Bronco Rides Again

Two OV-10 Broncos recently returned from a combat evaluation in the US Central Command area of operations, testing a light attack and armed reconnaissance capability. Congress provided funding to “test the use of a small aircraft” for counterinsurgency and close air support, Air Force Special Operations Command boss Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold told Air Force Magazine at ASW16. “We got the two aircraft, modified them, and conducted the test,” which will now be briefed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Heithold said Feb. 26. The OV-10Gs were previously upgraded with new engines and propellers to conduct US anti-drug operation in Columbia. New EO/IR sensors, a modern self-defensive suite, and precision-guided weapons were added for the trial conducted primarily by US Special Operations Command. There is “some discussion” of AFSOC absorbing the aircraft for joint terminal attack controller training, but “at this point, I’m not inclined to do that,” considering the cost of operating and maintaining such a small fleet, Heithold said. There is “some utility” in a light COIN/CAS aircraft to support certain AFSOC missions, but the command can’t afford to “keep these capabilities on just because somebody might want it,” he noted. Boeing pitched an upgraded OV-10 to compete for the Air Force’s canceled Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) program several years ago, and similar trials were conducted with a modified A-29 Super Tucano in Afghanistan. The aircraft are currently at Pope Army Airfield, N.C., pending the final report and will be returned to NASA if no service decides to retain them.