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Advanced Aerial Fire Support System (AAFSS) (19-19)

From the creation of an Aeronautical Division in the US Army Signal Corps on 01 August 1907, until the air arm's separation from the Army on September 18, 1947, American military aviation was supposedly a force developed in close cooperation with Army ground forces. The drive of military aviators to use air power to the ever-expanding limits of its abilities soon ran headlong into the desires of the ground commanders to retain maximum air support for ground combat. Because of inadequate training, ignorance of official doctrine, and failure to devote time and attention to establishing a mutual spirit of cooperation by both the Army's air and the Army's ground elements, air support of the ground forces proved a problem for much of World War II. The ground forces complaints were the paucity of on-call or immediate-response close air support strikes.

War Department Field Manual 100-20 of July 21, 1943 relegated close air support to the third priority of tactical air force tasks and insisted on the principle of the command of air power by an air officer. By most measures the AAF supplied effective close air support to the ground forces for the rest of the war. The AAF established a Tactical Air Command (TAC) to supply the Army's air power needs in March 1946.

The National Security Act of 1947, Executive Order 9877 of July 26, 1947, and the Key West and Newport Agreements of 1948 defined service roles and missions. On May 20, 1949, the two services signed a readjustment agreement limiting Army aviation to fixed-wing aircraft, not exceeding 2,500 pounds in weight, and to rotary-wing(helicopter) aircraft, not to exceed 4,000 pounds. In Korea, the Air Force insisted that a modern, multi-purpose fighter aircraft was the safest, most accurate, and the least expensive vehicle for CAS.

In 1955, at Fort Rucker, Alabama, the Army Aviation School began to test new mobility concepts. Exercises, Able Buster and Baker Buster, were designed in part to test armed light aircraft in the antitank role. The helicopter performed poorly in these exercises, but the experimentation continued. In 1956 the Commandant of the Army Aviation School, Brig. Gen. Carl 1 Hutton, stated that for the helicopter to be an effective ground soldier transport, it required a fire-suppression capability to inhibit hostile ground fire.

In a memorandum of November 26, 1956, Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson expanded the 5,000-pound fixed-wing aircraft limitation to include vertical/short takeoff and landing (VSTO/L) aircraft and convertiplanes. He added a 20,000-pound limitation for helicopters. He doubled the combat zone, that area in which the Army was allowed to operate its own organic aircraft, by extending it to 100 miles beyond, as well as 100 miles behind, the frontline.

The election of President John F. Kennedy in 1960 and his choice of Robert S. McNamara as Secretary of Defense ushered in a reappraisal. McNamara set up the Army Tactical Mobility Requirements Board, chaired by Lt. Gen. Hamilton H. Howze, was the grandson of a Civil War general, the son of Lt. Gen. Robert L. Howze (who had presided over the Billy Mitchell court-martial). The Howze Board Final Report, of 20 August 1962, recommended inclusion of attack, observation, utility, and cargo airplanes and helicopters in the Army aviation inventory. Not only would certain observation, utility, and cargo helicopters carry light automatic anti-personnel weapons, but the attack aviation would have an anti-tank capability and carry large stores of ammunition.

The Howze report produced immediate and sharp Air Force reaction. In the area of close air support, the Air Force doubted the ability of both the Army's Mohawk fixed-wing aircraft and its attack helicopters to survive in high-intensity combat and questioned their cost effectiveness compared to the USAF's newest fighter aircraft.

The Army had long realized that the Huey-gun-rocket combination was a make-shift, albeit, quite ingenious, system that should be replaced by a new aircraft specifically designed for the armed mission. In the early 1960's, industry asserted that advance was within the state of the art. Experts in research and development urged the Army planners to go for a compound helicopter with an integrated armament system as soon as possible. They argued that it was technically feasible and procurement of any "interim" system would mean the Army would be stuck with an inferior capability for years to come. Moreover, it appeared that an advanced system could be procured almost as soon as an interim aircraft.

