TUPELO, MISS. — The Army wants to move all AH-64 Apache attack helicopters from the National Guard to active units. Mississippi’s 14 Apaches are based at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Tupelo.
The Army proposed the move several weeks ago as part of its belt-tightening budget. It would give the Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters or Lakotas to replace the combat-ready Apaches, arguing the transports are more appropriate to states’ disaster response and homeland defense missions.
Tupelo is the only Mississippi unit with Apaches.
Losing the Apaches will translate into the loss of jobs. Tim Powell, a spokesman for the Mississippi National Guard, said 63 people work fulltime at the Tupelo facility, 85 people are in the Apache command and 62 people in the 834th Support group. Most of the personnel are not fulltime.
Powell told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal that the Apaches in Tupelo operate under the 1-149th Aviation Battalion.
Its last deployment was to Iraq from August 2006 to July 2007. It has not deployed as a unit to Afghanistan, but over the years, individual soldiers deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.
The single-rotor choppers are considered the most lethal in the Army’s flying arsenal and resemble flying locusts. Crewed by a pilot and co-pilot who also acts as a gunner, the airship can fly in day or night conditions. It is armed with Hellfire missiles, which use precision guidance systems to destroy targets such as tanks or enemy radar systems.
Powell said until Congress authorizes the plan, it is a proposal and not a fact.
“Until it is actually placed in an authorization that passes in the 2015 budget, it can’t happen,” Powell said.
Powell said the situation is considered “very fluid” and is being watched closely.
“We know that our congressional delegation is fighting for us,” Powell said.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., has said he has doubts about the savings cited by the Army.
Wicker has said the Apaches have “performed superbly” under Guard command and enhance the National Guard’s ability to fight on short notice.
A spokesman for Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said Cochran wants to discuss the issue with Mississippi Adj. Gen. Augustus Collins. Cochran spokesman Chris Gallegos said the senator is on record as having significant concerns about anything that would weaken the National Guard.