Professional militaries, whether Caesar’s legions, Napoleon’s Grande Armee or today’s All Volunteer Force, have always contained a very high percentage of grizzled old veterans. That is one reason they are so good. These warriors generally bear the brunt of combat operations. It is important to pay homage to the American veterans now in Iraq, many of whom fought in the first Gulf War.
Not all the veterans in the U.S. military are living, breathing soldiers, sailors, marines or airmen. Much of the hardware deployed to Iraq qualifies for veteran status too. Often the crew driving the vehicles or flying the airplanes are younger than their machines. Some systems, such as the venerable B-52, are almost ready for Social Security. Most of this equipment has performed well in recent conflicts, sometimes even spectacularly.
One veteran piece of hardware (actually a platform) which has performed magnificently in Iraq is a helicopter, the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. Like many “military families” the Kiowa Warrior’s older kin have fought in every major American conflict since the 1960s. The Kiowa Warrior was deployed in 1991. It was the first fully digitized helicopter with a low light television, thermal imaging system, and laser range finder/designator incorporated into an above the rotor Mast Mounted Sight. The Kiowa Warrior both provides reconnaissance, command and control, and target acquisition and designation for other forces and, with its array of weapons, conducts direct fire support to ground forces.
There are approximately 375 OH-58Ds in service today with about 120 deployed in support of operations in Iraq. By most accounts they are the premier rotary wing platform in theater. The speed, maneuverability, sensor suite and variable weapons load out of the OH-58D makes it a highly prized reconnaissance platform. According to one Kiowa Warrior crewman, the vehicle is particularly well-suited for the Iraq environment. “The war was fought in lightly wooded, suburban and urban terrain, not against columns of enemy armor but infantry embedded in small communities and towns. With reduced visibility and close fighting the norm, the team tactics of the Kiowa Warrior units proved extremely effective and lethal.”
The Army is planning to buy a new armed reconnaissance helicopter (ARH) to replace the Kiowa Warrior. The new helicopter will be a Non-Developmental Item, meaning that the aircraft and associated support equipment must be currently available for purchase. The availability of a large installed supply and maintenance base for this new helicopter is an important consideration in source selection. Two other critical features of the ARH will be its avionics package and its surveillance/reconnaissance systems. Operation Iraqi Freedom has shown the importance of maneuverability and multi-spectral sensing to the performance of the armed reconnaissance mission. The best homage the Army could give to the Kiowa Warrior would be to ensure that the ARH was built in its predecessor’s image, but even better.
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