The U.S. Army’s Advanced Aerial Fire Support System (AAFSS) program was officially begun in March 1963. This was the first helicopter designed from inception as an armed aircraft. This was the result of a decision by Secretary of the Army Cyrus R. Vance to reject the recommendation of senior general officers to pursue a derivative aircraft as an interim solution. Secretary Vance “directed the Ar-my ‘to lift its sights’ to a more advanced system.”

Problems started immediately with the AAFSS program. The program management office took eight months to receive adequate personnel. The request for proposals (RFP) for project definition contracts was released in August 1964. In February 1965, Lockheed and Sikorsky were selected and provided a revised RFP incorporating Qualitative Materiel Development Objective (QMDO) and Qualitative Materiel Requirement (QMR) updates. In November 1965 Lockheed was announced as the winner despite the lack of an approved QMR. This caused delays in final contract negotiation as the QMR worked its way to approval.

The Chief of Staff of the Army returned the QMR, directing that it incorporate a clearly defined need for the aircraft to ensure it would receive funding. This generated cost effectiveness analyses by Army Materiel Command and the Ballistic Research Laboratory (BRL) which resulted in BRL initially finding the AAFSS program the least cost-effective until the program office could engage BRL. When the QMR was approved in December 1965, there were fourteen additional requirements that had not been included in the Lockheed bid.

Early in 1965 Secretary McNamara directed the Army to review its future aircraft requirements. As part of that review, on February 19, 1965, the Army released contracts for the program definition phase of an Advanced Aerial Fire Support System [AAFSS] whose main component would be a helicopter with a speed of over 200 knots. Not only the Howze Board recommendations, but combat operations in Vietnam, drove the armed helicopter concept forward. Helicopter assaults, with their dozens of troop and supply helicopter transports, crowded the air space over the landing zones, making it difficult for Air Force jets to coordinate and fly suppressive fire missions. Thus, helicopters had to carry some means of self-defense and have their own capability to keep enemy heads down.

The Vietnam War settled the armed helicopter issue once and for all. On September 7, 1965, after almost a year of heavy combat aided by makeshift armed helicopters, the first Army-designed attack helicopter prototype, the AH-1, made its initial flight. Four days later Secretary McNamara informed the Air Force Secretary, Eugene M. Zuckert, that any aircraft operating in the battle zone should be armed, not only for self-defense, but also to contribute to the success of operations in the manner best fitted to the aircraft's mission. On March 11, 1966, the Army announced it would purchase large numbers of the AH-1 Huey Cobra; it became operational in Vietnam in November 1967.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense had been critical of all the Services in their efforts to procure expensive weapon systems that appeared to offer only marginal improvements over the system they were to replace-aircraft that flew a little higher or faster, tanks that had only slightly better performance, ships that cruised but a few knots faster. Ever since the Howze Board, the Army was sensitive to any criticism that it was striving for less than the best in airmobility. Also, the Air Force maintained that much of Army aviation duplicated an Air Force capability rather than, as the Army claimed, complemented Air Force support. The Army decided that its best option was to hold a design competition for a totally new system that would offer unique capabilities.

A high-speed helicopter research program was completed by the Army during 1965. Several helicopters with different rotor and control systems were modified to a compound configuration by the installation of wings to unload the rotors at high speeds and auxiliary power systems for additional horizontal thrust. Three of the compound helicopters demonstrated a high-speed capability by flying in the 200-knot class.

A program for engineering development of prototypes for the Advanced Aerial Fire Support System (AAFSS) for the Army was approved. This system would use a winged compound helicopter designed for use in providing organic aerial gunfire support for Army units.

Bell entered a scaled-down version of it's Iroquois Warrior. The other competitor was the Sikorsky (S-66) (1964) which looked similar to the AH-56A Cheyenne, but had a Rotorprop tail rotor which could rotate on it's axis through 90° to act both as an anti-torque rotor or as a pusher, thereby transforming the S-66 into a compound aircraft in cruising flight.

