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AH-56A Cheyenne - Employment

The Army developed the Cheyenne to increase its combat effectiveness in all types of conflicts. Although the Army already had a Cobra attack helicopter and other helicopter gunships in inventory, the Army believed that the Cheyenne was needed to counter the armor threat posed by the Warsaw Pact nations. The primary mission of the Cheyenne was to provide close air support for land and airmobile operations. Although it would perform other tasks, such as reconnaissance, aerial escort of troop and cargo helicopters, and adjustment of field artillery gunfire, the principal mission for the Cheyenne would be to kill tanks and other armored vehicles.

The Army planned to use the Cheyenne as a primary means of blunting enemy armor thrusts, and for this purpose it would assign the aircraft predominately to division-size units. The Army study of the Cheyenne in mid-intensity conflict indicates that the aircraft may be placed under the operational control of committed brigades and battalions. The Army believes that this decentralization would provide ground commanders with the quick response needed for fire support and continuity of that fire support.

According to the Army the most serious threat to close air support aircraft in a European environment would be radar-controlled antiaircraft artillery, such as the Soviet Union's Quad 23 mm and Twin 57 mm guns-~~ In view of this the Army planned to:

  • Fly the Cheyenne in pairs, thus allowing each aircraft protection by the other.,
  • Avoid flying over known enemy positions by attacking targets from behind the friendly side of the battle line.
  • Fly the Cheyenne by nap-of-the-earth flight to the target area to avoid its being detected by enemy air defenses.
  • Use the pop-up technique to reacquire the target (initially located by scout aircraft, friendly units, or other means> and to fire the TOW missile. (The pop-up technique was a tactic in which the aircraft remains concealed close to the earth until ready to fire. The aircraft then ascends until clear of the terrain and fires on the target.)
  • Suppress the target with an additional weapon while firing its main armament.

Several experiments were made by the U.S. Army, Europe, to evaluate different helicopter operations and tactics, and other experiments are continuing. Reports on the earlier evaluations were made by the Research Analysis Corporation (RAC) under contract to the Army. One of the studies (RAC-T-464) used the data from three experiments to evaluate the effectiveness of helicopters popping up from behind terrain in simulated tactical encounters with enemy ground elements. The report concluded that the pop-up technique enabled helicopter pilots to fire first in most encounters of the types studied. That conclusion was based on data from two experiments. In the first experiment the helicopter had a firing advantage because it was popping up from a concealed position and the enemy vehicle was clearly visible. In the second experiment, when the enemy vehicle changed position (it did not always change), the enemy on the ground got off the first shot almost as frequently as did the helicopter crew.

The report also concluded that popping up appeared to enhance the acquisition effectiveness of pilots flying nap of- the-earth. The report's statistics showed that helicopters popping up were observed and fired upon fewer times than during the nap-of-the-earth segment of the flight. Ground targets, for example, acquired four times as many helicopters flying strictly nap-of-the-earth flight as the helicopters acquired ground targets; the ground targets fired upon about 50 percent of the acquired helicopters. But, in the pop-up maneuvers, the helicopter acquired twice as many ground targets as acquired them and the helicopter was not fired upon during the pop-up.

Another RAC study (RX-TP-189) measured the ability of the helicopter's anti-armor teams to engage targets located by reconnaissance elements. The report concluded that missile-firing helicopter crews had difficulty in acquiring enemy target vehicles, especially when those vehicles were stationary. The report showed that the stationary and camouflaged vehicle normally had a firing advantage over the helicopter.

During air cavalry troop evaluations by U.S. Army, Europe, for example, the command attributed the limited activity and poor performance at night to the lack of night vision equipment. It concluded that the air cavalry troop needed an improved night-fighting capability, since a potential enemy could be expected to conduct large-scale offensive operations at night. The TOW antitank missile was a command-guided, line-of-sight weapon. Its use would cause the Cheyenne and crew to be exposed to the enemy target for about 20 seconds when the missile was to travel about 10,000 feet. Although several seconds are needed for missile aiming in the 20-second interval, the pilot may maneuver the Cheyenne during the balance of the firing. He may also deliver suppressive fires with the 30 mm automatic cannon or other weapons, during the engagement, to enhance survivability.

The Cheyenne would have built-in test-equipment displays to identify malfunctioning units for the pilot and maintenance personnel. Since the Cheyenne would have many plug-in replacement components, troubles are expected to be corrected rapidly. During the air cavalry troop evaluations by U.S. Army, Europe, a major weakness was found to be logistical support. Currently the air cavalry troop relies principally on wheeled vehicles for logistical support, but the report on the evaluation concluded that an aerial resupply capability was needed to augment these vehicles because the troop was expected to move frequently and because the roads were expected to be congested at the beginning of hostilities and ground vehicles might find it difficult keeping up with the air cavalry troop.

The Army conducted several cost-effectiveness studies early in the Cheyenne acquisition cycle to compare the Cheyenne with certain existing aircraft. The studies assessed the Cheyenne in assumed combat environments where the enemy's defenses were less severe than the Army's description of the anticipated threat, they also assumed the use of certain optimistic tactics, and they considered an initial Cheyenne acquisition cost which was substantially less than recent estimates. The Army, however, was currently conducting a new cost-effectiveness study to compare the Cheyenne with existing and proposed helicopters and with the Air Force's close-air-support candidate, the A-X.

The Air Force did not consider the Cheyenne effective or survivable against the wide array of close-air-support targets that it, unlike the Army, may be required to attack. The Marines did not express a need for the Cheyenne for close air support since they viewed the use of helicopter gunships as escorts of transport helicopters and as attack vehicles in permissive environments only. They believe that true close air support requires a range of munitions that are at present limited to fixed-wing aircraft.

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Page last modified: 15-02-2014 17:32:55 ZULU