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Army Magazine >> Army Magazine Archive >> ARMY Magazine - January 2003 >> Letters Email this... Email    Print this Print



This letter is in response to the article "Why Comanche?" (August). Being an old master aviator, I have had an association with attack helicopters, the AH-56 Cheyenne and the AAH/ AH-64-Apache, and have served twice in Troop C, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry in Vietnam. (The 1/9 Cavalry was the reconnaissance squadron of the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam.) The article, written by two respected retired generals, has raised some questions about the roles being anticipated for the RAH-66 and how it will be integrated into battle.

Since the Army is in the process of transformation, I would suggest that the same or similar process that was used in 1971-72 concerning attack helicopters be used. The following is a short history of the process that stood the Army in good stead and one that fits into the transformation process.

In the development of the AH-56 Cheyenne helicopter, under the concept of total package procurement, the procurement program was running concurrently with the development program. The death of a test pilot resulted in the cancellation of the procurement program.

The AH-56 had a pusher propeller and stub wings, as well as an antitorque tail rotor. In forward flight at higher speeds the main rotor was off loaded and the stub wings provided the necessary lift. This configuration allowed one to go beyond the limitation of retreating blade stall as far as forward speed is concerned. The development portion of the contract was allowed to proceed. Lockheed, the designer and builder of the AH-56, continued work on the advanced mechanical control system used to control the rigid rotor system and fixed the problem of the main rotor system becoming dynamically unstable after about 170 knots. Monies were made available to expand the flight envelope of the AH-56 and to develop a tech data package (TDP). The AH-56 achieved a top speed of 212 knots in level flight.

The AH-56, also known as the advanced aerial fire support system, was designed as a replacement for the AH-1 Cobra for use in environments like Vietnam. The fatal crash of the prototype as well as its cost and conflict with the Air Force in roles and missions caused the AH-56 to be controversial. The roles and missions issue should have been settled with the Air Force.

At this period, the United States was disengaging from Vietnam and was turning its attention to countering the Warsaw Pact armies of tanks and other mechanized systems. The Army Staff made the decision to examine whether or not the AH-56 would be suitable as a tank killer in Europe.

A task force (TF) was chartered and housed in the Hoffman Building in Alexandria. It was known as the Marks’ Board for Maj. Gen. Marks, the TF commander. The Office of the Secretary of Defense insisted that a flight evaluation be made of the AH-56, the AH-1 King Cobra and the Sikorsky Black Hawk, a one-of-a-kind attack prototype helicopter. This is a situation analogous to the current situation in deciding how to proceed with Transformation in the aviation arena and gain strategic mobility.

The TF prepared a materiel-need document entitled the "Advanced Attack Helicopter (AAH)." The flight testing indicated that none of the prototypes met the requirements for the AAH, and three members from the Army Staff assisted the TF in preparing the development concept document needed for going to a defense systems acquisition review council (DSARC). The DSARC I was held in August 1972 and the AAH program began. Incidentally, the DSARC I for the M-1 tank was held in September 1972. These two systems were two of the big five systems being developed for fielding in the Army. The other three systems were the utility tactical transport aviation system (now known as the UH-60), the multiple launch rocket system, and the Patriot air defense system.

With the advent of the AAH, the AH-56 program was terminated, but as was mentioned earlier, the flight envelope was completed and a TDP was delivered. The AAH was initially armed with the TOW system, a 30 mm chain gun, and 2.75 inch folding fin aerial rockets. About two years later, the switch was made to using the Hellfire missile. That required the development of the target acquisition and designation system that was coupled with a pilot’s night vision system.

Given that the origins of the Comanche design dates back to the late 1980 time frame, and the multiple roles that the RAH-66 crews are expected to fulfill, it appears to me that another task force should be convened to address the aviation role in the 21st century. I would suggest that the reconnaissance mission, the armed helicopter role, and the command and control missions be broken apart and performed by airframes and crews designed and trained specifically for these three roles. I would also suggest that particular attention be given to using a technology similar to the AH-56, excluding the tilt rotor, so that greater speed can be achieved, giving the new system a rapid, self-deployable overseas capability. The use of built-in oxygen systems for operations at high altitudes should also be a prime consideration.

Now is the time to capitalize on the technology developed for the RAH-66. The Marks’ Board did its work in about eight months. Such a short time investment, in order to proceed from a sound base, is well worth it to ensure that our forces have the best equipment available.

Georgetown, Texas


The recent forum (November) regarding Col. Lloyd J. Matthews’ piece "The Uniformed Intellectual and His Place in American Arms," was downright stimulating! Col. Matthews’ response to a number of writers who disagreed with some of his views warrants one further comment.

In closing his rejoinder, Col. Matthews stated, "Until and unless heavy tube artillery and armor are succeeded by weapon systems of equal capability that have been battle proven in all likely conditions of war, we must continue to maintain and update a prudent slice of our heavy force as a hedge against unforeseen needs." Ostensibly to support that view, Matthews goes on to cite Les Aspin’s rueing his ill-fated decision to deny tanks requested by the on-the-spot commander to support the U.S. Army Ranger pacification operation in Mogadishu in 1993. Col. Matthews implies that here was a case where the traditional heavy force was indeed needed and appropriate, but denied.

The reason for the denial was concisely stated in Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down: "Gen. Montgomery asked for Abrams tanks and Bradley vehicles late in September for his QRFs [quick reaction forces], but these were turned down, again because of pressure in Washington to lower, not raise, the American military presence in Mogadishu."

Without getting into a discussion of that military/political issue, suffice it to say that the U.S. Army provided our political/military policy and decision makers with very few choices. There was no medium force option (with its lower U.S. military presence profile) to consider.

It is hoped that Mogadishu has helped us understand the need for better options in committing U.S. military power. These options have been to either send in shirtsleeve forces who must displace and fight from sandbagged 5-ton cargo trucks or send in forces equipped with 68-ton Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles.

In actuality, what happened in Mogadishu makes the case for the Transformation force because Transformation will provide the U.S. policy makers and Army decision makers with a medium force option.

Army intellectuals and "operations types" need to reflect that most modern armies of the world have long recognized the need for light armored forces for rapid crisis deployments, pacification, peacekeeping and other modern warfare needs. The U.S. Army, however, had denied a need or requirement for a light/medium armor force (wheel or track) for decades. Our force development and combat development processes tended to ignore contemporary and conventional military wisdom regarding power projection forces. Somehow, the U.S. Army knew better. Sadly needed was some vigorous intellectual debate on why and how we knew better.

Springfield, Va.

Editor’s Note: All that’s changed now.