The Army’s Quest for its Own CAS – Part 4

At the end of the last post on Army close air support (CAS) developments from the early 1960s, I mentioned one last attempt by the Army to secure an organic fixed-winged CAS capability.  This effort occurred concurrently with the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) tests, but had strong political backing.

To some degree, the Army’s tests with fast forward air control (FAC), attack jets, and VTOL from 1960 onward were spurred by interest from President John F. Kennedy to improve the arm’s capability in mid- and low-intensity conflicts.  Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara became a strong proponent for army aviation, as he factored ways to increase mobility and potency of the conventional forces.  McNamara merged two schools of thought with regard to Army aviation – those calling for more helicopters and those who wanted improved fixed-wing assets.  The former, involving the genesis of the airmobile concept, deserves full treatment in another post.  Regarding the later, I’ve given a cursory overview of the Army’s experiments with armed fixed-wing aircraft, but keep in mind also the procurement of some very capable theater transports in the time period.

In 1962, McNamara created a “Tactical Mobility Requirements Board” under Lieutenant General Hamilton Howze.  Commonly referred to as the “Howze Board,” the board’s main focus soon became air mobility.  As part of the airmobile concept, the Howze Board explored ways to use both rotary- and fixed-wing platforms to provide direct support.    Keep in mind that man of the jet-turbine powered helicopters (such as the UH-1,  just entering service in the early 1960s, so board members viewed that platform with potential, but had to consider the limitations of the airframes on hand.  But in 1962, the Army did have quantities of a short take-off and landing (STOL) observation plane with a weapons capability.

The Grumman OV-1 Mohawk came from a joint service project.  At the time the Army needed a replacement for the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog observation aircraft, and added the need for sophisticated sensor payloads (infa-red and radar in particular).  The Navy and Marines also wanted an observation plane, but required an armament payload.  After several years of design work, the Marines dropped from the project with concerns for the elaborate electronics packages associated with the sensors.  Air Force pressure made the Army drop any armament requirements.  So when the type first entered production in October 1959, the OV-1 was an unarmed observation plane… that happened to retain all the necessary “plumbing” to be armed.

OV-1A Mohawk

For those not familiar with the Mohawk, the aircraft possessed incredible rough field operating abilities.  Early Mohawks nearly reached 300 mph, but its empty weight of 11,000 pounds required a waiver to pass the Pace-Finletter memo restrictions.  And of course with that waiver, the Air Force insisted the OV-1 should not carry weapons – despite operating over the combat zone and possessing the ability to carry 3,200 pounds of external stores!

When Howze Board issued its recommendations (some sources say fall 1962), it projected a requirement for 24 fixed-wing attack aircraft in the airmobile divisions, 8 in each conventional division, and additional numbers in “separate aviation brigades.”  Of the aircraft available for this role, the board eyed the OV-1’s neglected weapons capability.  As the board’s findings circulated among decision makers, the Army secured approval for a “concept demonstration” of the enhanced airmobile concept, which would include Mohawks flying CAS.  Working with a team of Navy experts, the Army outfitted OV-1s to drop delayed fuse 1000 pound bombs using the two hard-points on the production aircraft.  Although very successful, the Air Force eyed the development with suspicion.

Encouraged, the Army sent fifty-four OV-1As back to Grumman for installation of six underwing pylons, sights, and other equipment to facilitate the CAS mission.  Re-designated JOV-1A, the armed Mohawks carried .50-caliber machine gun pods, rockets (either 2.75- or 5-inch), 500 pound bombs, and flares.  Just like that, the Army had its fixed-wing CAS.

With the involvement in Vietnam becoming more and more important, the Army sent six JOV-1As with the 23rd Special Warfare Aviation Detachment to Southeast Asia for operational tests.  With supportive and vocal responses from the field, the Army soon dispatched more armed Mohawks to Vietnam.  This move met with support again from McNamara, who felt any aircraft in the combat zone should be armed.  While somewhat fuzzy, the video here captures some of those armed Mohawks in operation.  Check out the crew loading the rockets:


But this proved to be the gilded hour of Army fixed-wing CAS.  By 1965, the Air Force had enough of the tests, demonstrations, and operational deployments of armed Mohawks.  Aside from the Army butting into the airspace with armed planes, the Army was also calling for more pilots to support anticipated expansion of the force.  The two services compromised with the Johnson-McConnell agreement in 1966.  Under those terms, the Army gave up both organic fixed-winged CAS and theater transport.  Not only did the Army give up the armed Mohawks, options on the “in the works” AV-8 Harrier, but also the most capable Caribou (CV-2 or C-7) and Buffalo (V-7 or C-8) transports.  While the Air Force gained ascendency over the fixed-winged CAS role, the Army retained all options for rotary-winged attack, assault, and heavy transport.

