Two Israel Air Force airmen lost their lives last night when their Cobra attack helicopter crashed during a training flight in the northern part of the country. As is often done following accidents, the IAF ordered all its Cobras grounded while an investigation of the incident is carried out.

Now, when you fly as many sorties as Israel flies, accidents are inevitable (though they are still relatively infrequent here). So, what may be of greatest concern to the air force right now is the possibility that these two seasoned warriors were felled by a mechanical problem. Eyewitnesses claim the doomed gunship crashed after its tail rotor simply fell off.

There are some three dozen Cobras in Israel’s fleet, and they have bitten many an enemy. Designed more than 40 years ago to provide aerial fire support in Vietnam, they have proven their worth to Israel countless times in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. But after 30 years of sterling service, the Cobra may be nearing its end here.

Now, the venerable gunship has earned an extended life in the American armed forces — but only in limited use and only because of numerous upgrades to the mostly outdated platform. Israel has not received the most advanced model of the Cobra. In fact, I don’t believe it has even asked for it, which is a recognition both of Israel’s more limited needs and of its belief that it is more worthwhile to invest in an alternative.

For Israel, that alternative is the Apache. But even the Apache is no longer new, and Israel has only a few of the second-generation Longbow models. While Israel has continuously updated its F-15 and F-16 fighter jets to maintain the qualititative edge of its “long arm” aerial capabilities — and it is licking its chops over the prospect of welcoming the F-35 and/or the F-22 to these shores — the same can not be said for Israel’s attack helicopter fleet.

The attack helicopter is an extremely valuable part of Israel’s defense. But its future is uncertain. Last night’s crash ought to add some urgency to the search for a replacement.


One Response

  1. You know what Dad would say: Bring back the Hueys!

    Speaking of Hueys- The Marine Corps has an updated version of the Huey. They now have four blades, instead of the standard two.

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