Small Wars Journal

Saving the Kiowa

Share this Post

Saving the Kiowa: A Case for Augmenting the Reconnaissance and Security Brigade with the Aviation it Needs

Brian Harris

A unique opportunity has presented itself that bears some consideration.

The Army has, in recent months, made announcements concerning two reconnaissance and security initiatives. The first is the continued development of the Reconnaissance and Security BDE, a formation earmarked to provide Reconnaissance and Security capabilities at echelons above the BDE level. The other is the possible retirement of the Army's venerable OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, with no replacement airframe planned other than the use of the AH-64D as a multi role aircraft. The Army should retain a portion of the OH-58D fleet and task organize it as organic members of the Reconnaissance and Security Brigades.

Talk to any former Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) or division cavalry squadron (DIV CAV) member and conversation will typically move towards the relationship between the ground and air components within these two organizations. While the Army as a whole is a “combined arms” force, the cavalry is uniquely suited to operate this way. The cavalry has long operated as a combined arms organization with habitual relationships being integral into the units effectiveness. In particular the use of aviation to enhance mobility and provide precision fires greatly expands the cavalry’s capabilities on the battlefield.

The current Reconnaissance and Security BDE structure is still under review; whether it will be a permanent METL (Mission Essential Task List) assigned to designated units or a rotating METL designated during a units force generation cycle and based on the needs of the Army[i].  Assuming the Reconnaissance and Security BDE is an established, non-rotating force within the Army, how can we enhance its capabilities in a focused manner to support that METL? Thus enters the debate regarding the Kiowa and its big brother, the Apache.

Reconnaissance through only sensor-dependant elements will not suffice. History, both our own and allied nations’, have shown us this truth. The Apache is an amazing piece of machinery, and lethal in a combined arms fight against a peer/ near peer threat. It is NOT, however, a good reconnaissance platform, despite the Army’s insistence on naming its parent units Attack Reconnaissance Battalions. Its design makes visual reconnaissance difficult for the crew, which then relies on the sighting system as the primary means of target detection and identification. While the Apache’s systems are impressive, and frankly, salivated over by the Kiowa community, it is nothing new when compared to the vast number of unmanned systems and targeting pods being slung under fixed wing aircraft. What is missing from the equation is the ability for the crew to interact with the environment and its inhabitants.

By way of comparison, the Kiowa is uniquely suited to balance the use of systems, with its Mast Mounted Sight (though it is woefully inadequate given the availability of newer technology) and of course the well trained eyes of experienced scout pilots. Kiowa’s are renowned for their ability and willingness to “go low” to gather required information and to interact with the populace. As a personal anecdote, I once prevented a group of Afghan males from stealing a set of concertina wire the local ground unit had emplaced to block a road culvert where IEDs were commonly placed. The ability to fly low and literally lean out of the aircraft and give hand gestures allowed for a more gradual escalation of force. Other Kiowa pilots can recount their ability to pull alongside vehicles and look into the windows, and even land and dismount to conduct hasty coordination with ground forces. These important, though widely ignored, benefits will be lost with the Kiowa.

In a combined arms maneuver scenario against sophisticated threats, the OH-58D provides precision fires with Hellfire missiles and Close Combat Attack (CCA) support with 2.75 inch folding fin rockets and a .50 caliber machine gun. Its sensors, while dated, can detect vehicles at ranges of in excess of 7 kilometers, providing early and accurate warning for supported ground elements. Its small size and low infra red (IR) signature makes the Kiowa a more difficult target for enemy MANPAD (Man Portable Air Defense) systems typically fielded in front line units. Additionally, the relatively small size of a Kiowa (5,200 lbs including the crew and mission equipment) makes it difficult to detect both visually or by auditory means. Kiowa’s have historically been able to close within one kilometer of opposing forces before being detected.

Another consideration is the ability to rapidly deploy the Kiowa and Apache. Given that a Reconnaissance and Security BDE will likely deploy to an immature theater early in the force projection stage of any conflict, it needs to have firepower quickly available on the ground. Two Kiowas can be loaded onto a C-130 and deployed globally. Once on the ground, the Kiowa can be “unfolded” and in operation in roughly 20 minutes. The Apache does not possess this flexibility, requiring several hours before considered mission ready. Reliance solely on fixed wing assets to support such operations ignores the weather limitations that can hinder fixed wing support without affecting rotary wing employment.

