By Dr. Monique M. Maldonado
Contributor, In Homeland Security
In 2013, two OV-10 aircraft participated in an experimental flight and were deployed to Iraq in order to combat mission operatives against ISIS. The aircraft—which debuted in the 1960s—successfully completed a total of 120 combat sorties in a two-and-a-half month period, leaving naysayers to speculate if this legacy aircraft would be more profitable and suitable for the war against one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world.
North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco
The OV-10 was originally developed for the U.S. Marine Corps to provide reconnaissance and light strike missions. According to Boeing, the Bronco is a “rugged, maneuverable, twin-turboprop, multimission aircraft” that was highly successful during the Vietnam War. Supplementary capabilities of the aircraft also caught the eye of the Air Force and Navy for their counterinsurgency operations. In addition to reconnaissance missions, former graduate student of the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College Major Shawn H. Hughes stated the Bronco could be utilized in agile “attack missions, helicopter escort, forward air control and observation.” A much slower aircraft than attack and fighter jets, the OVO-10’s prominence was its versatility and rapid maneuverability compared to helicopters and the fact that it has other archetypes that made it one of the most adaptable planes of its time.
There were a total of seven prototypes for the aircraft in which upgrades were made between 1964 and 1968. Its specialty was the reconnaissance apparatus as well as its high-level machine gun weaponry that made it the aircraft to compete with. However, the most significant conversion of the OV-10 was its night observation surveillance. This particular D model provided “advanced sensor equipment in its nose consisting of infrared equipment, laser targeting capabilities and other modifications, including 20-mm cannon upgrades and beefier powerplants,” according to the Warbird Alley.
The Bronco’s primary responsibility was to deploy during counterinsurgency operations in the 1960s. Initially retired from service in 1995, it has made multiple appearances throughout the 21st century.
Defense Media Networks contributor, Robert F. Dorr, stated the OV-10 left retirement status to fly operations under the Combat Dragon program established by then-Combatant Commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The Bronco effectively completed its combat missions under McChrystal’s leadership that his successor, Gen. James Mattis, followed suit. Mattis reported to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Bronco is a “robust, complex aircraft like an F-15E Strike Eagle to support troops patrolling rural villages.”
The F-35 Fighter
The fifth generation strike fighter and America’s largest acquisition program to date is supposed to be primary asset to defend air superiority and support combat missions overseas. With advanced systems such as the low observable technology, helmet mounted display, and distributed aperture system, the F-35 was dubbed as the jet of the 21st century. However, such capabilities do not seem to support all objectives of war, especially conquering the war on ISIS.
[Related: Is the F-35 Ready to Defeat ISIS?]
Ryan Brown of CNN Politics discussed that the reinstatement of the Broncos was a trial phase to conclude whether the aircraft could better support operations better than a technologically advanced strike fighter such as the F-35. The fighter jet was deemed completely too fast to provide close air support and it would cost 10 times more than the Bronco just to complete missions. Criticism over the continued issues with the fighter as well as major expense provided an alternative to reinstate the OV-10 for an investigative period to defeat ISIS.
Future of the Bronco
The Bronco has been praised over the past 50 years for its successful combat missions as well as its reinstatement to work operations in the Middle East. Research has shown that Broncos are not only beneficial for ground operations, close air support and reconnaissance missions, but also it is more cost-effective for the Defense Department. Retired Naval Commander Chris Hamer stated that the DoD would save millions in fuel and flying mission costs alone.
Fundamentally, the Bronco is a slower aircraft, and it would not be conducive to locations where modern adversaries and advanced capabilities are imminent. But it is definitely favorable for operations in the Middle East where advanced weapons systems are limited.
Currently, there is no solid decision on whether or not the OV-10 will be a permanent asset in combat operations or within any of the service departments. But it is clearly a favored legacy aircraft that creates the perfect balance between attack and fighter jets.