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The Real Goal of Army Aviation

Historical Perspective / By Brig. Gen. Clifton F. von Kann, Director of Army Aviation, ODCSOPS, D/A: One of the ghosts that haunts every discussion of Army aviation is “another Air Force.” 

  • To add to this scare factor, there are a lot of little minor ghosts who always accompany the first:
  • “The Army wants to take over TAG.”
  • “The real goal of Army aviation is its own branch.”
  • “Army aviation is merely another example of divergence rather than unity within the services.”

On Global Lecture Tour General -I.D. White (1.), Commander in Chief, U.S. Army Pacific, chats with Capt. Walter F. Jones and Capt Quitman W. Jones (r.) during the visit of the two USABAAR officers to Fort Shafter, Hawaii. The two-man team had presented fourteen Aviation Accident Prevention illustrated lectures in Korea and Japan, sessions that were attended by more than 85”/o of the Army aviation personnel in USARPAC. (U.S. Army photo.)


Let’s Bring Them to Light
There seems to have been a great deal of reluctance to mention these ghosts, except in dark corners of smoke-filled rooms. My purpose today is to bring them out in the light in the hope that this form of exorcism may lay some of these fears to rest.
The Army has no reason to be ashamed of its aviation program. We are convinced that it is a very essential portion of the overall Army. Its only purpose in being is to enhance the capability of the Army to perform its vital missions. There are no hidden goals or dark mysterious intentions contained in these objectives. We are not in competition with anyone except a potential enemy.

Our “Heading” Is Obvious
Then just where is Army aviation heading? To answer that one must examine where the Army is heading- for the questions are inseparable.
The thermo-nuclear weapon has swung the pendulum of military thinking once more toward dominance of firepower. But firepower is only one of the elements of combat power. Unless it is complemented by mobility and the means of command and control, firepower does not mean combat power.

History has given us many examples where an imbalance of the elements of· combat power influenced the very nature of the battle. The most striking example of recent times is shown in the comparison of World War I and World War II. In the latter half of the nineteenth century repeating rifles, machine guns, and rapid-fire artillery were added to the armament of the ground soldier, while the soldier, of course, continued to walk a mile and .a half an hour across country the way he had always been walking. The result of this growth in firepower, without any comparative growth in movement, was that the soldier found that in order to stay on the battlefield at all, he had to dig elaborate trench systems. Nobody liked trenches, but some were occupied continuously for four years, from 1914 to 1918.

Maj. Gen. Norman A. Costello (r.), ACofS, G-3, USARPAC, is shown receiving a new protective helmet which will soon be worn by all Army aviators and crewmen in the command. General Costello is the senior rated officer in USARPAC. Making the presentation is Brig Gen. T. B. Evans, USARPAC Quartermaster. / (U.S. Army photo).

In the years between World War I and World War II the pendulum swung toward the predominance of mobility. The German Army was the first to recognize this change, and they reaped the gains that come with innovation in the successes of the early “blitzkrieg” attacks. The basic armament of the soldier was substantially the same-automatic rifles, machine guns, and artillery. But tanks, trucks, fighter bombers, and airborne divisions had been integrated into the system to give new mobility means of applying combat power. Consequently, World War II was not a trench war.

WW II Adds New Dimension
Then at the end of World War II the explosion of the atomic bomb gave notice that firepower had a new dimension. I think it is very clear from history that if there is no addition to our movement capability, the only way our land Army will survive is to disperse, dig very deep holes, and stay in them.
Survival, in itself, is not the mission of the Army. The dominant principal in our military doctrine has been, as it always must be, to emphasize that wars can only be won by offensive operations; and mobility is an essential element of offensive operations.
We could build, I assume, a 200 mile an hour tank, but this does us little good if the only place we could use it would be the Salt Flats in Utah. Only marginal gains can be made if we restrict ourself to the ground. But is the land battle restricted to the ground? By definition land-warfare includes the air and sea contiguous to the battle, just as the air battle includes the airfields, and the sea warfare concept includes the ports and harbors.

General Lemnitzer Cited
If we don’t restrict our thinking to the ground we have a new dimension to tactical mobility. The Army’s Chief of Staff, General Lemnitzer, said last August, “With respect to tactical mobility, I want to make particular mention of the various types of aircraft, both in being and experimental, which make up Army aviation. What these and other developments in mobility mean is that we are on the verge of a situation that is drastically new. Throughout history, a major limitation on the freedom of action of land forces-and consequently, on their effectiveness-has been the barrier of terrain. We can now foresee a time when mountains and rivers and other terrain features will cease to be obstacles or limitations. They will be meaningful chiefly as advantages to be exploited as the situation indicates.”
This statement is a strong indication of where the Army is heading and clearly points up the tremendous responsibility of Army aviation. Tomorrow’s battlefield will be a mass of obstacles, for in addition to the natural rivers, mountains, and jungles, we must add the possible man-made obstacles from nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. The area of combat will be a crazy quilt of friendly and enemy forces with gaps that no one controls completely. The unit that can concentrate and disperse the quickest, while maintaining its integrity, is the unit which will survive. It is fundamental ·to this concept that the aviator and the aircraft are an integral part of the tactical unit.