If fiscal concerns are the primary concern, it is worth noting that the cost of maintaining a Kiowa is a third of the cost, per hour, for keeping an Apache in the air[ii]. The Kiowa also maintains the highest operational readiness rate in the conventional Army Aviation fleet (in excess of 85%) and the highest operational tempo (greater than 80 hours flown per month)[iii]. With over 800,000 combat hours flown, the Kiowa has been tested and proven a valued asset to the ground force commander.

So how does the Reconnaissance and Security BDE benefit from the OH-58D? Acknowledging that the Reconnaissance and Security BDE needs to be a master at Reconnaissance and Security tasks and recognizing that it will require dedicated air assets, the next logical conclusion is that it will need organic air to facilitate both training and real-world deployment missions. So, instead of cutting the OH-58D fleet completely, trim it down to a much smaller, focused force and nestle it under the Reconnaissance and Security BDE task organization. This will provide the BDE with the force multiplier it needs to accomplish its METL, as well as allows it to build solid habitual training relationships that are, frankly, lacking from the modern “plug and play brigade” Army.  

Opponents of this design will likely point to the old ACR (armored cavalry regiment) concept and the assert that it was too expensive to maintain, or that it was a one-trick pony aimed at fighting World War Three. There is no shame, however, in having elements within the military that are focused on a particular set of skills rather than designed to conduct every mission set conceived. If we are serious about the Reconnaissance and Security mission to support future military operations, both in combined arms maneuver and wide area security settings, then give those units the tools they need to be successful. While dated and in need of system-wide upgrade, the Kiowa is a known quantity within the Army and the Reconnaissance and Security community. Maintain a small fleet to directly support the Reconnaissance and Security brigade, and as the budget allows, find a replacement armed reconnaissance platform to take Army Aviation into the next 30 years.

End Notes

[i] Cone, Robert W. 2013. Reconnaissance and Surveillance: Looking Deep. Joint Forces Quarterly 71, 4th Quarter.

[ii] FY12 DOD Rotary Wing Aviation Reimbursable Rates

[iii] Bell Helicopter. 2013. The OH-58D Kiowa Warrior.


About the Author(s)

CPT (P) Brian Harris is an OH-58D pilot and a Cavalry Leaders Course instructor at the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Ft. Benning, GA.



Sat, 06/21/2014 - 6:35am

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward:

(Yep, I rambled some. But if you take the time you will see how it all ties in)

We HAVE the money... DoD and the Army (all the services) just spends it VERY, VERY poorly and carelessly... We spend trillions on items, programs, systems and equipment of little to no or at least dubious value...

Some one want to tell me why I have close to the same TA 50 that a finance guy does? (no I am not picking on Finance guys). Building swimming pools in Bagdad, Ten and twenty million dollar police stations in Afghanistan, civic projects every where that made little to no sense but, "hey we gotta spend this money" that is now in the trillions. etc. etc. With the numbers around 85 to 90% unfounded, innocent or not guilty when it comes to SHARP how many tens of millions of dollars, not to mention man hours are devoted to that we are we wasting so that we can empower (a few, not all) dirt bag females who for the most part as I read the numbers, using the program as a means of attacking leadership? And when it found to be a lie, not provable or consensual why are they not punished? (there are dirt bag males as well, and I have acknowledged it so I am not being sexist.) And one sexual assault is too many.

How many tens of millions if not billions have we spent on suicide prevention? I am not saying we shouldn't do something, but service members seem to be killing themselves at record rates and all we have really done is throw money at the problem.

What if instead of getting rid of fully qualified and experience Troops, we slowed recruiting down? How many tens of millions could be saved?

What if we used recruiters as a first line of defense when it comes to standards, rather raising the hell when they don't make mission? How much do we spend so that thousands of people can have a try? As I believe the legendary COL Charles Beckworth said, "I rather go down the river with 7 studs, than 70 &%$*heads". I agree and I think most would. What does it cost to train a private or 2nd LT these days? How many go home? You have to take the long view with this because in the middle of the war, a pulse was about all that seemed to be needed. Lowering standards to get more bodies usually isn't worth the pain involved.

