Although aviation offers the only feasible solution to the
Army's problems of mobility in the battle area, the Army is reluctant to adopt
it wholeheartedly as a substitute for conventional transportation
methods." This sentence was one of the many similar ones in a stinging
memorandum prepared in the Office of the Department of Defense, Comptroller,
and sent to then-Secretary of the Army Elvis Stahr, Jr., on January 24, 1962.
Whether it was the power of the words or the power of office
that the newcomers found so heady in the early years of the New Frontier, the
memorandum set off a series of events that is still in motion, most noticeably
at this time at Eglin AFB, Fla., where Tactical Air Command is conducting a
series of tests with an Army infantry division, and in Georgia and South
Carolina, where the Army is experimenting with a radically new type of fighting
unit built around helicopters used for transportation and close-in fire
At Eglin the Tactical Air Command has formed a Tactical Air
Warfare Center (TAWC) and has assigned to it fighter, reconnaissance, and
assault airlift elements, plus communications and control units. Working with
TAWC is the Army's 1st Infantry Division, moved onto the Florida air base from
its home station, Fort Riley, Kan.
In the Great Pee Dee River valley of South Carolina, the
Army's experimental 11th Air Assault Division, stationed at Fort Benning, Ga.,
has been engaged in field-testing the advanced concepts proposed in 1962 by
the Army's Howze Board.
The basic concepts underlying these two test organizations
involve significant differences. The way the tests come out and the decisions
made on them by the two services and the Department of Defense may well have a
lasting influence on the Army an Air Force and the progress of unification.
The TAWC tests at Eglin, known as "Indian River, are
based on the concept that a combination of the standard infantry division and
Air Force fighters, reconnaissance, and airlift units, teamed together in a
cohesive command, can exert greater firepower, provide more mobility, and have
greater staying power in battle than any other grouping of ground and air
units. The concept envisages full use of the 100-odd: aircraft, mostly
helicopters, now organic to the standard infantry division, and it
acknowledges that improvements in command-and-control methods, tactics and
organization are possible. That, in short, is the purpose of the tests—to
determine where improvements are needed and what they should be.
The Howze Board concept is based on the belief that the
massive increments of firepower, both conventional and nuclear, that have come
along since the end of the second World War have created a dangerous imbalance
between firepower and mobility and that ground armies today face somewhat the
same situation as did those on the Western Front in the first World War when
artillery and machine-gun fire forced the armies into the trenches. As the
Howze Board saw it, this imbalance could be righted only by substituting air
vehicles for many of the Army's trucks and carriers, airborne gun and rocket
platforms for some of its artillery, and resupply through the air rather than over
the ground. The concept holds that these air vehicles must be immediately
responsive to subordinate commanders on the ground and must therefore be
organic to the Army. The concept acknowledges that the land battle will be
fought under an umbrella of tactical air command interceptor aircraft that will
keep the enemy's air off the back of the ground army and that the ground army
will depend upon the USAF for air logistical support up to the field army's
rear bases. It expects the USAF to provide "deep" reconnaissance but
wants its own organic air vehicles (manned and drones) for surveillance of
enemy activities in the battle area.
(It is helpful in
this regard to remember that the y thinks it highly unlikely that future ground
attics will be fought with divisions stretched out long a line as in the second
World War and in Korea. Rather, it expects deep penetrations of separated and isolated
units of battalion size or smaller, set up in defended pockets or perimeters
with the intervening ground covered by artillery fire or armed aircraft.)
In addition to the differing concepts of the two tests,
there are interesting differences in the way they are being conducted. The TAWC
series of tests now going on at Eglin AFB are preparatory to later tests, to be
conducted this fall under the code name of "Gold Fire I." These tests
will be measured and evaluated by Strike Command which will report the results
to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of Defense.
The present and scheduled future series of tests of the 11th
Air Assault Division are unilateral tests by the Army and will not be evaluated
by Strike Command. The Army has set up its own Test, Evaluation, and Control
Group which will report to the Army Chief of Staff. This is because the Army
says it does not know at this time whether the concepts are sound, how far it
may want to go with them, or the form of organization and types of air vehicles
it may need. That the Army should take this stance is understandable. The
air-assault concept is much more radical than the concepts being tested by
TAWC, which have been more or less standard doctrine since the early 1940s.
Within the Army there is much debate about the feasibility
of many of the Howze Board concepts. A look at the background of the Howze
Board, how it came about, what it recommended, and some events since is
revealing, but first it should be said that no one in the Army questions the
kind or amount of support the 11th Air Assault Division has received. "The
Army staff, from General Wheeler down, and whatever the individual opinions of
the members, have given the division everything it needs to conduct a fair and
unbiased test," an officer in a position to know has said.
