I was intrigued to learn that the Vietnam-era OV-10 Bronco observation and light attack aircraft has recently returned to combat in the Middle East, some 50 years after its heyday.
The twin-engine Broncos—each flown by a pair of naval aviators—completed 134 sorties, including 120 combat missions, over a span of 82 days beginning in May 2015 or shortly thereafter, according to U.S. Central Command, which oversees America’s wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Central Command would not say exactly where the OV-10s were based or where they attacked, but did specify that the diminutive attack planes with their distinctive twin tail booms flew in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led international campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The Pentagon has deployed warplanes to Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries.
There are plenty of clues as to what exactly the Broncos were doing. For one, the Pentagon’s reluctance to provide many details about the OV-10s’ overseas missions implies that the planes were working in close conjunction with Special Operations Forces. In all likelihood, the tiny attackers acted as a kind of quick-reacting 9-1-1 force for special operators, taking off quickly at the commandos’ request and flying low to hit elusive militants with guns and rockets, all before the fleet-flooted jihadis could slip away.
The military’s goal was “to determine if properly employed turbo-prop driven aircraft… would increase synergy and improve the coordination between the aircrew and ground commander,” Air Force Capt. P. Bryant Davis, a Central Command spokesman, told The Daily Beast.
Davis said that the military also wanted to know if Broncos or similiar planes could take over for jet fighters such as F-15s and F/A-18s, which conduct most of America’s airstrikes in the Middle East but are much more expensive to buy and operate than a propeller-driven plane like the OV-10. An F-15 can cost as much as $40,000 per flight-hour just for fuel and maintenance. By contrast, a Bronco can cost as little as $1,000 for an hour of flying.
There's more at the link.
I think the Bronco was - and is - a very well designed aircraft for a counter-insurgency war. I wish we'd had some in southern Africa when I was 'up the sharp end', so to speak. It - and its equivalents - wouldn't be of much use in a high-technology air defense environment, where guided weapons would probably eat it for breakfast; but in a less sophisticated theater of operations, it's probably still very effective.
However, I'm curious as to why the US would employ a fifty-year-old design when more modern equivalents are available. For example, the USAF is in the process of providing 20 Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano counter-insurgency aircraft (shown below) to Afghanistan.
The specifications and performance of the Super Tucano are at least equal to, if not better than, those of the OV-10 Bronco in almost every respect; and because pilot training and operational deployment of the former is currently in progress, its support would doubtless have been easier than resurrecting a 50-year-old design, refurbishing it to modern standards, and sending a mere two examples to the operational area. One wonders whether Boeing (which is considering putting the OV-10 back into production) exerted any pressure to have its preferred design used, instead of the more modern Tucano.
Nevertheless, I'm pleased to see the Bronco back in its natural element. If Boeing can come up with a suitably improved design, doubling the power of the original engines, using more efficient scimitar propellers, and upgrading the weapons and systems the aircraft can carry - and if it can do all that at a price that remains competitive with the Super Tucano and other potential competitors such as South Africa's AHRLAC (which looks like a Bronco in miniature, and for which Boeing is developing the weapons system) - we might have something very useful.