Old School COIN Planes Keep Coming Back


The latest version of the OV-1D Mohawk Armed with a 30 MM chain gun

It looks like the trend toward taking vintage aircraft designs and installing a few modern gadgets and guns on them is starting to grow. While roaming the halls of the Association of the U.S. Army’s massive conference in D.C. yesterday, a colleague took me over to ATK’s booth where among the  guns and rockets on display was a model of the Army’s old OV-1 Mohawk armed with the 30 mm chain gun straight off the AH-64 Apache attack helo.

It turns out, ATK has teamed with two outfits called the Broadbay Group and Mohawk Technologies who specialize in building and sometimes operating small fleets of special missions aircraft for a variety of customers and the revamped OV-1D is the latest niche aircraft the team is pitching, according to Clay Bringhurst the company’s business development manager for ground combat systems.

While the Mohawk design dates to the late 1950s, ATK and company are looking at using  the dozens of 1980s-vintage OV-1Ds that were retired in the 1990s after service in Desert Storm, according to Broadbay’s COO, JT Young. 

The plan is to keep the planes — which have been basking in a boneyard in the Arizona sun since retirement — in pretty much their original state save for the installation of digital cockpit displays, a new electro-optical/infrared sensor ball on the nose and the chain gun that’s tied to the sensor ball, according to Young. The team has already pulled several aircraft from the boneyward and is testing the gun and camera on one of them.

While the team isn’t planning on marketing the plane to the U.S. Air Force for its highly publicized push to buy a light attack plane, they are looking to sell or lease the Mohawks to foreign nations with low-budgets and aging attack fleets or even domestic clients such as the special ops community and “other” government customers in the States. It could even be used to train U.S. ground soldiers to call in air strikes, according to Young and Bringhurst.

So, the OV-1D probably won’t be the Air Force’s new COIN plane, but it does have a long history of performing battlefield surveillance and strike for the Army with cameras, infrared sensors, side looking radar — sort of an early version of today’s 707-based E-8 JSTARS — and a variety of rockets and dumb bombs. The planes served all over the world during the Cold War and immediatly after, from Vietnam and Korea to Germany and Iraq. In fact, they performed so well that it’s rumored the Air Force was not at all comfortable with this fixed wing-capability being in the Army’s hands. 

This whole trend of reviving old designs for COIN-style missions has been rolling for a while now.  Just a couple of years ago Boeing announced that it was looking at dusting off the blueprints for the venerable OV-10 Bronco light observation and attack plane that was flown by the Air Force and Marines in Vietnam and Desert Storm. That plan might have stalled out now that the Air Force is signalling that it will only buy a handful of light attack planes, and it probably wants something that’s a slightly newer design.

— John Reed

  • M.G.Halvorsen

    Damn fine idea…But, if you want a REAL COIN/CAS bird, bring back an updated/upgraded Able Dog…the A1E Skyraider! Big payload, heavy armament,and can loiter for a LONG time!!!

    • chaos0xomega

      Won’t happen… it makes too much sense.

    • William C.

      Supposedly the biggest problem with a new Skyraider would be getting the big old radial engines for the thing. That kind of hardware isn’t in the USAF or Army inventory anymore.

      • mike j

        Ever heard of the A2D Skyshark?

        Moot point anyway, but there’s no reason you’d have to use a radial.

      • kim

        The still build radials in Russia….

      • Jersey Dave

        Turboprop is doable, probably better now than with the A2D, because the tech is better, and so is masking technology against SAMs.

  • charlie

    Maybe Nancy Polosi would donate her 767 to help the troops…naah

  • STemplar

    I don’t care what we buy as long as it works, doesn’t cost $100 million each, and lowers operating costs. The article I read about the COIN plane regardless of what one, their flight hour operating cost was in the hundreds of dollars while F-16s and A-10’s were $10,000+ish. Seems like pretty simple math to me.

    Now from a practical stand point the AT-6B seems like the obvious choice, since it is the trainer we are letting our pilots cut their teeth on, they are estimated at $10 million a pop from what I’ve read, they are already capable of being put into production without re-starting an assembly line or do reverse engineering on an old frame, and the support logistics network is already in place for the basic aircraft.

    • Mastro

      You have this crazy idea that our defense purchases are for effective inexpensive designs.

      Its all about Empire building for some general/colonel who can retire to a cushy defense industry job.

  • Matt Holzmann

    I was at the Miramar air show talking to a guy who owns one of the few flyable AD-1’s getting the scoop, and a Marine friend who flew them in Vietnam swears it was he best plane he flew.

    A 3500 HP turboprop is available from P&W at reasonable cost, which is the engine rating the AD-1 had. Remember, they built the Skyraiders at the end of WW II when the whole cycle time for a new airframe was often less than a year. This ain’t rocket science.

    Steal the titanium bucket from the A-10; put in some controls for all weather use; a couple of chain guns and some hard points, with lots of fuel capacity and they you go. Then give it to the Army and Marines. The AF has been lollygagging on close air support for years. If it isn’t fast they just don’t want it, but they don’t want anyone else to have it either.

    • greg

      Couldn’t agree more.

    • Mastro

      Sometimes I think that Miami agreement -where the Army gave up fixed wing to the Air Force was a bad idea-

      The only positive is that the Army would now have a bloated air corp with nuclear bombers if not for it….

  • decisive1

    The Air Force does not like props (fewe exceptions), the Air Force would not let the Army have it, Xe would use it to strafe innocent people and smuggle drugs, the Army would put too much crap on it so it would not fly in the mountains of ***crackistan. So it looks like a “GO”.