I don't have a TV in my kitchen at home, so why do half the mess halls have them all over the place? These things cost money. Money that could be spent far more wisely.

How much would we save if we didn't paint any vehicles for one year? The military installation near me, paint new stripes on the road... Whether the roads need them or not.

How much could we save if we stopped mowing tens if not hundreds of thousands of acres on areas that are not used for training. Close every golf course on every base and see how much we save.

Don't tell me we don't have the money. We do. Don't tell me that money for this or that comes from another pot... At the end of the day it ALL comes from the taxpayer.

Heck how much would we save on paper and ink if we excepted and hand corrected mistakes on the endless forms, slide decks etc. that are reprinted because someone forgot a coma? Ever read the AAR for the 7th Cav in the Battle of the Ia Drang? Get an actually copy of the document, you can find it on line. In the official report there are a number of miss spelled words... And horror of horrors, LTC Moore signed it. Now it is history.

Now what you just read concerned the 40-50% that the Army gets to spend on training, facilities, etc. The problem is that higher operates like congress does. Even when they allocate a certain amount, to lets say mess halls. Well the Army loves that. Because they know that on weekends etc. 70-80% of Soldiers authorized to eat in the mess hall, down't. Does the Army feed them more chow during the week? Nope. The Army pockets that money and reallocates it to something else. Is that right or fair? Could a Soldier not swipe his ID when he eats and then be compensated at his next pay check for what he didn't use? He could be, but he never will, because that would take money away from the Army. Why is it that they take sep rats when S/M's go to the field but if I don't eat all me meals, I am supposed to turn them in? I paid got them. Same thing congress did with Social Security, LOL! Like congress they rob from the rich and gave to themselves!

How it is spent falls to the brass... Perhaps if they "stayed in their lane" and spent more time on senior level business, rather than making post & division wide CO/1SG level decisions, we could manage it more effectively?

Now what you just read concerned the 40-50% that the Army gets to spend on training, facilities, etc. here's what they do with the rest.

The clowns at the top just don't want to cut back on R&D... 50-60% of defense dollars are spent on research... If they cut that or their politician buddies do and they support it, they just worked themselves out of that nice plush job at the end of the rainbow. You can tell who played the game well, they become CEO's and Presidents of industry. Those that were any kind of dumb end up as athletic directors at small colleges that no one ever heard of. Which is a good indicator about how it is spent. Which of course we get hosed on the return. $5 Billion for the crap camo currently in use??? But deploy to Afghanistan and we wear multicam, which was invented in a guys garage for a few thousand. Half of what Natick "invents" is nothing more than copies of off the shelf items.. We spent a 100 million on an assault rifle we never got. Why does every soldier have MOLLE, an M-68 etc. etc?

Speaking of which (yes I did read yours), did you read mine??? I never said it was front line interceptor... We won't commit those kind assets until we air supremacy (or near to it). Oh and by the way we wouldn't be sending in B-1 until we did either.

If the very beginning of Afghanistan is any indicator, that SF/SOF team/s won't be in the location you described. Aversion to risk, even more than trying and failing will prevent them from even crossing the LD to begin with. So we will fail to try, and be back where we started. And remember we owned the sky from day one in Afghanistan and the first Army guys there linked up with "other guys" already there. If Benghazi is an indicator we could have a fully operational Death Star and it won't do us any good... So your argument nor mine, nor the imagined lack of funds will matter if senior leadership both military and civilian don't take the hard right over the politically correct left.

What I was getting at was that you (and you know this even better than myself) can take a Kiowa places you could never take an Apache or most any other rotary frame... The loss of this capability is not acceptable and must be worked around. And it can be, which is the point I speaking to. Pound for pound the Kiowa (and the A-10) have been more useful than the B-1 to the guy on the ground ever has. As for the F-35 and the 22, they brief well but they don't have a measurable track record yet.

I think this is important, because you may not have had the opportunity (you were probably rocking them with .50cal and 2.75 from the sky! That must be fun!!). Combined Arms as you well know means that you want to punch the enemy at the same time from multiple points. Another way to put it is that once you start the fight, you continues swing away at him, echeloning your assets so as to continually keep him suppressed or off balance, until you can fix and finish him. The Kiowa is a punch we can't afford to lose.

