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Helicopters over Libya

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As Rob wrote on Wednesday, Britain and France are deploying attack helicopters to support the mission in Libya.  Last night, Radio 4 reported that the British contribution is four Apaches (why only four?  surely HMS Ocean can have a few more on board), while France is supplying 12 Tigers.

I’m curious as to what people think of the inherent trade-off involved.  While the precision of targeting, especially target identification, is enhanced, Helicopters are considerably more vulnerable to individually operated anti air ranging from rifle fire to shoulder launched missiles (though I have no idea about the loyalists’ assets and capabilities in this area).  If this NYT story is accurate, Qaddafi is playing for time, banking on a continued attenuation in European public and governmental support for the mission (what other options does he have at present?)  If one of these British Apaches goes down with casualties, public opinion here will rapidly head south.  While I’m confident that both the British and French will have search and rescue assets in the air, that far from guarantees recovery.  Hence, the risk.

Of course, it could be the threat of the helicopters that has Qaddafi reportedly hiding in hospitals at night.

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