Under these arrangements, the Army retained the armed UH-1 gunships then employed in Vietnam.  The Army also proceeded with the Advanced Aerial Fire Support System (AAFSS), with the leading candidate being the Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne.  Calls from field commanders prompted the Army to procure an interim AAFSS, which came to be the Bell AH-1 Cobra.  I’ve not seen such in writing, but the official designation of that helicopter, retaining the “1” of the Huey line, seemed a paper hedge against Air Force interference.  In the end, the AH-56 proved too much, too fast, and the Cobras became the Army’s attack helicopter until replaced by the AH-64 Apache.

AH-56 - Biggest Cost Overrun Until the Sgt. York!

The Air Force, now “stuck” with the CAS role in a war that required “down and dirty” CAS, found its supersonic fighters insufficient for the job.  Several interim types entered service to include the A-37 attack jet and the F-5A fighter, both tested by the Army in the search for CAS (other aircraft used included A/B-26 Invaders from World War II and A-1 Skyraiders from the Navy).  The Air Force’s CAS role breathed life into the Light Armed Reconnaissance Aircraft (LARA) which eventually produced the Rockwell OV-10 Bronco.  It also birthed the A-X requirement, issued in 1966, for a purpose built CAS aircraft to be flown by the Air Force in support of the Army.  After a fly-off competition in 1972, the Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt entered production.

A-10 all Dressed Up

And that brings us right up to the current state – the Army with an excellent rotary-winged attack helicopter, but dependent upon the Air Force for fixed-wing CAS.  Only now the airframes have much more flight hours than anticipated and there is no replacement in sight.

29 thoughts on “The Army’s Quest for its Own CAS – Part 4”

  1. The only other “interim” CAS aircraft for the AF I’d mention is the A-7D, which was intended as a replacement for the A-1 in AF service, as well as a supplement to the dwindling numbers of F-105s.

    The operators seemed pretty pleased with the A-7, but the powers that be wasted no time shunting hundreds of the to the Air Guard, and buying F-16s in their stead.

    1. My understanding is the AF’s main reason to buy the A-7Ds in the SAR support role, replacing the A-1 in the “Sandy” slot. But of course CAS was on the list of chores. And flying out of Thailand didn’t help sortie numbers.

  2. The selling of the “Air-Land Battle Doctrine” to the Army in the early 80s continued the lip service the USAF gave to CAS. Army officers were highly skeptical of the AF’s promises, and indeed, the slice of the sortie pie that was CAS became thinner and thinner against anything approaching a near-peer. Now, I see the NAVY(!) buying off of “Air-Sea Battle” with the same hackneyed promises by USAF folks thoroughly indoctrinated in the Mitchell-Douhet idea that air will win the war….

    Doesn’t anybody above the rank of LtCol read ANY history?

    1. This was discussed on ‘Phib’s site sometime ago. WE came to the conclusion that there was a secret requirement that anyone who made the rank of O-5 had to undergo a complete lobotomy. Understand this is just an unsubstantiated rumor, but it goes a very long in explaining what’s been going on among the Flags for quite some time.

    2. There’s a reason LCDRs are called “lids” since there’s a hinge on the top of their heads where they did the lobotomy.

      And while I’ve not put the research in to AirSea Battle that I have into AirLand Battle, it seems like a good idea to lay the intellectual groundwork to synchronize the efforts of the Air Force and Navy in the Pacific. But yeah, trusting the AF is always a bad idea.

