NEW YORK (Reuters) - Iraqi guerrillas are using increasingly sophisticated weapons and tactics to attack U.S. aircraft, according to a classified Army study on the downing of helicopters in Iraq, The New York Times reported in Sunday editions.
Citing senior Army officials in Iraq and the Gulf who were familiar with the study, the newspaper reported that at least one advanced missile was used by insurgents.
Rebels have used rocket-propelled grenades and heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles, the latter which require a degree of skill, in the attacks. Scores of U.S. servicemen have died in recent months in a rash of helicopter downings in Iraq.
The study found that no type of helicopter is more protected against, or more vulnerable to attacks.
But it recommended changes to help pilots evade ground fire, which the officials did not elaborate on. In the past, the Times said, changes have included flying more missions at night, with lights turned off to avoid detection.
According to Army officials, it was concern about the recent helicopter downings that prompted Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the senior commander in Iraq, to move beyond a standard review after such crashes and order in December a comprehensive study of all downings.
Army officials told the paper that one troubling finding is that on at least one occasion insurgents used an SA-16 shoulder-fired missile, which is harder to thwart than the SA-7 missiles and rocket-propelled grenades used in other attacks.
Officials did not specify which incident or incidents might have involved an SA-16.
The team that conducted the review was headed by Col. Stephen Dwyer, a brigade commander at the Army Aviation Center at Ft. Rucker, Alabama, the Times said. It included about a dozen forensic and weapons experts, crash analysts and helicopter specialists, and spent about four weeks in Iraq visiting the crash sites, taking soil samples and talking to aviators.
"This is a case of our Army coming through quickly with the right expertise at the right place," the Times quoted Maj.-Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne Division as saying.