May 10, 1966
Air Mobility Concept Delivered Blow
NOTE: Charles Black, Enquirer military writer, is now in the
with troops of the 1st Cavalry Division in Viet Nam. His
the war in Southeast Asia will continue daily in The Enquirer.)
By CHARLES BLACK
Enquirer Military Writer
SAIGON - Despite a public
endorsement of the Army air mobility concept proved by long tests at
Fort Benning and by the 1st Cavalry Division in South Viet Nam - and
budget provisions to begin converting another division to the concept
during 1966-67 - Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara recently struck a
blow at a basic part of the Army aviation program.
Almost in passing, the secretary said in his Senate report on defense
matters that the CV7 Buffalo would not be procured because “other
aircraft” are available to perform the job the Buffalo is designed to
The facts, as illustrated in Viet Nam for many years now, make the
decision sound as if it came from the same computer which caused the
cutback in helicopter production and helicopter pilot training during
the very period when men in the field were convinced that the program
should have been expanded.
The “other aircraft” apparently refers to the C130, a fine, big
transport made by Lockheed at Marietta, Ga.
It won’t work out. In fact, a hasty, tardy, costly crash program
eventually will be instituted to salvage the mistake which has just
been made if it is allowed to stand.
A C130 cannot effectively deliver cargo to the areas required of Army
Caribou aircraft now flying in Viet Nam. Nobody is more willing and
eager to make this point than the men flying C130s.
The C130 flies too fast at its lowest speed to be effective in dropping
cargo on limited drop zones by the low-level extraction method the
Caribou has made so handy in Viet Nam.
Getting C130 from the Air Force to support an Army project is often
like making reservations on a scheduled airline. The Caribous are
part of the Army’s family of aircraft, and a commander has flexibility
and empathy with this kind of aviation unit. Consideration of
human factors involved in operations is not one of the secretary’s
strong points, of course.
A C130 may be able to land on a short field, but it must be a good,
solid piece of ground. The big aircraft breaks through surfaces a
Caribou can use like an asphalt runway. The short-field
capability is not good enough for the kind of operations the Army has
supported with its Caribou companies either.
The Caribou program is finished. No new Caribous are being
bought. There are not even any spare parts being bought for the
ones now flying. When they fall apart, the Army is going to be
left depending on a ship too big and too unwieldy for its needs, flown
by a service with a record of shortsightedness where close support of
ground troops is concerned.
The CV7 Buffalo can do anything a Caribou can do, and do it
better. It can do things the C130 cannot do, just as a C130 is
wonderful in the areas where it can operated effectively, and those
areas are amazing for the size plane involved.
But from where a C130 lands to where the Army fights, there is almost a
very sizable piece of distance which can be bridged only by the Caribou
or - more effectively and cheaper - the Buffalo which the Army pleaded
The Buffalo had a test in Viet Nam and it was successful. The
record of Caribou operations in Viet Nam in all phases of that war is
enviable. It was made by flying them in areas where C130s could
not operate, on isolated little fields in the wilderness or in other
such missions where a C130 was uneconomical or couldn’t do the job
because of its size, weight and speed.
When the Caribous are grounded because no money was made available for
spare parts, and when the immense logistical gap between where the Air
Force lands and the Army lives and fights is bridged by having
helicopters pulled from close combat support to a high cost and
wasteful cargo haul, the secretary probably will change his decision,
as he did in the helicopter fiasco.
The lost time and cost and the harm to Army air mobility development
will be covered up with the usual whitewash statements, of course, but
the thing is going to cost money and combat effectiveness before it is
The arguments which once were given against purchase of the Buffalo -
that it is made in Canada and that the dollar deficit was involved -
were settled up.
The only thing which was not settled was the apparent blind spot the
Dept. of Defense has toward the urgent need for the sound development
of a concept in a logical manner instead of the slapdash emergency kind
of affair which seems too often to be a trademark of what has happened
with air mobility.
It should be remembered, in line with this, that the 1st Cavalry
Division (Airmobile) was ordered formed, the Second Infantry Division
and the 11th Air Assault Division (test) moved and shelved
respectively, after useless months of bickering and delay - and the
process was given a six-week deadline so the new division could head
for combat in Viet Nam.
It meant that replacements had to get their field training in
helicopter operations in Viet Nam. It meant that a hectic period
of doing three things at once faced a unit destined for quick combat.
The decision to just forget about the Buffalo and let the Caribou wear
itself out in combat - with attendant problems for the men flying them
or depending on them - should be carefully remembered in the light of
what is almost bound to happen in the months ahead. It is one of
the Defense Dept. and its head should not be allowed to forget they
made, and it should be studied as a possible tip-off for a weakness in
the department’s entire attitude toward Army air mobility.
It may be that the secretary is good at long-range plans but can’t see
what is just around the corner.