The United States Army Aviation Branch is the administrative organization within the United States Army responsible for doctrine, manning and configuration for all army aviation units.
After the United States Army Air Corps grew into the Army Air Forces and split into the new service, the United States Air Force, the Army was left with its sole fixed-wing aviation units flying L-2 observation planes for artillery units. The Army would develop a new concept of aviation using the helicopter that would show promise during the Korean War and would revolutionize warfare during the Vietnam War.
United States Army Aviation Branch Plaque
|Garrison/HQ||Fort Rucker, Alabama|
|Motto(s)||Above the Best|
|Colors||Ultramarine Blue, Golden orange|
|Anniversaries||12 April 1983|
|Commanding General||Major General William K. Gayler|
|Deputy Commanding General||Colonel Jessie O. Farrington|
|Command Sergeant Major||Gregory M. Chambers|
Aviation Branch Insignia
|Trainer helicopter||TH-67, UH-72|
|Utility helicopter||UH-60, UH-72|
|Reconnaissance||MQ-1C, RQ-5, RQ-7, RQ-11|
|Transport||C-12, C-20, C-23, C-26, C-37|
Army Aviation traces its origins back to the American Civil War. Both Union and Confederate forces used hydrogen-filled balloons to direct artillery fire, marking the beginning of U.S. military aeronautics and of aerial support of Army ground forces. The Army also used balloons during the Spanish–American War and World War I, but airplanes replaced balloons for most military purposes during the latter conflict.
While not part of the present Army Aviation Branch's heritage, United States military aviation began in 1907 with the Army’s acquisition of its first heavier-than-air aircraft, an airplane built to Army specifications by the Wright brothers. During World War I, the Air Service's aircraft strength grew from a few dozen to more than 11,000 planes, and the number of aviation personnel came to total more than 190,000. The Army Air Service was created in May 1918. After World War I, General William Mitchell and other Air Service leaders spoke out forcefully in favor of an independent air force. Since they envisioned aviation as a separate striking force, capable of independent operations, they opposed its remaining a supporting arm of the ground forces. Although Congress, as well as most Army leaders, rejected Mitchell's argument, the Air Service did become a separate combat arm, equal in status to the infantry, cavalry, and artillery. In 1926, the name of the air arm was changed to Army Air Corps, and then, in June 1941, the Air Corps and other Army air elements were merged to form the Army Air Forces, co-equal with the Army Ground Forces and the Army Service Forces.
During the 1930s, many Army Air Corps leaders began to experiment with strategic air operations. Like Billy Mitchell before them, they advocated using air power independently of the Army ground forces to destroy enemy targets behind the lines of combat. This Air Corps emphasis on strategic operations disturbed some ground forces leaders, who believed their aerial support needs were being neglected. Aerial support was particularly vital for artillery fire adjustment. Partly because Air Corps fire support aircraft were not always available, the chief of field artillery and other artillery officers became interested in using light aircraft organic to the artillery units. The Army experimented with using small organic aircraft for artillery fire adjustment and other functions in maneuvers at Camp Beauregard, La., in August 1940. The tests were repeated on a larger scale in the Army maneuvers in Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, and the Carolinas in 1941.
Following a final series of experiments with organic Army spotter aircraft conducted in 1942, the Secretary of War ordered the establishment of organic air observation for field artillery—hence the birth of modern Army Aviation—on 6 June 1942. It was this new World War II-era phenomenon with its few small single-engine spotter planes, organic Army Aviation, that eventually evolved into today’s Army Aviation Branch.
Organic Army Aviation first entered into combat in November 1942 on the coast of North Africa. During World War II, L-4 Grasshoppers and a few larger L-5 Sentinels were used to adjust artillery fire, gather intelligence, support naval bombardment, direct bombing missions, and perform other functions. Most training of both pilots and mechanics was conducted by the Department of Air Training within the Field Artillery School at Post Field, Okla., although the Army Air Forces conducted some primary training of organic Army Aviation personnel.
After the creation of the Army Air Forces, the Army Ground Forces retained the use of light aircraft for artillery forward observation and reconnaissance in June 1942. First use of the helicopter in combat is credited to the USAAF 1st Air Commando Group in Burma in 1943. The 1ACG operated six Sikorsky R-4 helicopters primarily for air rescue and medical evacuation.