The Howze Board owes its genesis to the DOD experts, who
got, so the story goes, moral suasion from some rather junior Army officers who
knew what they wanted and where the power was. Up until the winter of 1961-62
the Army had thought it was doing pretty well in what it calls Army Aviation.
From the Piper Cubs it used as artillery spotting aircraft in the second World
War to the H-13 helicopters it found so valuable as command and reconnaissance
vehicles and to evacuate the wounded out of the mountains of Korea, Army
Aviation had grown until by 1960 it had some 6,000 rated officers.
A year or two before that the Rogers Board (for Lt. Gen.
Gordon B. Rogers, then Deputy Commanding General, Continental Army Command)
had been convened to determine what types and kinds of aircraft the Army
should concentrate on. This was considered necessary because of the growing
number of types of rotary- and fixed-winged aircraft it was looking at. This
Board recommended concentration on four kinds of helicopters and three
fixed-wing aircraft, and these today constitute the Army aircraft program. They
helicopter. A new LOH is to be chosen from a competition now going on among
the Bell OH-4A, the Hiller OH-5A, and the Hughes OH-6A. The chosen vehicle will
replace the Bell OH-13, the Hiller OH-23, and the Cessna 0-1E.
transport helicopter. The standard vehicle is the Bell UH-1D Iroquois, now
in wide use in Vietnam and elsewhere. It is replacing the U-6A, UH-19, CH-34,
The standard is Vertol's CH-47A Chinook, a twin-turbine transport that is designed
to handle the same three-ton loads (or thirty-two armed soldiers) as the de
Havilland CV-2 Caribou (see below).
Aerial crane. A
vehicle remains to be chosen. One now being tested is the Sikorsky CH-54A. An
air vehicle that is capable of lifting ten to twelve tons is desired.
aircraft. The Grumman OV-1C Mohawk, a rugged STOL aircraft, carries a
variety of cameras and sensor equipment. One version of this carries rockets
and bombs and can be used as a close-support weapon.
The de Havilland CV-2 Caribou is a short-take-off-and-landing aircraft that can
handle the same loads as the Chinook helicopter mentioned above.
aircraft. This is the Beech U-8F, an off-the-shelf commercial job.
When in the winter of 1961-62 the newcomers in the office of
the DOD Comptroller saw the Army's shopping list based on these aircraft, and
the justification for them, they shot off the memorandum to then-Secretary
The memorandum noted a lack of "qualitative or
quantitative justification" for the requirements set forth. It observed
that the Army "appears plagued by reticence to substitute new equipment
and concepts for those types which have proven reliable in former years,
despite the fact that it pays lip-service to principles that are feasible only
if it departs from existing equipment and concepts."
The "ambivalence"—it used the word—in the Army's
approach to organic aviation had to be met head on, the memorandum stated. The
problem of substituting new weapons or equipment for old is not new, it said.
It recalled that in 1936, when the Army increased the number of motor vehicles
in the infantry division to 250, many senior officers thought it was being
overdone. And yet, "in less than ten years the US increased tenfold the
number of motor vehicles in its infantry division."
Finally the memorandum stated that "the entire airlift
picture must be reviewed with regard to those requirements that can be met by
organic Army air craft, and those requirements that can be met by Air Force
aircraft operated in support of the US Army." The memorandum established
"1. The Army should have full-time use for the
"2. The aircraft should be suitable, performance-wise,
for inclusion in Army units and be compatible with Army support capabilities.
"3. The mission the aircraft performs must require
close coordination with Army activities."
The memorandum went on to specify that USAF aircraft would
support the Army when these conditions exist:
"1. The Army requirement is a part-time or variable
requirement, and the aircraft can be used to meet other service requirements
when not supporting the Army or to render a strategic airlift role.
"2. The aircraft has characteristics that require
special or extensive support facilities not normally found in the Army."
The Army staff's response to this memorandum was
predictable. It didn't like it. The Army was doing all right in its aviation
program. There were other things of equal or of more importance—a new main
battle tank, improved armored carriers, and self-propelled artillery, for
instance—and the Army's answer wasn't at all satisfactory to DOD.
Just exactly what happened at this point isn't really clear.
But it appears that a few of the Army's pro-air officers (colonels and younger
generals) on duty in Washington made contact with the right people in DOD and
persuaded them of the need for a thorough study of the whole subject of air
mobility as it affected the Army.