      As to CAS rates in AirLand Battle, the Army understood that CAS would be the exception, not the rule. But BAI, beyond the FLOT was a critical component and vital to the ability of brigades and divisions to reset to face second and third echelon forces in Western Europe. How well the Air Force would have done is an open question, but to claim they had no intention of doing those missions they agreed to in the MOU they signed is neither fair nor accurate. And in Desert Storm, soon after the initial OCA/SEAD campaign, they did put huge numbers of sorties into degrading the IRCG. They weren’t nearly as successful as they thought they were, but they did make an honest effort.

    3. Lobotomy optional, not required. I’ve been on the lookout for this for years, thinking that they would grab me and take me away. Ain’t happening…

    4. Yeppers. Esli, you slept through it. They’re even veeeeery good at hiding the incision.

      Meanwhile, back at the ranch….

      Ha the balloon gone up in Germany, I don’t think an MOU with the AF would have mattered. USAFE would have been in teh fight of its life and the MOU would have gone out the window because they would be somewhere else doing what they had to do to win air superiority. CAS can’t operate well in a non-permissive environment, and Ivan would have put so many AC above the continent All of Europe would probably have had a rebound earthquake from the sudden loss of weight. USAFE did not have enough AC, nor could enough be transferred in to make up the difference.

      The Pacific Theater would be a different kettle of fish as the Navy would dominate there, and there are few, and well defined places where AC can be based on land. Frankly, if I were Ching Lee, I’d plant a nuke on each of those places and then turn my subs loose to go for the bird farms. I don’t think the AF will be all that helpful in the Pacific, and hope the Navy doesn’t lean on then too hard or they will fall over.

  3. brad,

    The USAF ability to do CAS and BAI was WAAAAAYYYY over-represented, and USAF officers never were very enthusiastic about it. Comparing DS to a Soviet breakthrough at Fulda is a bit misleading, as there was virtually no long-term superiority fight for Kuwait as there would have been in Europe.

    Bottom line is that USAF was luke-warm on a mission that the US Army needed desperately. That speaks volumes. They didn’t wanna do it particularly, and treated those who did as untermensch. But because of the perceived infringement of USAF mission space (and dollars), they wouldn’t let anyone else do it, either.

    As for the difference in terminology, anything short of the FSCL is considered CAS by the USMC. Whereas I believe that anything that is not terminally controlled by a FAC or FAC-A is BAI to the Army. If that last part is incorrect, please let me know.

    1. I believe that distinction is between BAI and CAS is functionally correct, but alas, I was never a fire support guy, so I’m not doctrinally certain. And I’m way too lazy to try to dig up a manual out of the DJ Reimer library.

      And I’m not saying the AF did a good job at BAI in Desert Storm. They didn’t. I think they were pretty shocked to learn just how many targets they claimed to have knocked out that ended up being undamaged. The great example of this was the Great Scud Hunt. Turned out, finding and hitting small mobile targets in the middle of nowhere without terminal control was a heck of a lot harder than they thought.

      And while there Desert Storm ins’t a perfect analog to any potential conflict in Western Europe, it is undeniable that while a much larger share of sorties would have been spent on counter-air, it is also true that large numbers of Air Force wings actually focused far more on the strike/BAI role than they did on the air-superiority role. This is evidenced both by the training sorties flown, and the way they were equipped. For instance, back in the old F-4 Phantom days, large numbers of F-4s, both D and E models were modified from the baseline with a number of improvements to improve their A/G capability, while other improvements that would support the A/A role (such as TISEO) were not added to birds in European wings. Similar refinements to the baseline were found in the F-16 fleet.

      Whether that was realistic, considering the enormous numbers of MiGs they’d be facing is an open question.

    2. URR,
      For the army (actually per Joint Fires pubs, so all services should be defining things the same way) CAS is essentially always subject to Type 1, 2, or 3 control. Type 2 or 3 do not require the JTAC/JFO to visually ID the target, but he is still there in control and talking to the people that can see the target, as well as the aircraft. We make an effort to get controllers wherever they need to be IOT control aircraft, but are authorized to conduct emergency CAS without terminal control in extremis. You are required to announce that there is no JTAC in control and the aircrew are expected to pull what info they need. That said, the FSCL does serve as a cut line for CAS v BAI because we aren’t going to get observers over the FSCL, but also because of what effects we get from BAI is, which is interdiction vice support. In otherwords, if we are benefiting from killing tanks that we are not engaged with, it was from BAI. If we are, or potentially are in a fight with them, it was CAS…