When the United States Air Force was established as a separate service in 1947, the Army developed its light planes and rotary wing aircraft to support its ground operations. The Korean War and Vietnam War proved the growing capabilities of these aviation assets to perform a variety of missions not covered by the Air Force.
The Korean War provided new challenges and opportunities for Army Aviation. Organic Army Aviation had acquired its first helicopters, thirteen H-13 Sioux, in 1947, shortly before the U.S. Air Force became independent of the Army. In Korea, the Army employed the O-1 Bird Dog and other improved fixed wing planes, but also helicopters. The Army used its H-13s primarily for medical evacuation, command and control, and transport of lightweight and valuable cargo. Because of the rugged terrain of the Korean peninsula, the value of helicopters came to be recognized by all the services; the demand for both helicopters and trained aviators consistently exceeded the supply. In 1951 the Army began organizing five helicopter transport companies and training warrant officer pilots. There was, however, an ongoing rivalry between the Army and the Air Force concerning responsibility and resources for the aerial support of ground forces. Because of this rivalry, and also because of the shortage of helicopters, only two Army transport companies were supplied with H-19 Chickasaw helicopters in time to participate in the Korean War. Transport helicopters nevertheless proved themselves by moving cargo and personnel during the final months of the war and then by participating in prisoner exchanges and other functions after the cessation of hostilities. During the Korean War, the Department of Air Training at Post Field expanded, and in early 1953, it became the Army Aviation School. As a result of the expansion of both aviation and artillery training, Post Field became overcrowded, and the Army decided to move the Army Aviation School to a different post. When no satisfactory permanent Army post was found, a temporary post, Camp Rucker, Ala., was chosen.
The first armed helicopter company was activated in Okinawa in 1962. It was deployed to Thailand and then to Vietnam, where it flew escort for lift helicopters. The Department of Defense did not abolish mission restrictions on the Army's rotary-wing aircraft, thereby technically authorizing the Army to arm helicopters until 1966. The "Howze Board," or "Tactical Mobility Requirements Board," was established in 1962 to develop and test the concept of air mobility. After test exercises, war games, and concentrated study and analysis, the Howze Board recommended that the Army commit itself to organic air mobility – later known as air assault. The Howze Board recommended the extensive use of helicopters to transport infantry troops, artillery, and supplies, as well as to provide local aerial fire support. These recommendations were tested by the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) from 1963 to 1965. In 1965, the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) was organized and sent to Vietnam, where it repeatedly demonstrated the validity of the airmobile concept in actual combat.
The creation, implementation, and consolidation of the Army Aviation Branch dominated the 1980s. Prominent aviators, as well as other Army leaders, had debated the establishment of Aviation as a separate branch since the time of the Korean War. The opposition to a separate aviation branch had resulted in part from Army attitudes regarding the Army Air Corps and the U.S. Air Force. In Army circles, both of these aviation organizations were believed to have been unreliable in performing their mission of supporting the ground forces—even after having been given resources to do so. Since Army Aviation had demonstrated its commitment to the support of the ground battle in Vietnam, however, opposition to a separate aviation branch began to wane. Also, Army Aviation had grown in size and technological sophistication. This growth caused increasingly complex problems in training, procurement, doctrine development, proponent responsibility, and personnel management. Many non-aviators as well as aviators became convinced that these problems could be solved more effectively by the creation of an aviation branch.
Both Army Aviation and the helicopter came of age during the conflict in Southeast Asia. The most widely used helicopter, the UH-1 Iroquois, or Huey, began to arrive in Vietnam in significant numbers in 1964. Before the end of the conflict, more than 5,000 of these versatile aircraft were introduced into Southeast Asia. They were used for medical evacuation, command and control, air assault; personnel and materiel transport; and gunships. The AH-1 Cobra arrived in 1967 to partially replace the Huey in its gun ship capacity. Other important helicopters in Vietnam included the CH-47 Chinook, the OH-6 Cayuse, the OH-58 Kiowa, and the CH-54 Tarhe. Although the concept of air mobility had been developed with a mid-intensity European conflict in mind, Army Aviation and the helicopter had proven themselves during the low intensity conflict in Southeast Asia.
Under the Johnson-McConnell agreement of 1966, the Army agreed to limit its fixed-wing aviation role to administrative mission support (light unarmed aircraft which cannot operate from forward positions).
