So the Mirror ran a story that the UK was planning to send AH-64E Apache helicopter gunships the other day. Not sure why, as it was completely and utterly untrue, but it did result in some discussion, leading to this rather good thread about the trap of thinking about equipment in terms of how we would use it, not how it would fit into the war that's actually happening.
And I ended up having a bit of a think about military aid in general, and decided to write down a few of the things I thought about.
The fuss about the idea of Apaches is that they'd roam about firing Hellfire missiles and laying waste to Russian armour, but in practise of course they wouldn't - without proper suppression of enemy air defences, they'd be very vulnerable, and would be shot down. So there's two ways to think about the possible provision, depending on what the purpose of the provision is.
Is the purpose of the provision to supply helicopters? Now AH-64Es would be very unlikely, but older model AH-64s and other forms of military helicopter aren't unthinkable - indeed the UK has sent a few Sea Kings for medical evacaution/search and rescue - but then the question is what would they do? They'd be no more able to go across the front lines than Mi-8s and Mi-24s. They'd still get hit by long range SAMs if they fly high and MANPADS if they fly low. The way round that for Mi-8s and Mi-24s is to fire rockets on a lofted trajectory. It isn't terribly accurate, but if can apparently be effective at forcing infantry to go to ground. Is there an equivalent option for western helicopters? There is, Zuni and Hydra-70 unguided rockets, but there's potentially better options to. Some laser guided weapons can be fired on a ballistic trajectory and lock on to the target later. I don't know if that applies to the laser guided variants of the Zuni and Hydra-70 rockets that have been developed, but if it is, then infantry could be equipped with laser designators and call helicopters to launch from a safe distance behind the lines when fire support is urgently needed. Another option that definitely exists is Brimstone. Brimstone can be fired from anything from a fast jet to a pickup truck, and does not need line of sight or a laser designator to pick out targets, it can do that for itself. Basically any helicopter designed to take rockets could be adapted to Brimstone, the issue there is that the missile itself is unlikely to be available in large quantities. On the other hand, putting them on helicopters would at least allow them to be where they are needed in a hurry to counter Russian moves, and would allow a smaller amount of missiles to cover a wider area of front line.
This way of looking at it can be summed up as "we have this asset, how can we make it fit?"
The other way would be to look not at the helicopters, but at the Hellfire missiles. It's an accurate missile, it's got a longer range than most ATGMs, and it's got a warhead that can kill tanks, and other warheads available for other roles. If helicopters can't safely deliver Hellfires, what can? Well there's ground launch options. Sweden and Norway have both sent them. It's small enough to fit onto pickup trucks or small trailers. If that's not sufficient, though, there's also possibilities like mounting them on large drones. Malloy Aeronautics have demonstrated the T-650 with a triple-rack of Brimstones, and if it can carry those, it, and likely the smaller Malloy drones, can carry one or more Hellfire missiles, potentially it could even be a standard package with one or two launching rails and a designator. Alternatively, it could be paired with another drone with a designator. The approach could also work with the APKWS - a guided variant of the Hydra 70 rocket.
This way of looking at it can be summed up as "we think this capability is needed, how can it be provided?"
I was thinking about how this applies to tanks, too, especially the Leopard 1. There's a hundred or so with industry in Germany and some heavy surplus dealers seem to have them too. There's also a few nations still using them within NATO that might be persuaded to part with them. The Leopard 1 is an old design, and it is neither as well armed or as well armoured as a modern MBT. That's lead a lot of people to assume they'd be useless. In practise, though, if one actually looks at what tanks are often used for, Leopard 1s would be absolutely perfect for one of their main roles - providing close but indirect fire support corrected by drone observation. Armour is needed for this role, to resist artillery fire and mortars, but the armour of a Leopard 1 isn't going to be at a huge disadvantage here compared to other tanks, and at an advantage compared to BMP-1s and BMP-3s that also get this job*. As for the gun, it's rifled, meaning it's a bit more accurate, and the smaller calibre is offset by the ability to carry fifty five rounds of main gun ammunition, where a T-72 carries a maximum of thirty nine. Its tracks are no more vulnerable to mines than any other tank, and while it would struggle head on against a T-72, most of the fighting in tanks are doing isn't tank on tank, and even when it is, most tank on tank fighting isn't head on, and their 105mm main gun can still kill any tank from the side or rear.
So this is a third thing to consider - not whether a system is ideal for the role, but how it compares to those in the role already. For the role of close but indirect fire support, a Leopard 1 is as good as any other tank, and superior to one of the large calibre BMP variants.
*AMX-10-RCs would be good at this job too.