However, if we look to Iraq, about the only time this was done was during the invasion. As soon as we got into Bagdad, then moved to linked up with the guys in the north, the big combined arms piece was done. Let us say that this took two months. Then we had relative calm for about for months. Then for the next 10 YEARS we had an insurgency. This is where IMO the Kiowa, though valuable in the beginning proved it's value. No more B-1 strikes seeming to last hours. You had small units in TIC's in urban areas. A co-pilot with an M-4 or dropping hand grenades, signaling and guiding, conducting recon 50-250 meters out and able to fire in extremely close proximity to friendly forces was more valuable than a fleet of B-1's and F-22/35's. We have precision guided weapon the can hit a porta potty from well outside can't see/hear range. We don't lack in this area. The problem lies with senior leadership, trying to make an omelet without breaking any eggs. Fear of the media, civilian casualties, collateral damage etc. prevented them from employing weapon systems this is why for the last 10 years trying to get artillery was mostly an exercise in futility. Even unit organic assets (which is why the 60mm mortar in the infantry company should be moved up to Corps HQ... Maybe I am wrong but organic assets can be employed by the commander as and when he sees fit with exceptions). There is just one major problem Mortars & artillery are AREA weapons. Yeah I know they have laser guided ammo, but the expense is so high that it is only used for getting you on target. Nor is it always the best tool (notice I did not say appropriate? Do you think most WW2 leaders would have hesitated for a second to put everything they had or could get on the enemy? Not a chance.) This is were the Kiowa was the great. It had some punch, could get into places nothing else could provide limited aerial precision small arms fire etc. etc.

No B-1 is going to put in a gun pass 5 or 10 meters away from me, because they can't. But a Kiowa can. Yeah they can hit that close... If am calling it in that close, I am already having a bad day... And those very accurate bombs you mentioned? Well they may not be the right tool for that particular job at that particular time. Not to mention that guy calling for something he can't see or hear may hesitate. Even if the ground guy wants them and the Pilot agrees you still have to get past the air conditioned quarterbacks in the rear for approval. Most of the time you won't get it. I once heard a S-3 dismiss a call for support out of hand because he didn't believe it, he later found out the hard way and his arrogance cost him, unfortunately not enough at the time, but it did later. I am sure you heard or remember heard the old expression from a commander "I will never send a Soldier where I can send a bullet first." Bet you haven't heard it lately??? Again this is the reason we need and must have the Kiowa. The Kiowa has human eyeballs... So they are more likely to employ them, rather than a arty. Also with someone of substance (ie. rank) they will have a fall guy that can be blamed if it goes wrong. This is way Kiowa's were used instead of artillery and mortars... Like it or not.

Don't tell me technology can do it, it can't and we won't let it even if it could. If we did, then artillery would have been allowed to bring the pain, these last 10 or 12 years. Instead they are little more relevant than horse cavalry. Though there is always hope for a comeback!

When OBL was in Tora Bora higher didn't give those SOF guys the support they requested... And he got away. Maybe they wouldn't have gotten him, but we never will no will we? Why? Because a clown in an air conditioned HQ 3000 miles away, decided during the battle, in the middle of winter that it must be shepherds up in at 10-15 thousand feet in the mountains. hey don't let the fact that there isn't any food for livestock up there or livestock at all. And don't deploy conventional light infantry as SOF wanted to block the passes and trails etc. How could SOF think that could even begin to work? There was no death by power point briefing, not supporting or supporting this COA, why the mean hadn't even done redeployment screening? Thank goodness he was there, clutching his army values card and telling himself he was the only one thinking clearly.

So what do you think ISIS yearly expenditure on SHARP, EO, Battle Mind (or whatever they are calling it these days) etc.?

If we are going to get rid of a guy for busting tape by 1%, having done something stupid in the past etc. Then we have plenty of money to burn.

But instead we built a military industrial complex, which is given defense dollars for R&D builds either A. Something we don't like and start from scratch B. Something they think we need and lobby congress to force us to use even more money on them, C. Over run costs so much it is cancelled... But they don't eat it, because the guys in uniform that finalized that contact... ah yeah they didn't tighten it up as much as they should do there was this loophole and we pay of the debt... Oh and when contract guy ETS's or retires, he goes to work for them two!!