  4. Lobotomy for Commissioned Officers, i see 2 ways of looking at this.

    1. Why remove something brand new, that has never been used?

    2. Legally, the assumption of things. not in evidence.

  5. I’ve been waiting for the AH-56 to show up in this. My understanding is the USAF was still squirrelly about the Cheyenne, because it’s swept stub wings looked a little too much like lift surfaces to make them happy. And even the Army wasn’t best pleased with the design, not because it was too fast (it was still a helochopper, capable of stationary flight), but because its operational envelope put it squarely withing Soviet Air Defense optimal operating envelopes (with the ZSU-23-4 and more advanced MANPADS coming online at the time). Thus, it was a contraversial craft, coming in at the wrong time with the wrong flight profile.

    At least, that’s what the history I read tells me. Oh, and speaking of, my dad is a retired Bird (Army) and I can assure you, he read (and reads) history quite a bit. 😉

    1. Point of clarification, when I say the AH-56 was “too much, too fast,” I am referring to the project pace, objectives, and technology bounds of the time. No, I don’t think anyone (save perhaps the AF) complained the AH-56 was too fast.

  6. The 56 got the chop because of cost. The bird was a real stretch from an engineering standpoint, and Lockheed was notorious for its cost overruns. The C-5, which was also going on that time, almost buried Lockheed because of mismanagement, and that was seen in all its programs.

    The main rotor was a rigid rotor, and the control systems needed to compensate for that were expensive and still didn’t work quite right. I think it could have gone to production, but the numbers didn’t add up as the costs and the numbers that would have been ordered made it cost prohibitive.

    The normal Helo has articulated rotors to compensate for differential life between the advancing and retreating blades. Sikorsky’s first effort simply flipped over. The “flapping hinge” allows the advancing rotor to effectively shorten the span of the blade by allowing it to rise relative to the rest of the rotor disk.

    Sikosky’s X-2 uses contra-rotating rigid rotors and a pusher prop with stub wings. The contra-rotating rotors balance the lift as you have an advancing blade on both sides of the rotor disk. This also does away with the airspeed limit of a single rotor. I think there is great potential in the concept, particularly if the thing can be built to carry significant ordnance. If it can be built to carry the same load as a light attack bird, then the Army might not need something in the class of a Warthog. Add in “no filed” requirement as far runways are concerned, and you could have Army CAS nirvana. They’ve gotten up to 260 knots.

    Speed Record:
    Sikorsky propaganda:

    Sikorsky has built the thing as a development machine and has shown it to the Army and Marines. SpecOps types are excited. However, if the rest aren’t interested I’ll blame it on the lobotomy that Esli denies he’s had. 🙂

    1. Actually the way the AH-56 was designed was rather ingenious in that the faster the aircraft went the lift was transfered to the wings and most of the propulsion was done by the pusher prop. As the load was taken off the main rotor it was allowed to free-wheel so retreating blade stall wasn’t such an issue. The AH-56 and the Lockheed XH-51 testbed aircraft achieved speeds equal to the X-2 in 1969 but they were considered compound helicopters (meaning that they had lifting surfaces or propulsion systems other than the rotor system itself).

      Aside from the cost over-runs there were nagging technical problems that dogged the program. As it was operating right at the limits of the technology of that time it was to be expected. Also factor in the course of the Vietnam War and the drastic cuts in Defense spending that were coming. They canceled production in 1969 and terminated the entire program in ’72 when all the bugs had been essentially worked out of the system and started over with Apache which didn’t enter service until the mid to late 80’s.

      The history of Army helicopter acquisition is not a pretty one.

      As for the ZSU-23/4 and the soviet forces order of battle contributing to the death of the Cheyenne, there’s a video on YouTube somewhere that illustrates quite well that the AH-56 could operate quite easily in the nap of the earth environment and shot on the move quite well…it was money and politics that killed that helicopter not any potential battlefield foe.

      There are quite a few features in the AH-56 that I wish I had as an Apache pilot. In fact if the design was dusted off today and updated with electronics, FLIR etc…you might have your next gen attack helicopter right there.

