The need for close air support in the fight against ISIS has led to a rethink of the preference of technology over effectiveness

In recent decades, the constant commitment to technological improvement has led to the discarding of old models of combat aircraft that, properly equipped, are proving to be more effective in counterinsurgency operations. The urgencies posed especially by the fight against the Islamic State have turned these old models into a kind of Special Operations capability of the Air Force.

OV-10 Bronco

▲ OV-10 Bronco [USAF, TSgt Bill Thompson]

article / Ignacio Yárnoz

August 2015. In the framework of the "Combat Dragon II" Special Operations Program, two OV-10G+ Bronco jets take off from a U.S. air base in northern Iraq. The mission statement of these twin-engine aircraft from the time of the Vietnam War is double. Firstly, to help Peshmerga fighters in the face of attacks by Daesh insurgents (al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham); the second, to demonstrate the effectiveness of low-cost propeller aircraft in COIN (Counter Insurgency) operations. The mission statement It turned out to be a success and made many things rethink in the Pentagon, where astonishment flooded the offices at the mission statement counterinsurgency with aircraft from 50 years ago.

It is important to highlight the three fundamental pillars that made this mission statement a success. First of all, there is the human factor that was part of the mission statement. The brave pilots who embarked on it were carefully chosen for their experience in special missions, as well as being instructor officers of the USAF Weapons School. This was of great importance given the delicacy of the mission statement and the precision it required. Here's why.

The second pillar to highlight is the weaponry and material used. More specifically, these are the new, but very promising APKWS (Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System) laser-guided rockets and multiple modern infrared surveillance systems such as the MX-15HD FLIR. The first are 70 mm rockets similar to the "Hydra" (an American system of air-to-air/air-to-ground rockets known to be the most widely used in the world as helicopter weapons) to which a laser guidance and control system can be incorporated. They are rockets that can be fired either from very close or at longer distances at all angles you want, giving a very wide margin of fire to the pilot that gives him a significant tactical advantage. In addition, its high accuracy means that it can eliminate enemies or destroy lightly armored vehicles with an efficiency that other systems would not be able to achieve, at least not without causing greater collateral damage. There's the core topic Discussed in the first pillar: pilots experienced in the handling of precision weapons accompanied by the appropriate means make this a perfect combination that turned the OV-10G+ Bronco into true precision weapons.

Finally, and as a third pillar, there is the aircraft itself: the OV-10G+ Bronco (or "Black Pony"). This Vietnam War veteran is an aviation legend. The Bronco was born after the U.S. Navy and Air Force approved a triple-duty specification called "LARA" (Light Armed Reconnaissance Aircraft), issued in late 1963 and designed for that war. LARA was based on the need for a new subject light attack aircraft and observation for "jungle fighting". During the conflict, the Broncos conducted observation operations, forward air control, helicopter escort, armed reconnaissance, light transport services, and limited ground attack actions. The Broncos also conducted airborne radiological reconnaissance, tactical aerial observation and for naval artillery, as well as aerial control of tactical support operations and, on the battlefront, aerial photography of leave height.

However, doctrines have changed since smart bombs were integrated into air forces. Advanced air control, one of the primary missions of this aircraft, passed into the hands of elite ground troops with laser designators and digital transmissions. The concept of using Broncos to loiter over an area and drop ammo was not explored. Finally, the apparatus was given the necessary leave in July 1994.


A-10 Thunderbolt

A-10 Thunderbolt [USAF, MSgt William Greer]


OV-10 Bronco and A-10 Thunderbolt

It is a light attack and observation aircraft powered by two turboprops that, although it is a fixed-wing aircraft, meets the capabilities of a helicopter and a drone. Like drones, the OV-10 can hover over the battlefield for hours, but with greater visibility than an RQ9 Reaper and with greater weaponry capacity. The model The original was capable of flying at a speed of up to 560 km/h, carrying up to 3 tons of external ammunition and staying hover over an area for more than three hours. Finally, this versatile device is capable of operating from short or semi-prepared tracks (STOL) with low operating and maintenance costs. In most cases it can fly with only one engine. The latter makes the OV-10 Bronco and all its counterparts a great asset given that while jet aircraft have great fuel consumption on each flight (starting at $20,000 for the cheapest jet, the F16), light attack jets only cost a few thousand dollars per operation. In addition, the aircraft currently available can only take off and land on long, expensive runways that must be located hundreds of kilometres from the front line and, as a result, the effective time of their missions is shorter and their fuel consumption is higher.

However, the USAF's trend has always tipped the scales toward high-tech rather than effectiveness. Since World War II and the beginning of the Cold War, the American way of fighting has been to rely on superior technology. There has been a constant approach in the most important technological advances in which it is at the forefront. However, these effective aircraft have found a niche within the Army, possibly the Air Force Special Operations. The need for close air support in the fight against ISIS has led many commanders to rethink their strategy. In fact, it also helped convince the Air Force to reconsider its plans to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II (A-10 Warthog as it is nicknamed in the USAF). The reasons turn out to be analogous to the start-up of aircraft such as the OV-10 Bronco: the need for effectiveness, experience, close air support and advanced air control, all combined with low maintenance costs.

In the case of the A-10 Thunderbolt II, it is an aircraft designed specifically around its main weapon, a 30mm GAU-8/A cannon mounted directly under the fuselage. With a 540 kg titanium armor, it incorporates two General Electric TF34-GE-100 turbines mounted in an elevated position, so that the aircraft can land in austere environments such as difficult, dirty or sandy terrain. In addition, the aerodynamics and technology of the engines allow the A-10 to fly slower and lower, and therefore closer to forces on the ground and enemy targets, specifically at 555 km/h and at an altitude of 30 meters. Last but not least, it's cheap to buy (a average $11 million for each of the 715 built) and operating (about $17,000 per flight hour).

Although the OV-10 Bronco was not ultimately selected by the USAF in the framework of the Combat Dragon II, has marked a milestone in aeronautical history. The USAF has finally decided to opt for the model Brazil's A29 SuperTucano, a two-seater aircraft that speeds around 580 km per hour and possesses the sophisticated avionics typical of fourth-generation fighters, including radar warning receivers, front-scan infrared sensors, and the ability to launch bombs and precision-guided missiles. In final, an aircraft with the same advanced air control and tactical observation capabilities as the OV-10 Bronco. This model it is already part of the Afghan, Lebanese and Nigerian air forces (countries with insurgency threats such as Boko Haram, Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda) as well as being in the process of replacing the Broncos in the Philippines, where the same counterinsurgency techniques used in Iraq to fight Daesh in this region are also being applied. Regardless of whether it's the legendary Bronco, the paradigm is still latent. It has been proven that light aviation can be able to establish itself as a powerful ally in today's COIN operations.

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