The platforms that you say we MUST have are mostly strategic... With limited tactical usefulness. And the strategic level is where we aught to be making the cuts... Why do we have Africom? Isn't that covered by 5th and 3rd SF group's area? They handled it for years... Or did we just need another HQ for stars?

You want to free up some money? How about getting rig of the over strength SGM's/CSM's, it's not like they are going to do anything meaningful for us. Why do we have as many generals/admirals as we had in WW2, when we had a combined service strength of over 12 million I think? So if DoD is a 10th of what it once was, why do we have so many? You combine the two groups and with pay and allowances, as well as the bloat carried by all the additional HQ's and all they entail need and see if you can't have some serious scratch.

Chopping the reserve makes sense (they are a reserve after all), or even mothballing them for a few years... Based on what I have seen read and head thus far, no matter what's going on in the world, we are going to let er go!!(You know the speech, "No friend we will support, no ally we will stand with, no bully well stand up to," Or something like that.

The CnC, has got the keys to the Federal Reserve. I am betting that with a good 50 man detail (we only need twenty, but SAFETY FIRST!!) and some trucks he could hit print and we be loaded and on our way before sun up.

What if we got FLOTUS to just take walking trips? I could be wrong but I thought I heard they spent about 10 Billion on travel sense they been in? I could be wrong but I do have to say they could pay for a few...

You take just what I have here not including the hundreds of other useless, wasteful, redundant, programs we have and add it up and you see, not only

Now tell me again why we can't find a measly 10 or even 16 billion???

Because if we get rid of the "old horse" now we can get a shiny new pony before too long 3 to 5 years max!!!

Lets get rid of some other old stuff...

M2 50cal: About 100 years old... Developed with little funding from the government, in his own shop... Today John Browning would be a domestic terrorist for inventing a squirt gun...

Colt 1911 .45: Well we been working on getting rid of it sense 1985. The biggest problem it faces is that is works.

C-130"Hercules": Again sneaky piece of equipment that has blocked up the system by preforming better than expected in a myriad of jobs.

B-52: Lasted longer than the band... A lot longer...

Move Forward

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 9:54pm

In reply to by Hammer999

Hammer999 did you read this quote from my original post?

<blockquote>“It was going to be putting new shoes on an old horse for $10 billion,” said Army Lt. Gen. Kevin Mangum of the Kiowa upgrade plan. “By the way, we don’t have that ten billion dollars.” As for replacing the Kiowa with a new Armed Aerial Scout — just one of the high-priority Army programs now put on indefinite hold — “that would be a $16 billion bill.”</blockquote>

There isn't money to upgrade the Kiowa or buy a new Armed Aerial Scout. It's almost exactly like the A-10C situation. Savings must be found. Cherry-picking small numbers of aircraft for reductions does not save enough. Eliminating the B-1B instead leaves us with few bombers and a more expensive LRS-B waiting in the wings that we know will cost more per aircraft than the <strong>$550 million each</strong> originally predicted. Think about that. Seven fewer LRS-B funds the A-10C's elimination savings but you can't cut back LRS-B if you have nothing but 70+ B-52s and 19 B-2s.

In addition, imagine you are an SF/SOF operator inserted into Syria, Iran, North Korea, or East Ukraine/Crimea. Do you believe an A-10C routinely could come to your rescue if you are deep in enemy territory with medium air defenses and fighters? Can't happen. It won't survive let alone deep in China or Russia. An F-35, F-22, or B-2 however can assist your teams. It won't be a gun but rather a very accurate series of bombs.


Thu, 06/19/2014 - 7:00pm

We can't afford to loose this platform. It can do things nothing else in the inventory can. I know the leadership is in love with the technolgy lollipop, but some times less is more.

It needs improvement, no doubt. A stronger engine, targeting systme/sight, better armor etc. Additionally if they are not already they should be armed for light attack, and reconnisanse.

The Army has got to get the away from the idea that the "Swiss Army Knife" approach is the best way when equipming the force. What you get is a platform that can do alot of things ok, but nothing well.

Maybe it has reached it's limit? I am not sure but if it has we need another platform to fill it's role, and the AH-64 isn't it.