The result was a lengthy directive to the Army to set up a
Tactical Mobility Requirements Board that would seek answers to the many
questions the directive then asked. The essence of the questions added up to
this one: "To what extent may aircraft be properly substituted for ground
vehicles to provide combat and logistical mobility for the Army?" This was
in early spring, and a deadline of September 1 was set for the report to be
The directive contained one unusual paragraph. To make
certain the Board wasn't loaded with nonenthusiasts who would find everything
fine as it was, there was a paragraph to the effect that the personnel of the
Board should consist of forward-facing officers, capable of looking a new idea
in the face without blanching. The directive then listed the names of a half
dozen or so general officers who, it was suggested, would make excellent
members. Among the names was that of Lt. Gen. Hamilton H. Howze, then Commanding
General of the Strategic Army Corps at Fort Bragg, N. C. A rated pilot, General
Howze had served a hitch as Director of Army Aviation on the Army General
This was the kind of action, of course, that earned for the
New Frontiersmen the reputation of being meddlers in military affairs of no
concern to them. There was muted anger in the General Staff at this affront but
no open rebellion. Whatever his private thoughts, the Chief of Staff, Gen.
George H. Decker, a calm and tolerant man, insisted on compliance with the
directive in spirit and letter, and the officers detailed to what became known
as the Howze Board were by general agreement the best the Army had available.
Interestingly enough, only four of the fourteen senior members were rated
The three months the Howze Board had to do its work were
hardly enough, but its performance was, nevertheless, adequate if not
tremendous. The Board's final report has never been made public, but the essentials
have been. The involvement of USAF was minimal, although the directive had
specified that the Board would take into consideration the contributions the
Air Force could make to Army mobility.
The principal recommendations were for the formation of two
types of units:
1. An air-assault division that would substitute so far as
possible aircraft for motor transportation and aerial firepower for artillery.
The recommended division would have 459 fixed- and rotary-winged aircraft.
There would be a decrease in motor vehicles from the 3,200 of the standard
infantry division to 1,150.
2. An air-transport brigade that would resupply the assault
forces. The aircraft would consist principally of some 160 Caribou fixed-wing
aircraft and Chinook helicopters. It would be able to pick up a daily tonnage
of 800 tons from USAF cargo planes at rear bases and deliver it to forward
elements of the air-assault division.
The Board acknowledged that there were difficult questions
of air-traffic control of so many aircraft (plus USAF aircraft) in a division
area; of fuel requirements for such an air fleet (estimated by the air-assault
division at 440 tons for each day of combat); of operations in nonflyable
weather and at night; and of survivability of helicopters in a combat environment.
It fielded these problems as best it could and suggested
that further testing and experimentation was in order.
The high cost of an air-assault division in comparison with
other types of divisions was also a factor considered by the Board. Only
recently Brig. Gen. John J. Tolson, the current Director of Army
Aviation, estimated the cost of initial equipment and five years of operations
of an air-assault division would be $1.05 billion. He said the comparable
figure for an infantry division was $806 million, and for an armored division
about $970 million.
"We think that the Howze Board has some very good ideas
in it. Certainly we are not opposed to the Army being more mobile. . . . We
think that the Howze Board did not take into consideration the full
capabilities of the Air Force. Certainly in the close-support role, the
reconnaissance role, the assault-landing phase, and the
research-and-development phase, we think it needs more looking into."
This statement brings out the essential differences dividing
the two services. The several elements mentioned by General Disosway deserve a
little further development:
The Air Force believes the present system, which was developed during the
second World War, is effective though improvements can be made, and this is
what it is looking for in the Indian River tests. The Army, on the other hand,
has never been completely happy with the lack of direct control of air by the
ground commander being supported. And it is also skeptical of the ability of
high-performance jet fighter aircraft to throttle down sufficiently to see and
hit fleeting ground targets. The Air Force for its part is highly skeptical of
the ability of piston-powered fighter aircraft and armed rotary-winged aircraft
to survive in a modern hostile air environment. The arming of the Mohawk OV-1C
with bombs and rockets for close support is considered by the Air Force to be
a direct intrusion into its close-support role.
The theory behind the development of the Mohawk OV-1C is that its STOL capabilities
would provide a reconnaissance aircraft that could land and take off in combat
areas and thus be able to deliver timely intelligence to battle groups and
battalions in far less time than it takes to transmit the information from the
improved strips in rear areas that fast-flying Air Force reconnaissance
aircraft require. Eventually this problem may be solved by effective and
reliable drones, but until then it is likely to remain a bone of contention.
