The OV10 Light CAS Aircraft Temporarily Reappears

Posted on: March 28th, 2016 by Will Rodriguez 1 Comment
OV-10 at the Hill Aerospace Museum. Photo courtesy of Howard Jackman

Special Operations Command recently experimented using two OV10 light observation/utility aircraft in the close air support role in combat against ISIS.  This incident has made a small splash in various forums and a discussion of the Air Force obtaining prop engine type light aircraft to do CAS especially with the venerable A-10  being constantly offered on the Air Force’s “constructed” altar of financial sacrifice.  The Air Force will never willingly purchase a CAS specific aircraft and even more importantly not use it like SOCOM has used the OV10 or the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano which SOCOM looked at in an identical role in Afghanistan.

The OV-10’s were flown by naval aviators completing 134 sorties over 82 days last May.  The OV-10 can deliver a wide variety and impressive amount of ordnance for its comparatively small size.  It has a fascinating history and distinguished record flying for the Air Force, Navy and Marines starting in the mid 60’s  The Marines were the last service to fly it and retired the plane in 1995.

The latest test was explained as an experiment to see if the OV10 could accomplish CAS missions at a lower cost than current front line fighters like the F16 and F15.  A similar experiment called Imminent Fury was conducted from 2009-2010 in response to a request by Navy Special Warfare operators for a light attack plane with intelligence, surveillance and recon (ISR) capabilities to support their missions.  The Navy secured an Embraer A-29 Super Tucano to test and the Air Force requested to join in the experiment and increase the number of aircraft.  The experiment was promptly ended with General McCrystal’s relief in 2010.

Why would the military constantly repeat these experiments?  The OV10’s history itself is an effort to provide responsive CAS to ground forces and in that concept lays the kernel of truth that explains the phenomenon.  There is no doubt there is a requirement for extremely responsive ground commander directed CAS which is why we keep having tests.

Simply put, the Air Force doesn’t like the CAS mission.  At the cultural level it sees the mission as undermining its relatively recent establishment as a separate service.  Supporting the ground commander especially in a direct role is seen as somewhat demeaning.  This explains why the current system of CAS requires the ground commander to extrapolate how much air support he will need 48 hours before it’s needed so the Air Force can provide it.  Except for special ops, fixed wing CAS aircraft are rarely dedicated to a specific unit/commander or mission before taking off.   The Air Force participates in CAS primarily to keep other branches from developing an independent capability to do it.  Other branches developing  CAS capabilities are seen as efforts by the Air Force as efforts that threaten its primary mission of providing airpower and existence as a separate service.

The Air Force’s adoption of light CAS aircraft will only happen should another branch commit to that course of action.  This is very similar to what happened when the Army developed a requirement for a light cargo aircraft that would be dedicated to provide local immediate support to the ground commander.  As the Army experimented the Air Force requested to be part of the experiment and then promised to operate the aircraft (the C27J) for the ground commander in that role.  After securing all the aircraft including the ones the Army bought, the Air Force mothballed the fleet and promised to do the mission with C30’s. An aircraft the Air Force said was unsatisfactory for the mission to procure the C27J.

So, we can all get excited when we see CAS specific aircraft doing the CAS mission but rest assured those aircraft and efforts are flashes in the pan especially if the Air Force is involved in the effort.  Now you understand the forces at work behind the scenes.


Special thanks to Howard Jackman and his site for some impressive aircraft photography.


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  • YankeePapa

    …The Air Force brass is focused on “Blue Sky”…  Nukes, air superiority, strategic bombing, deep strikes… even earth orbit.  CAS is a despised “red-headed step-child…”  They tried to get rid of the A-10 prior to Gulf War One by declaring it “obsolete…”  (would replace them with more blue sky assets…) Congress said fine… hand them off to the Marine Corps or the Army.  
    …Too heavy for Marine amphibious deployment, but the Army would kill to get its own fixed wing deployment.  Air Force Generals rather share a needle with Keith Richards.  If they could they would abolish most fixed wing assets owned by the other services.  Gulf War One (for years to come) destroyed the “obsolete” argument, so Air Force moved many units to Guard.  Later move to kill because it “could only do one mission…”  (Extremely well!)
    …In the early development stage of what would become the Air Cavalry Division the Air Force tried to get Congress to forbid the Army from acquiring all those choppers… especially any that could be used in the attack mode.  Senator Barry Goldwater chaired the hearing.  Air Force figured deck stacked in their favor as Goldwater was a Reserve Air Force General.  But he simply asked if the Air Force would procure and fly the choppers for the Army if the Army not allowed to.  They said absolutely not… and the Army got its choppers.  (“We should have lied…”)
    …The OV10 was supposed to hang around to be a “companion” aircraft to the Osprey in deployments behind enemy lines.  But the Osprey took too long to field and the Broncos vanished from the inventory.  
    …In later years a very much improved version, the “Super OV-10” was in development, but the idea was stepped on… with comments about possibly buying South American aircraft.  
    …Congress will not amputate CAS from the USAF for a number of reasons.  The Air Force has many bases, construction firms, and suppliers scattered around key districts.  Member of Congress moves against the Air Force and maybe base in his district becomes “surplus…”  The Air Force has done far worse… in the late 1940s using gangster-like threats against Lockheed trying to force them to merge with another firm. 
    -Yankee Papa-