[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Military aircraft are a reflection of the time in which they were made. Their purpose and design built to meet the changing demands of battlefield environments. During the Vietnam War, one such aircraft emerged due to the unprecedented conflict in a jungle environment: the OV-10 Bronco. A rugged, turbo-prop light aircraft, the Bronco was used for a variety of mission roles during the war. Like a C-130 Hercules, its rugged designed allowed the plane to take off any runway and operate in remote locations. It was responsible for a diverse set of operations, including acting as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) for coordinating airstrikes and air support roles. After Operation Desert Storm, they were retired and most were sold.
This past week, however, the US Navy revealed that two OV-10 Broncos were activated for service in the fight against ISIS. Following a successful series of missions with special operations, the US Navy is considering bringing the Bronco back into active service for a new theater of operations.
The OV-10 Bronco has its roots traced back to the 1960’s. The Vietnam War was one of the longest and most violent wars ever fought in the history of the United States. Many different aircraft were assembled and flown to meet the changing dynamics of the battlefield. In particular, the war introduced the field of helicopter operations in a wartime environment. With the introduction of helicopters, such at the UH-N1 Huey, Americans were thrust into a helicopter war, a conflict never before waged by any soldier. Helicopters allowed for the ability to rapidly respond to any situation, over any environment.
Effective tactics in the application of such aircraft were developed and implemented into battle. Helicopters, ranging from the fearsome AH-1 Cobra to the reliable CH-47 Chinook, presented many tactical advantages for American forces, from MEDEVACS, to troop deployment, to close-air combat support. At the same time, it also presented many risks as helicopters were prized targets for the enemy, often taking priority when seen by Vietcong and North Vietnamese forces. American forces needed more options in close air support, in particular from an aircraft that would be much more evasive to enemy fire than a helicopter. However, the options presented were very limited. Jet fighters were too fast and not quite designed for long lasting close-air support. The A-1 Skyraider was the only other option, but it was already stretched thin in a variety of missions. In addition, the A-1 was in the process of being phased out and given to the South Vietnamese airforce in favor of the A-7 Corsair II. The call was made for a more rugged, versatile, light aircraft that could operate deep in the field, employ direct firepower, and survive the harshness of battle with its maneuverability. The result of this demand was the OV-10 Bronco.
Similar in its design the the much larger P-49, the design of the OV-10 Bronco allowed the aircraft to operate on uneven, rough terrain. Its simplified technology made the aircraft easy to fuel and maintain. A massive airbase or aircraft carrier was not required, though some models could be modified to be carrier-borne. With its smaller design the plane was extremely maneuverable, able to make tight turns and line up for attack runs, similar to the modern A-10 Warthog. Its light fame also allowed for a longer range then most jet aircraft, which was an important trait for operating in the field.
The Bronco did have a sort of stealth capability as well. Jet fighters were much louder and, as such, alerted the enemy to incoming attack much sooner. The Bronco’s use of propellers reduced the noise emitted and would allow the pilot to conduct counter-insurgency operations, where surprise is key. The aircraft had multiple hard points to meet the needs of the mission. The Bronco could carry bombs, rockets, napalm, multiple heavy machine guns, and two sidewinder missiles for potential engagement with low-flying enemy aircraft. The aircraft canopy was also designed to give the pilot a wide view of the battlefield as well as a reliable communications network. In the FAC role, this made the Bronco most effective in co-ordinating the various assets and resources on the battlefield.
The Bronco gained a reputation as a versatile strike craft and was used extensively in the armed forces until the conclusion of the first Gulf War. With the armed forces retiring the aircraft, all remaining aircraft were sold to other forces around the world. In addition, several federal agencies including the State Department and NASA used the Bronco for their own missions. NASA still uses several Broncos for research while the State Department used Broncos for surveillance and drug interdiction.
The US Navy, seeking an effective but low-cost solution to close air support, looked into the capabilities of the Bronco for the fight against the Islamic State. While the Middle East may not be a jungle, the large, vast deserts, mountainous terrain, and remoteness of combat operations are making the demand for a craft better suited to the fields. increase. In addition, the heat, sand, and dust wear out sensitive aeronautical systems, contributing to mechanical and engine failures which are usually and tragically fatal. Drones, F/A 18 Hornets, and F-15 Eagles have been the some of the aircraft used in designated airstrikes against ISIS up to this point. The elements of cost, maintenance, and effectiveness come into consideration as of late.
The Broncos deployed to Iraq and Syria last Summer, carrying 134 sorties over 82 days of combat. When questioned, Central Operations Command (CENTCOM) would neither confirm nor reveal any detail about the nature of the missions or the give information on any potential targets that may have been observed or destroyed. It is likely that the active Broncos were used to support special operations forces currently deployed to Iraq and Syria. The Broncos used in action have been returned to the United States and are currently being evaluated based on combat data.
With other Vietnam-Era aircraft, such as the Huey, Chinook, and Sea Stallion models still being used today, the potential reintroduction of the OV-10 Bronco could be a new trend for American military forces in the modernization and adaptation of military equipment. Have you flown an OV-10 Bronco? Do you know anyone who has? Sound off in the comments![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49BpdALG3iU” title=”Bronco Weapon footage”][/vc_column][/vc_row]