April 22, 1999
TIRANA, Albania (CNN) -- The first wave of Apache attack helicopters began arriving in Tirana, Albania, Wednesday as NATO moved to beef up its ability to disrupt Yugoslav military operations in Kosovo.
At least six Apaches swooped in with an escort of Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters, touching down at Tirana's Rinas airport as heavily armed soldiers stood guard with mobile rocket launch systems.
The Boeing AH-64A Apache is a terrain-hugging helicopter that uses natural features like trees and hills to screen itself from the enemy before popping up to fire an awesome array of firepower to destroy tanks and shred troop concentrations.
The Pentagon said 24 Apaches, drawn from the Army's 11th Aviation Regiment, were arriving in Tirana Thursday. Officials said 2,615 U.S. troops from bases across Germany will staff the Apaches and other helicopters as well as provide force protection. In addition, 615 troops from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, including 550 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division, are to be in Tirana. About half have arrived, with the rest expected to be on their way this weekend.
Many of the Apache pilots sent to Albania are combat veterans, CNN's Satinder Bindra reported from Tirana. Some saw action during the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989. Others got their first exposure to combat during the Persian Gulf War, where Apache pilots were credited with knocking out 500 Iraqi tanks.
The heavily armed Apache, the Army's primary attack helicopter, is designed to attack large concentrations of tanks, armored vehicles, and ground troops. They are armed with laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missiles that can strike targets from up to about 5 1/2 miles (nine km) away.
Designed during the Cold War for possible use in Eastern Europe against Soviet forces and the Warsaw Pact, the Apache can cruise at 189 mph and is also equipped with a 30 millimeter chain gun cannon that can fire more than 600 rounds per minute.
The crews are trained to fly low to the ground day or night, in most kinds of weather.
Military analysts say the Apaches are vulnerable to the Yugoslav army's shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles as well as small-arms fire and mobile SAMs. As a result, they are considered most effective when used in concert with artillery and air forces.
To suppress the Yugoslav threat to the helicopters, the Army also plans to deploy to Albania multiple-launch rocket systems armed with long-range missiles that can hit air defenses.
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