would be delivered to foreign militaries.
The "E" model of the AH-64 features the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System radio, providing the ability to control an unmanned aerial vehicle.
None of this is good news for the Iranian regime, which continues to increase tensions in the Middle East with its support for proxy militias and its ongoing push to achieve nuclear weapons.
The helicopters provide the United States and its allies another option in a region that Tehran persistently seeks to disrupt and dominate.
The Iranian regime, even at the cost of impoverishing its people, pursues its destabilising agenda, mainly through proxy militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. In addition to training, it provides them with illegal weapons smuggled in by air, land and sea.
Tensions rose sharply between Iran and the United States following a December 20, 2020 rocket attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad by an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia.
Dozens of rockets and roadside bombings targeting the US Embassy and other foreign military and diplomatic sites have occurred since in Iraq.
Senior US officials have told US news media they saw the "potential for other more complex attacks" against Americans in Iraq, including short-range ballistic missiles or potentially "unmanned systems", cruise missiles and "quad copters" similar to what was used in the 2019 attack on Saudi Aramco facilities.
The Iran-backed Houthis have also escalated their cross-border missile attacks against Saudi Arabia in the past year.
Tehran's nuclear programme is also a threat, as the regime continually violates agreements with international bodies over access to enrichment sites and levels of its uranium stockpile.
Surprise deterrent against fighter jets
While the Apache typically carries air-to-ground Hellfire missiles and unguided Hydra rockets, it can also be equipped with air-to-air missiles such as the Stinger and AIM-9 Sidewinder.
Previous exercises carried out by the US military in the past have shown that attack helicopters proved remarkably deadly when properly employed against fighter aircraft in close range.
In a much documented exercise involving the Army and Air Force in the late 1970s, pitting air combat between jet fighters and attack helicopters, the helicopters proved extremely dangerous to the fighters when they were properly employed, racking up a 5-to-1 kill ratio over the fighters when fighting at close ranges with guns.
For two weeks during the exercise, helicopters dominated the fighter aircraft.
The fighter pilots during the test runs at the time had little idea they were under attack or "destroyed" until the daily debriefing.
"The final outcome of the test: fighters should avoid helicopters at all costs, unless they have superiority of distance or altitude," said an article about the exercise on We Are The Mighty.
"A well-equipped attack helicopter flown by a trained crew will defeat most fighter airplanes in 1v1 [one-on-one] air combat, should the fighter be foolish enough to drop down to try and engage," said Nick Lappos, former US Army AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter pilot, on Quora, in 2020.