Army Aviation began during the Civil War with the formation of the Balloon Corps in 1861. The Union Army used observers in balloons for surveillance of Confederate troop movements and adjustment of artillery fire. The expansion of Army Aviation continued to progress through the formation of the Army Air Corps in July, 1926, which later became the US Air Force.
Modern Army Aviation came into existence on 6 June 1942, a few months after the United States entered World War II. These assets were known as organic Army Aviation, because they were organic to battalions, brigades, and divisions of the Army Ground Forces, and to distinguish them from the Army Air Corps/US Air Force. The primary aircraft used by organic Army aviation were light, fixed-wing aircraft such as the L-4 (Piper Cub). These aircraft were utilized for adjustment of artillery fire, command and control (C2), medical evacuation (MEDEVAC), aerial photography, reconnaissance, and other purposes. The proven value of organic Army Aviation during World War II was that its aircraft were easily accessible to ground commanders, and were able to operate in close coordination with ground forces. The aircraft of the Air Corps were often unable to fulfill these necessities.
The transition in Army Aviation from fixed wing to rotary wing aircraft began in 1946, with the War Department Equipment Board's determination that Army Ground Forces required four types of helicopters. The potential of the helicopter was amply demonstrated during the Korean War, however rapid development and procurement of rotary wing aircraft in the Army did not occur until the early 1960's. In 1963 the 11th Air Assault Division tested the airmobile concept at Fort Benning, Georgia, and in 1965 the 1st Cavalry Division was organized as the first airmobile division and sent to Vietnam.
With the arrival of the UH-1 (Huey) and two airmobile divisions, helicopter warfare became the most important innovation of the Vietnam conflict. Because of the nature of the enemy and the proved value of the helicopter throughout the war, aviation dominated the development of infantry organization and tactics to combat the enemies light infantry. The development of armed helicopters was also perfected during Vietnam. These gunships provided direct fire support to units who were operating outside the range of their artillery. The idea of armed helicopters also led to the specific development of attack helicopters for anti-armor and anti-personnel missions.
On 06 April 1966 a formal agreement between the Chief of Staff, US Army and the Chief of Staff, US Air Force relinquished Army claims fixed-wing aircraft designed for tactical airlift.
The Chief of Staff, United States Army, and the Chief of Staff, United States Air Force, have reached an understanding on the control and employment of certain types of fixed and rotary wing aircraft and are individually and jointly agreed as follows:
A. The Chief of Staff, U. S. Army, agrees to relinquish all claims for CV-2 and CV-7 aircraft and for future fixed wind aircraft designed for tactical airlift. These assets now in the Army inventory will be transferred to the Air Force. (Chief of Staff, Army, and Chief of Staff, Air Force, agree that this does not apply to administrative mission support fixed wing aircraft.)
B. The Chief of Staff, U. S. Air Force, agrees-
(1) To relinquish all claims for helicopters and follow-on rotary wing aircraft which are designed and operated for intra-theater movement, fire support, supply, and resupply of Army forces and those Air Force control elements assigned to DASC and subordinate thereto. (Chief of Staff, Army, and Chief of Staff, Air Force, agree that this does not include rotary wing aircraft employed by Air Force SAW or SAR forces and rotary wing administrative mission support aircraft.) (Chief of Staff, Army, and Chief of Staff, Air Force, agree that the Army and Air Force jointly will continue to develop VTOL aircraft. Dependent upon evolution of this type aircraft, methods of employment and control will be matters for continuing joint consideration by the Army and Air Force.)
(2) That, in cases of operational need, the CV-2, CV-7, and C-123 type aircraft performing supply, resupply, or troop-lift functions in the field army area, may be attached to the subordinate tactical echelons of the field army (corps, division, or subordinate commander), as determined by the appropriate joint/unified commander. (Note: Authority for attachment is established by subsection 6, Sec. 2 of JCS Pub 2, Unified Action Armed Forces (UNAAF).)
(3) To retain the CV-2 and CV-7 aircraft in the Air Force structure and to consult with the Chief of Staff, U. S. Army, prior to changing the force level of, or replacing, these aircraft.
(4) To consult with the Chief of Staff, U. S. Army in order to arrive at takeoff, landing, and load carrying characteristics on follow-on fixed wing aircraft to meet the needs of the Army for supply, resupply, and troop movement functions.
C. The Chief of Staff, U. S. Army, and the Chief of Staff, U. S. Air Force, jointly agree-
(1) To revise all service doctrinal statements, manuals, and other material in variance with the substance and spirit of this agreement.
(2) That the necessary actions resulting from this agreement be completed by 1 January 1967.
As the missions of Army Aviation continued to expand and diversify, it became clear that an Aviation Branch was necessary to accommodate Army Aviation's growing responsibilities. A distinct branch would allow aviation officers to concentrate on aviation tactics, technology, and command, rather than spending half of their time on the requirements of other branches. It would also ensure that their branch would effectively be in central control over the development of aviation doctrine and equipment. The Secretary of the Army officially established the Aviation Branch on 13 April 1983.
The first Army Aviation Modernization Plan (AAMP) was implemented in 1988. As modified in subsequent revisions, this plan called for a gradual reduction in the number of Army aircraft as older models were replaced by modern ones. According to the 1992 version of the AAMP, the aircraft inventory of 7,793 aircraft in 1992 would be reduced to 6,150 in 1999 and 5,900 in 2010, with only six types of aircraft in the rotary-wing fleet. The Aviation Restructure Initiative (ARI) was undertaken to correct the deficiencies in the Army of Excellence (AOE) design for aviation units while retiring old aircraft and reducing the logistics requirements and costs. Implementation of the ARI began in 1994 with all forward-deployed forces scheduled to complete the restructuring process by 1998 and all other units by 1999.
Three types of Army helicopters were to be retired before 2005, and aviation battalions were reorganized as part of the Army's 2000 Aviation Force Modernization Plan, which was unveiled in April 2000. Under the plan, AH-1 Cobras were divested by October 2001, and UH-1 Iroquois and A and C model OH-58 Kiowas retired by 2004. According to the plan, the UH-1s are replaced by UH-60 Black Hawks. The Cobras and Kiowas are replaced by AH-64D Apaches and eventually by RAH-66 Comanches, the new reconnaissance and attack helicopter scheduled to begin joining the Army in 2008. Later-model Kiowas are scheduled for retirement in fiscal year 2013, according to the plan.
To meet the "full spectrum capable force" objective of the modernization plan, the Army planned to fix reconnaissance and security shortfalls," update the force with digital technology. The Army was to transform to the multi-functional battalion structure by 2004. The multi-functional battalion structure was made up of 10 AH-64D Apache attack helicopters, 10 UH-60 Blackhawk utility helicopters and will eventually include 10 RAH-66 Comanche reconnaissance and attack helicopters. The Army will begin structuring battalions in this manner soon, although the Comanche requirement will have to be filled with Apaches and Kiowas until Comanche fully comes on-line. The reserve component will have an almost mirror version of the active component's multi-functional battalion, containing 10 more UH-60 helicopters than its counterpart. Army officials said this will make transitioning the reserve component into active duty during dual deployments easier.
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