Jane's Defence Weekly
April 12, 2006

By Joshua Kucera, JDW Staff Reporter, Washington, DC

The US Marine Corps is looking at the possibility of reviving the retired OV-10 Bronco observation aircraft for use in Iraq, according to a top service official.

The aircraft, which was retired from US service in 1994, would be used to augment surveillance of roads in Iraq.

Having additional aircraft there could increase the chances of US forces detecting the emplacement of roadside bombs or improvised explosive devices (IEDs), some service officials believe.

"If this is a capability we think that will take out the IED or help us catch the IED maker ... you bet [we are interested]," a senior marine commander told Jane's.

Service officials, with the help of an association of retired OV-10 pilots, have identified aircraft and pilots that could be used in Iraq, he said.

The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory has been tasked to examine the cost of such a plan and the concept of operations it might use, the commander added.

However, not all marine officials are enamoured with the idea.

Lieutenant General John Castellaw, the service's deputy commandant for aviation, told Jane's he thought the experience of the Gulf War showed that the aircraft was too vulnerable.

Marsh Aviation, which manages the inventory of the government-owned OV-10s and does upgrade work for international OV-10 customers, could remanufacture 10 or 12 of the aircraft suitable for military use by piecing together parts of various aircraft, said Floyd Stilwell, Marsh Aviation's chief executive officer.

The company could start delivering aircraft within 10 months at a normal production rate and faster if the government paid for it, Stilwell said.

The OV-10 proposal is one of many schemes - often secretive - to revive retired aircraft or convert civilian aircraft for use in operations in Iraq and elsewhere.

The US Army has converted at least three Shorts 360-300 aircraft under the name Constant Hawk to do surveillance in Iraq and the sea lanes of the Middle East. Two of the aircraft collided with each other in Wisconsin in February shortly before they were to be sent to Iraq.

Mohawk Technologies of Florida has operated a fleet of six OV-1 Mohawk reconnaissance aircraft under a US Department of Defense (DoD) contract for about 12 months, said Paul Pefley, the company's president. Pefley declined to say where the aircraft were being operated or for which branch of the DoD. The OV-1 was retired from US Army use in 1996.

Most of the non-traditional aircraft plans, however, have gone nowhere and have been openly advocated only by a collection of veterans associations and a handful of members of Congress.

There is a growing constituency, however, of people who believe that soldiers and marines in Iraq need better real-time intelligence and look back to the Vietnam-era Forward Air Controllers (FACs) as a model of how counterinsurgency can be fought from the air.

Those FACs were more tightly integrated with small units than the surveillance aircraft used today, and more effective, the Congressional staff member said.

"The air force is looking at all this, but very quietly," he said. "There's really a gap in combat information at a platoon commander, convoy leader level that is real and as real-time as you can hope to have it. We've got dozens of systems operating over there but there's a big logjam in the [intelligence] pipeline, and everyone knows it."