Afterwards, the Army turned its major attention back to the threat of a mid or high intensity conflict in Europe, and doubts reemerged about the value of helicopters in that sort of arena. Some military leaders believed that the helicopter could not survive and perform an essential role in a heavy combat environment. To gain general acceptance and ensure further success, Army Aviation continued to develop new doctrine, tactics, aircraft, equipment, and organizational structure. New or radically modified aircraft were adopted from the late 1970s into the mid-1980s. These included the UH-60 Black Hawk, AH-64 Apache, D-model of the CH-47 Chinook, and OH-58D version of the Kiowa.
Both Department of the Army and U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command conducted extensive studies of the separate-branch question during the 1970s through 1982. In March 1983, the Chief of Staff of the Army recommended forming a separate aviation branch. The Secretary of the Army approved that recommendation on 12 April 1983– the date celebrated as the Branch’s birthday. Aviation Officer Basic and Advanced Courses began at Fort Rucker in 1984, and a gradual consolidation of aviation-related activities followed. In 1986, the U.S. Army Air Traffic Control Activity became part of the branch. In the following year, a Noncommissioned Officers Academy was established at Fort Rucker. In 1988, the Army Aviation Logistics School, which had been dependent on the Transportation Center at Fort Eustis, was incorporated into the Aviation Branch.
Also in 1988, the Army Aviation Modernization Plan was given final approval and implemented. The modernization plan called for a gradual reduction in the number of Army aircraft as older models were replaced by modern ones. Aircraft that appeared during the late 1980s and early 1990s included the armed Bell OH-58 Kiowa Warrior and the new TH-67 Creek training helicopter, along with the Cessna Citation V and Beechcraft C-12 Huron fixed-wing aircraft.
Army Aviation's role of providing the indispensable vertical dimension to the modern battlefield has become universally recognized. For example, during operations in Grenada, Panama, and the Persian Gulf region, Army Aviation played major and decisive roles. One of the very first blows of Operation Desert Storm was struck by Army Aviation. Apache helicopters destroyed key Iraqi early warning radar sites and thus opened the air corridors to Baghdad for the bombing campaign that preceded the ground war. Then during the 100 hours of ground combat, Army helicopters dominated nighttime operations.
The decreased military budgets following the end of the Cold War forced both the Army and Army Aviation to downsize. Army Aviation’s response was to develop the “Aviation Restructure Initiative,” a plan to decrease the size of the force while continuing to provide a capable, ready force. By the late 1990s, continuing deficiencies and unintended results of the ARI led to a series of aviation plans as key pieces of the Army-wide modernization and transformation. In 2003, the Aviation Branch assumed overall responsibility for unmanned aerial vehicles within the Army. Operations since Desert Storm showed the versatility and flexibility of Army Aviation. Examples were uses of AH-64 Apaches in peacekeeping operations in the Balkans as a deterrent to mobs threatening fellow citizens or paramilitary groups trying to remove weapons from agreed cantonments. The beginning of the Global War on Terrorism in 2001 drew Army Aviation again into ongoing combat. Events in Afghanistan and Iraq have reaffirmed the qualities that caused the creation of Organic Army Aviation in 1942. These qualities included the responsiveness to the needs of the ground commander and commitment to the Soldier in the ground fight. At the same time, Army Aviation – including Army Special Operations Aviation – has played vital and ever-expanding roles across the spectrum of Joint and Combined operations.
In recognition of the demonstrated increasing importance of aviation in Army doctrine and operations, Aviation became a separate branch on 12 April 1983.
The mission of Army Aviation is to find, fix, and destroy the enemy through fire and maneuver; and to provide combat, combat support and combat service support in coordinated operations as an integral member of the combined arms team. On the modern battlefield, Army Aviation, unlike the other members of the combined arms team, has the organic flexibility, versatility, and assets to fulfill a variety of maneuver, CS, CSS, roles and functions. These cover the spectrum of combined arms operations. Aviation can accomplish each of these roles—within the limits of finite assets and capabilities—during offensive or defensive operations and also for joint, combined, contingency, or special operations.
Originally aircraft and pilots were assigned directly to artillery or other units requiring light aircraft. In 1957 the Army decided to create individual company sized units in the numbered divisions. These companies were soon expanded to battalion size during the Vietnam war and further expanded in the late 1980s to regimental-sized support elements under a brigade headquarters. (Combat Aviation Brigade)