    2. Concur with Outlaw, the AH-56 wouldn’t be a bad starting point for a next-gen attack helicopter. Or at least a decent template. Not sure how handy the swivel seat for the gunner would be, but it has the “wow! Cool!” factor.

      On the other hand, in spite of the interest in higher helicopter speeds, I’m not at all certain that Army Aviation safety officials would be hog wild about NOE at night at 250kts.

      But the Cheyenne did do some great NOE for the camera. I’ve posted several videos on it here.

    3. Interesting on the NOE flight Outlaw. I was lead to believe that its attack profile was in a nearly dive bombing posture, which would have allowed the ZSU-23-4 to hammer it mercilessly, rather than the Apache’s pop-up and fire-and-forget posture. I mean, I’m sure the Cheyenne COULD do NOE flight, it’s still a whirlybird after all.

  7. I remember watching those videos last year. The X-2 has a much different sound signature, both fast and fairly quiet. The Cheyenne was be a good starting point, but I think current hybrids have already surpassed it.

    I seriously doubt you would see NOE at 250 kts during the day, much less at night.

    Cheyenne was capable of a little less than 210 kts and the Cobra was a 170kt airframe by comparison. Sikorsky has exceeded both by a lot, but speed alone does not mean a lot if it doesn’t have the lift capability you need. X-2 is already where SpecOps needs to be. The question is can it be scaled and built for fire support and carry everything a light attack AC could carry. If it can, the light attack isn’t needed.

  8. The Cheyenne topped out at 212 kts according to Wiki, the Cobra might do 170 in a dive, 110 cruise was more like it. VNE on a Huey was 124 kts. So I stand corrected about the Cheyenne. I still say that it would be a good starting place for an Apache replacement.

    On 29 November 1967 the Lockheed XH-51 achieved a speed of 263 knots in level flight. On 15 September 2010, test pilot Kevin Bredenbeck achieved Sikorsky’s design goal for the X2 when he flew it at a speed of 250 knots (290 mph; 460 km/h) in level flight, an unofficial speed record for a helicopter. The demonstrator also reached a speed of 260 knots (300 mph; 480 km/h) in a shallow 2˚ to 3˚ dive. So in 43 years we’ve gotten right back to where we were in 1967. I’m not trying to crap on the X2 I’m pointing out that Sikorsky is taking advantage of technology that has been known about for a long time…it’s not revolutionary.

    Max takeoff wt of the X-2 is 7,937 (that’s a UH-1 size aircraft) I was unable to find the empty wt to figure payload. XH-51 (OH-6 size aircraft) had a max gross wt of 4,100 and an empty wt of 2,790 giving it a 1,310 ib payload. The AH-56 was a much larger aircraft a bit bigger than an AH-64…so all these numbers being thrown around aren’t apples to apples comparisons.

    Light attack most of the time is just enough attack to start a fight and not be able to finish it. God bless those OH-58D guys they work their asses off and find the bad guys, but a problem exists in the delivery of accurate fires. It’s inherent in the aircraft and has nothing to do witht he aircrews. When the OH-58D was armed, the weapons were slapped on and require the crew to get in the enemy’s face to deliver ordinance accurately. If they just slap weapons on an X2 follow-on call it good, I don’t think it’s worth the money you would need to invest after you factor in survivability even in a permissive battlespace. Sikorsky is going to face a wepons integration issue if it wants the X2 follow-on to be used by anyone other than B Company 1-160th SOAR.

  9. One thing left out in all of this is what happens when you start hanging things outside the air frame. The X-2 as it stands will probably never reach beyond SOAR. What ever goes into main line service will be larger than X-2. Perhaps larger than Cheyenne.

    I don’t disagree with you on Cheyenne.

    I agree with you on the speed record, and I don’t think Sikorsky is claiming the X-2 is revolutionary. There seem to be some evolutionary changes, such as in materials, and there will be in sensor suites.

    At present we have no way of making apples to apples comparisons. The data isn’t out in the public domain yet. I seriously doubt that X-2 would hold a candle to Cheyenne, but I think there are things that could be added to Cheyenne to improve it.

    I’m off to church.

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