Be in the “Army” Picture
The Army is not interested in the airplane per se. Its interest lies in how aviation can help the Army accomplish its mission. If we lose sight of this objective, and become fascinated by flying from a purely pilots’ viewpoint, we are in danger of failing our basic purpose. We must constantly picture the aircraft and pilot in the environment of the soldier, for the mission of Army aviation is based on the mission of the Army.
With this mission it seems ridiculous to limit ourselves to some one branch of the Army to an Army Air Corps. We would be selling ourselves and the Army short. We would be forgetting the lesson of the twenties and thirties when no infantryman, no artilleryman, no cavalryman could fly an airplane. You had to belong to the Air Corps. I am sure that you gentlemen have heard scattered individuals in Army aviation who insist that the Army must have an Aviation Branch. There certainly may be a requirement for personnel who devote their entire careers to· aviation matters.

No Monopolies
In the longer view, however, just as we now argue that the Air Force has no monopoly on flying machines because they fly, similarly no one branch in the Army should have a monopoly. We don’t pool all of our jeeps and trucks in one branch. The Signal Corps doesn’t operate every telephone and radio, nor does the Engineer Corps run half our generators. The peculiar characteristics of a piece of equipment do not dictate the mission. Rather the equipment is given to the people who need these characteristics to accomplish the mission.
We dare not be compartmentalized now. The big advantage we have as Army aviators is that as a group we belong to no one special branch, have no parochial little axes to grind, and have one common goal-an air-minded Army. We do not want to be considered a little privileged and specialized organization-we want everyone in the Army to understand and be part of a new mobility program.

State of Mind All-Important
Our real problem, then, is one of the state of mind. Unless we can convince everyone of the importance of this program, the necessary effort and money to do this job will not be forthcoming. It is an ambitious program and it obviously comprises a big enough goal without the added implication that “the Army wants to take over the Tactical Air Command.” Now the Army holds that the T AC mission is one of the most important in the military establishment; we are perfectly happy to have the Air Force do it, but we insist it must be done. We realize that any Army aviation effort directed toward such a mission might detract from its capability to perform its own assigned tasks ,and could divert our attention from the bigger objective of an air-minded Army.

Aircraft Familiarization
Today, we’re a motor-minded Army. The basic ingredient of that motor-mindedness is the fact that you and I, all of us, drive automobiles. We understand automobiles; we feel perfectly competent to make decisions about automobiles. There is no doubt in our minds that we can command motorized units.
By analogy, the basic ingredient of the airminded Army is going to be familiarity with aircraft. Not necessarily everyone being a pilot, but every unit having organic aircraft integrated into its routine missions. We won’t have an air-minded Army by an approach of exclusiveness. The commander is not going to have any confidence in a remote pool of aircraft that he may possibly use on a part-time basis if he goes through ten headquarters with a high enough priority. We can only have an air-minded Army if we convince the commander that we are a part of his unit and that we can do a job for him not possible by any other means.

The Combined Arms “Team”
I started my Army career in the Artillery. Now the Artillery has many proud traditions, but the first thing one is taught in the artillery is that his prime purpose is combat support. The more he understands and participates in the operations of the supported units, the more effective is the partnership.
All the Arms have learned that it is not enough to be an infantryman or artilleryman or tanker. They must think combined arms-they are taught combined arms. Army aviation does not want to be “that bunch out at the airfield.” They want to be recognized as a part of the combined arms team. We are proud of the aviator badge-but we want everyone to know it’s an Army badge.

Catalyst
Now I’m not naive enough to assume that my words here have permanently banished the ghosts I mentioned originally. Every time that Army aviation is mentioned without relation to the Army as a whole; these specters will reappear. Our biggest job lies in our own shop. Every Army aviator must understand his mission and show its value to his immediate commander. The ghost of “another Air Force” will never be completely put to rest until we in Army Aviation convince the Army itself of our goals, and demonstrate we are neither step-child nor favorite son, but rather an essential catalyst to the formation of a modern mobile Army.

Major General Hamilton Howze summed it up very neatly when he said, “ ... it’s hard to be audacious sitting at the bottom of a hole. In the air just above the treetops lies one of the greatest hopes for victory on the ground.”