Here the Air Force position seems to have been somewhat modified. For example,
Maj. Gen. Gilbert L. Meyers, the Commander of the Eglin AFB tests, recently
stated that "carrying the fight to the enemy through utilization of
helicopter-borne forces" is a concept that "has merit" in the
opinion of the Air Force. There remain acute differences of opinion over the
capabilities of the helicopter armed with rockets and machine guns as a
close-support weapon. The USAF is skeptical of its survivability and believes
that its fighter-bombers can do a better job. General Disosway has said that
"all that you have to do is see it, and then you can hit it." He was
speaking of the use of the F-4C as a close-in support craft. General Meyers has
said: "We believe that helicopters will prove effective for forward and
lateral force movements within the area controlled by friendly forces, though
helicopter assault into enemy territory poses vastly different problems."
An Army program for the development of an aerial
fire-support system has lagged because of the inability to develop helicopters
with cruising speeds of 190 knots and dash speeds of about 225 knots. This has been
a state-of-the-art limitation but recent progress in compound helicopters has
revived interest in the possibilities, and the Army now has several development
contracts looking toward the eventual procurement of a weapons helicopter that
will be able to provide troop-carrying helicopters with close-in fire support.
As the Howze Board saw the problem, the Army Caribou CV-2 STOL transports would
pick up supplies from C-141 or C-130 aircraft at rear bases and fly them as far
forward as possible. Here they would be transshipped if necessary in the
Chinook CH-47A helicopter which would land them in far forward combat areas.
The Air Force on its part questions the need for the Caribou. It believes that
its rugged C-130 can do the job just as well. The Indian River tests will seek
to prove this. In these tests, General Meyers has said, "The C-130 will be
utilized to make long- and short-haul deliveries of heavy and light loads,
utilizing primitive and short airfields throughout the combat zone. ... The C-130
will be used to the full extent of its capabilities and additional distribution
by helicopters will be over extremely short-haul distances in the most forward
The air of sweet reasonableness in the current Air Force
view of the Army's efforts in air mobility is justified. The differences
between the two services can be reconciled to the advantage of both. This will
not be easy, given the years of neglect when the problem was debated, but
nothing like the present testing and experimentation has previously been attempted.
A more pressing concern is the attitude of the Army itself.
The Army is anything but monolithic in its position on air mobility. There is
stubborn opposition to the whole concept by men who believe that soldiers are
made to walk and carry rifles and bayonets and anything else is so much froth.
There are those who see in the growth of Army aviation a threat to other weapon
systems. A few veteran paratroopers, who would rather jump from a C-130 than
ride in a helicopter, are disdainful, but most of this kind of opposition
comes from those who see a threat to armor. What frets these men most is the
suggestion in the Howze Board report that the proper balance of a
sixteen-division Army (the present force) would provide for five air-assault
divisions. Two of these five would be the present airborne divisions, but the
other three represented a threat to the four armored divisions. Allied impetus
to this kind of thinking is the insistence of the Defense Department that if
the Army decides to go air assault it will have to reduce some of its other
programs. And where better, some air enthusiasts say, than in the expensive
tank and armored personnel carrier programs? Gen. Earle G. Wheeler, then-Army
Chief of Staff, and recently named Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
countered this point of view in a speech before the US Armor Association:
I insist that the doctrinal and field tests keep air
mobility in a ground combat context. As I see it the decision in any combat
action still depends upon exploiting firepower and mobility in proper combination
and relationship. Mobility, as such, can make only a minor contribution to the
decision if its relationship to firepower is unbalanced.
"My point is that as the Army develops in this decade,
I am anxious to keep practical aspects foremost. The demands upon us are many.
Our resources, as generous as they may appear to be, are in fact limited. ...
This is why I insist that combat effectiveness and our mission of prompt and
sustained combat on land receive our priority attention."
In the view of some insiders, this was considered a slap at
air assault and a pat on the back for armor. Some of General Wheeler's closest
advisers on the Army Staff seem to hold a similar view. This has disturbed supporters
of air assault, possibly needlessly because they are unable, as they
acknowledge, to pinpoint any reluctance to deprive the experimental air-assault
division of any necessary resources.
To estimate this situation is to border on psychological analysis,
and perhaps it is best to drop it with a repetition of the statement that the
Army's present views on the Howze Board proposals are not monolithic. Perhaps
the breakthrough will come, if it comes, when the new Chief of Staff, Gen.
Harold K. Johnson, becomes convinced that the air-assault tests have indeed
proven the Howze Board assertions. One of General Johnson's favorite
expressions, we are told, is a challenging, "prove the assertion." In
air assault this remains to be done.
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