Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Attack: Helicopter vs OV-10

It's nice to see the return of the OV-10. I know that it's an Army fad to have a fleet of anti-tank helicopters. Hell, we even convinced the Russians and the Chinese to build such a fleet. However, pound for pound, and dollar for dollar, an attack helicopter is much less capable than a light attack aircraft. All armies would be better served to relegate their anti-tank mission to light attack aircrafts.

In terms of the runway requirement, the modern attack helicopter company occupies such a large area that it is simple to plop a runway down the middle. If you think about the payload of an AH-64 (about 2 tons), it is a ridiculously expensive platform for the payload. This article summarizes many of the advantages of a light attack aircraft over an attack helicopter.

The reason the Americans started down the road of an attack helicopter fad, was because the Key West agreement took away the Army's fixed-wing attack aircrafts. So the political agreement steered the Army into the rotary wing CAS alternative. For some reason (maybe Fire Bird?) this political compromise became an international military fad, still going strong. The Israeli have one; the Russians have 3; the Chinese and the Indians are working on it.

This fad proves that groupthink will transcend bureaucratic boundaries. It is so sad it is scary.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. It seems like the air-force gets itself a lot of the high-budget mandates. Why do they have more political clout than the army?
They claimed rights over all airborne drones awhile back, right? I never heard if they got their way or not, but it seemed like a self-serving power grab to me.

Jimmy said...


For the UAVs, the services managed to retain acquisition authority over their own programs. The USAF still gets to define requirement boundaries (ie, what kind of range/altitude makes it an Air Force requirement), but it's more limited than they wanted.

Air Forces in general have more political clout over the armies because airplanes are easier for the public to understand. The large aviation model market, RC airplanes, and air sims help the Air Forces communicate to the public what they need. Plus, it's an area where technology makes a clear difference. So it is easy for an Air Force to make an argument for technology investment.

On the other hand, the ground forces do not enjoy that ease of communication. Ground combat is a complex endeavor with the terrain and human factors. Technology is much less of an advantage in this arena. For example, England and France tried to use technology(tank) to break the WWI stalemate, with no clear results.

Very few generals understand the impact of technology on ground combat. If they don't understand it themselves, how can they communicate to the public on what they need? That's why armies often lose out in the budget fight against their much smaller brethrens.