Washington: War was just an experiment for two of the U.S. military’s oldest and most unusual warplanes. A pair of OV-10 Broncos small, Vietnam War-vintage, propeller-driven attack planes recently spent three months flying top cover for ground troops battling IS in the Middle East.
The OV-10s’ deployment is one of the latest examples of a remarkable phenomenon. The United States—and, to a lesser extent, Russia has seized the opportunity afforded it by the aerial free-for-all over Iraq and Syria and other war zones to conduct live combat trials with new and upgraded warplanes, testing the aircraft in potentially deadly conditions before committing to expensive manufacturing programs.
That’s right. America’s aerial bombing campaigns are also laboratories for the military and the arms industry. After all, how better to pinpoint an experimental warplane’s strengths and weaknesses than to send it into an actual war?
The twin-engine Broncos—each flown by a pair of naval aviators—completed 134 sorties, including 120 combat missions, over a span of 82 days beginning in May 2015 or shortly thereafter, according to U.S. Central Command, which oversees America’s wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Central Command would not say exactly where the OV-10s were based or where they attacked, but did specify that the diminutive attack planes with their distinctive twin tail booms flew in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led international campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The Pentagon has deployed warplanes to Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates, among other countries.
There are plenty of clues as to what exactly the Broncos were doing. For one, the Pentagon’s reluctance to provide many details about the OV-10s’ overseas missions implies that the planes were working in close conjunction with Special Operations Forces. In all likelihood, the tiny attackers acted as a kind of quick-reacting 9-1-1 force for special operators, taking off quickly at the commandos’ request and flying low to hit elusive militants with guns and rockets, all before the fleet-flooted jihadis could slip away.
The military’s goal was “to determine if properly employed turbo-prop driven aircraft… would increase synergy and improve the coordination between the aircrew and ground commander,” Air Force Capt. P. Bryant Davis, a Central Command spokesman, told The Daily Beast.
Such combat experiments don’t always please everyone. When the Pentagon proposed to spend $20 million on the OV-10s, Sen. John McCain, the penny-pinching Arizona Republican who now chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, objected. “There is no urgent operational requirement for this type of aircraft,” McCain said in a statement. Lawmakers subsequently canceled most of the Broncos’ funding, but the military eventually succeeded in paying for the trial by diverting money from other programs.
The OV-10s proved incredibly reliable in their 82 days of combat, completing 99 percent of the missions planned for them, according to Davis. Today the two OV-10s are sitting idle at a military airfield in North Carolina while testers crunch the numbers from their trial deployment. The assessment will “determine if this is a valid concept that would be effective in the current battlespace,” Central Command spokesman Davis said.
The Daily Beast