From among 12 contract proposals, Lockheed California Corp. and Sikorsky Aircraft Division of United Aircraft Corp. were awarded $900,000 contracts to perform the 6-month Project Definition Phase (PDP), which preceded full-scale development. The US Army Transportation Research Command, Fort Eustis, Va., awarded the Lockheed and Sikorsky contracts. The Project Definition Phase was a formal step preceding full-scale development, during which preliminary engineering and contract and management planning were accomplished in an environment that encouraged realism and objectivity.

At the completion of the Project Definition Phase and after the two contractors' reports and engineering development proposals were evaluated, the Army would make one of the following alternative recommendations to the Department of Defense: Undertake full scale development, undertake further exploratory or advanced development of key components, defer or abandon the development effort, proceed with further project definition, proceed with the development by an alternative source.

The AAFSS was conceived as a stable, manned aerial weapon platform equipped with a variety of weapons to provide the Army with the capability of escorting troop-carrying helicopters and associated fire support. The integrated aerial fire support system would include armament, avionics and fire control equipment. It would have a vertical take off and landing capability and was designed to be maintained in the forward area of the combat zone. In addition to its weapons, vertical takeoff, and forward area capabilities, AAFSS performance characteristics included a cruising speed of 196 knots, dash speed of 220 knots, and an endurance of 3 hours for a 2-man crew.

Aircraft suppressive fire systems, and the Advanced Aerial Fire Support Systems were closely related. The former was concerned with the development and adaptation of weapons subsystems for aircraft, while the latter project would initiate the development of a completely integrated armed helicopter-like system as a replacement for the armed UH-lB system. The objective was to develop a stable, manned aerial weapon plat-form utilizing both integrated and externally mounted weapons subsystems to provide escort of troop carrying helicopter formations and discrete suppressive fires.

The Advance Aerial Fire Support System (AAFSS) was won by the Lockheed AH-56A Cheyenne.

Effective 18 October 1968, the Advanced Aerial Fire Support (AAFS) System Office was established at Washington, DC, as a class II activity with the functioning and priorities associated with the Office of the Chief of Staff, US.Army, to assist the AAFS System Manager in the exercise of his responsibilities. Effective 18 October 1968, the position of the AAFS System Manager was established within the O?biome of the Chief of Staff, US Army, as the principal assistant and Staff adviser to the Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Army for all matters pertaining to the AAFSS program.

The mission of the AAFS System Manager, by monitorship and temporary intercession, was to insure that the AAFSS program was properly conceived and executed, to include the deployment phase. In addition, the AAFS System Manager provided the central point of contact within the Department of the Army for those aspects of the AAFSS program involving analysis of alternative systems and programs. The AAFS System Manager, using procedures prescribed by the Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Staff, continually monitored the Army Staff and Secretariat elements and participating organizations and, when appropriate, exercised Department of the Army executive authority over them until the problem was resolved.

The AAFSS program was managed by exception, on a case-by-case basis (when required to insure a proper AFSS program and adequate progress toward objectives. When a short-term solution was possible, the executive authority may be used outside the framework of a management control plan. However, as his basic method of management, the AAF System Manager would develop, coordinate, issue as a directive, maintain, and monitor execution of an AAF SS Management Objectives Plan (AAFSSMOP).The AAFSSMOP would task the Army Staff and Secretariat elements and participating organizations to accomplish time-phased goals when analysis by the AAFS System O?ice indicates existing tasking, plans, or procedures would not produce desired results in a timely manner. In addition, to facilitate his monitoring and analysis actions, the AAFS System Manager was authorized to task the Army Staff and Secretariat elements and participating organizations to provide liaison personnel, information, and other support necessary to the execution of his mission.

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Page last modified: 16-02-2014 18:28:11 ZULU