This is a mistake we have made over and over. The Bradley can't carry the troops to make it a good IVF, is to tall too be a good recon platform.

Move Forward

Sat, 01/25/2014 - 10:24am

Many pertinent issues that respond to CPT (P) Harris’s article are found in this Breaking Defense article.…

All the quotes below came from that linked article:

<blockquote>All told, the Army is losing 898 helicopters, 215 of them (24 percent) from the Guard. Driven by the cold realities of budget cuts, the plan has stirred fiery emotions that push the Army leadership and the National Guard community closer to all-out political war.</blockquote>

<blockquote>“Here’s the issue: The Army has to pay a $79 billon bill over the next five years,” Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Ray Odierno said this morning. “I can’t afford all the fleets of aircraft I have right now. We can’t afford them.…It is impossible under the budget that we’ve been given.” “This is about affordability,” Odierno went on. “That’s the issue. People want to make it into something that it isn’t,” he went on.</blockquote>

<blockquote>“This is about not having the money to sustain the fleets we have now, so we have to make some tough decisions…. That doesn’t mean we think it’s the right way necessarily but it’s the best way forward” — the best way, in other words, that the Army can afford.</blockquote>

<blockquote>“It was going to be putting new shoes on an old horse for $10 billion,” said Army Lt. Gen. Kevin Mangum of the Kiowa upgrade plan. “By the way, we don’t have that ten billion dollars.” As for replacing the Kiowa with a new Armed Aerial Scout — just one of the high-priority Army programs now put on indefinite hold — “that would be a $16 billion bill.”</blockquote>

<blockquote>So the Army decided on a radical measure: replace Kiowas altogether with a mix of the most advanced Apache model, the AH-6E Guardian, coordinating via wireless networks with Grey Eagle drones. In fact, a 2010 Army study said this “manned-unmanned teaming” was the best way to do reconnaissance without building an all-new scout helicopter: Apache plus drones meets 80 percent of the requirements, Mangum said, while an upgraded Kiowa meets only 50 percent and the current Kiowa less than 20 percent.</blockquote>

<blockquote>“If we left it up purely to the budgeteers, it would really be ugly,” said Mangum, speaking to AUSA’s annual aviation symposium last week. Under the default plan, he said, “we were going to keep old aircraft and give up new.” Instead of being passive “victims” of cuts that took a proportional “salami slice” out of every program, he said, the Army “seized the opportunity” to reshape the force by retiring its oldest aircraft en masse.</blockquote>

Outlaw 09

Sat, 01/25/2014 - 4:18am

In reply to by Biggs Darklighter

The Army had for years one of the best copter "eyes" for recon--namely the Hughes 500 which one will never be able to understand their "shift" to the Kiowa when Bell "won" the replacement bid.

There were voices then that questioned the reasons behind that "shift"---the follow on of the H500 is now in service and is just as great an airframe as the 500 ever was.

Instead of debating the loss of the Kiowa--one should pay attention to "how" the Army makes it's equipment decisions---especially in the years that are coming with low budgets. It will every defense contractor for themselves.

It is "hard" to wean the Army off of the "OCO" mindset---you see it when they wasted what 900M USD for unneeded Stykker replacement parts---come on---the Kiowa is dead.

If a normal company spent 900M for nothing the CEO would have been fired and thrown in jail by the investors---but in the Army---it is business as usual and no one pays the professional price---namely being kicked out of the Force.

Biggs Darklighter

Sat, 01/25/2014 - 12:47am

In another time it might have been viable to save the Kiowa and create a R&S Brigade but those times are gone. There are too many BCTs on the chopping block to create more force structure like an R&S BDE now. Had the Army run a rotary wing aviation program like the Marines, where a cost conscious Corps engineered the Vietnam era Cobra and Huey to have interchangeable parts and saved the Corps and and taxpayers alot of money, the Kiowa might have a better chance to survive. Army is not thrifty but they are learning to be a cost culture and more hard lessons on costs will soon be learned by them. Army National Guard is the slowest learner in these lessons and we can thank politics for the ARNG's lack of vision and concessions concerning the budget. Unfortunately the cost culture has to be forced on the Army by budget constraints vs just plain good leadership that was needed when Army was flush with money. Expect UAV's, satellites and robots to make manned recon of any kind all but obsolete in the future.