The Secretary of Defense, Mr. Donald Rumsfeld, dropped in at our FOB in Iraq on Saturday, and I got to ask him some questions. On the subject of the Key West Agreement -- the one that splits the skies between the Army, Air Force, and Navy -- Mr. Rumsfeld said that people in the Pentagon do not operate under "antiquated agreements." So I guess that means the Key West Agreement is no longer in force. It's open season for Army Aviation!One glaring gap in Army aviation is in the light attack role, currently filled by the AH-64 Apache, designed in 1972. As aviation programs now take decades to develop, we need to start looking at the follow-on Apache replacement.Apache ably fulfills its primary role, which is conducting anti-tank ambushes in the deep battle against enemy armor formations in approach march. However, it is doubtful if we will ever see a hostile enemy armor formations in an approach march situation in this century. The Army's needs will be close air support, armed reconnaissance, and helicopter escort, which Apache does right now. However a fixed wing platform like the old OV-10 will be more efficient at these missions most of the time. In general, helicopters require more maintenance per flying hour than fixed wing aircrafts. On an engine thrust basis and fuel consumption basis, prop-driven fixed wing aircrafts are more efficient than helicopters in delivering payloads. For a given payload, a fixed wing aircraft is cheaper than a helicopter. With a stall speed of 55 mph, the OV-10 can take on the slower spectrum of helicopter missions. What helicopters give you is the ability to VTOL, which is not a requirement in the light attack mission set. In fact, the only reason the Army went into the attack helicopter game in the first place was because of the Key West Agreement.An attack helicopter can operate from a very small forward arming and refueling point to increase sortie rate, but the Army does not use small FARPs very often. In a fast-maturing theater like Iraq, the FARPs rapidly evolve into full-on Army Airfields, rivaling the size of Third World air force bases. On the Army airfields, there is plenty of space for the 400-meter runway a light attack plane like OV-10 might need.[Edited to add: My bad, FARPs don't evolve into army airfields. The aviation brigade assembly areas become army airfields. However, the OV-10 can make the round trip to the airfield before an AH-64 comes back on station from a FARP.]Army aviation's experience in Iraq provides evidence supporting a prop-driven fixed wing platform. Apache crews trained to fire their weapons from a hovering position, reflecting the anti-tank ambush scenario. However, in the 360 degree security environment in Iraq, a hovering helicopter will quickly draw fire from hidden insurgents. Apache crews now use a shallow dive when they deliver their munitions to minimize exposure to ground fire. Since we're not hovering to fire anymore, an OV-10 would do much better for our missions here.I am not advocating the elimination of attack helicopters. The ARH will be very useful, and it will fill the missions where the light attack plane is not as optimal. And there are many situations where a Ka-50 may out-perform an OV-10. For the follow-on platform for the Apache, though, we should opt for a prop-driven fixed wing aircraft.-Jimmy Wu
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