    • zevgoldman

      Your Xe comment is pure bull shit.

  • prometheusgonewild

    It is funny, the Predators were really jump started with the Army. Now the Air Force wants in.
    In many respects the predators are Coin aircraft. Just not heavily armed ones. And the guy looking from the craft may be a couple thousand miles away…..
    Of course this makes me think; if the Army had not gotten rid of their light forward deployed aircraft, would we have the Predators?
    I think there is plenty of room for both types of craft in these IED wars…..
    Of course it is only going to be a short time before some big defense contractor realizes they could make a fortune adding the electronics package from the UAV’s to a Coin aircraft.
    The best of both worlds they will proclaim!

  • scientist

    No foreign government will buy an airframe that is not in the USAF inventory. F-20 proved that.
    US is out of prop business for COIN since Vietnam.

  • blight

    For starters, an executive order from on high crushing Key West under a boot would be the way to go. The Air Force no longer needs protection from the Army as a branch. Even if the army was given free reign to procure a COIN aircraft, the Army is going to be faced with the difficult choice of money for new planes and procuring new helicopters, paying for GCV, paying for more improvements to the M4, new camo.

    I guess if they closed up bases in Europe and consolidated in Italy, Turkey or back in the United States money could be spent on gear…

    • Matt Holzmann

      The AF has been trying to kill the A-10 for 20 years and trying to drop ordnance or fire on Taliban running between buildings using a B-1B or even an F-16 is futile. Talk about asymmetrical warfare.

      At a time when command is yapping about not killing civilians this is the height of absurdity. As the Army and Marines are fielding ever more accurate small arms packages, the close air support model is clearly broken. What is amazing is that leadership is still twiddling their fingers 8 years into the mess.

      • prometheusgonewild

        Good Post!

  • tiger

    What about the Cessna AT37’s or the Tucano? They seem like a good fit for the mission. At any rate If your going with a OV10 how about a few crumbs of work for Northrop Grumman? I would like to them stay in the airplane biz a little.

  • STemplar

    Gotta admit, what a great lookin plane.

    • mike j

      Ed Heinemann was an authentic genius. We need a few more like him, now.

  • Davey

    Awesome idea! My old boss was a Mohawk pilot in Viet Nam before the Air Force and Army got into their pi**ing contest and gutted the plane. He says it handled like a Spitfire and was a terrific close air support and interdiction bird. He spent a lot of time trolling roads and trails looking for supply trucks.

    Here’s the kicker – Arm it and let the Army have it! Screw the Chair Force.

    • ranger482

      As a retired Vietnam ear Master Army Aviator I concur. Flew other Army fixed wing aircraft and helicopters but never got qualified in Mohawk……..running joke was I could not handle “3 pieces of tail” at the same time!! Go Army!!

      • Bill

        I flew the Hawk for about a thousand hours in the Ga Guard. If someone will loan me a Spitfire I will compare notes. BTW she was the most responsive capable aircraft I ever flew.

  • William C.

    The USAF likes having their fast jets and they have more than enough trouble getting those. Unless they get money specifically for the purpose of said COIN aircraft (that doesn’t come from the rest of their budget), their officers are going to be rather pissed about it.

    The F-15, F-22, and F-35 all operate on established principles and technology too, and the A-10, F-15, and F-16 have all been providing close air support the past 8 years. The simple fact is that the USAF would rather take a multi-role fighter over a dedicated COIN focused aircraft. Like it or not, there is some solid reasoning behind that idea.

    Personally I believe the USAF should invest in some new attack aircraft, but the reason they don’t isn’t some insane USAF / defense industry conspiracy. Consider that the Navy doesn’t even have anything like the A-10. Stick to the facts rather than USAF-bashing conspiracy theories next time.

    • seeker6079

      Here’s the deal, William. I’ll stop USAF bashing when the AF cares more about tailoring its budget and its mission to, you know, the two wars that America is actually fighting, rather than being obsessed with fast movers. How ’bout that? Fair enough?

      The problem with the USAF (what, “Usually Safe Above the Fighting”, right?) isn’t that it can retool its fast movers to do close air support. It’s that they consistently refuse to consider anything other than the fast movers, period. If it’s put forward then they kill it. I respect intellectual honesty and the bestarred boys in sky blue haven’t really shown that in a while. And please don’t have the moxie to put forward the A-10 as an example of the AF’s commitment. That wonderful piece of machinery has survived more USAF attempts on its life than a talib gunman.

      • William C.

        The USAF, like the Army, like the Marine Corp, and like the Navy must balance current requirements with their historical missions. It is challenging to all of the branches, but partially one almost entirely shaped by the Cold War.

        At the same time the USAF could use something like this, they need fast-movers as well and have damn good reasons for not wanting to lose control of the F-35 program like they did with the F-22. I say set aside the funds for a hundred or so COIN aircraft for use in Afghanistan, but don’t doom the USAF’s plans for the next several decades in the process.

        Regarding the A-10, at least some of the USAF thinks it’s useful enough to keep around these days judging from the A-10C upgrade in progress. I say build some more of those which can survive far more damage than something like the AT-6B could.

    • seeker6079

      Also, sorry, it doesn’t count as a “conspiracy” when it’s an established historical integration going back fifty years. Seriously, friend, if you’re going to try and award me the Order of the Tinfoil hat you might want to do it on a subject other than the military industrial complex and how it drives up both costs and legal graft and backscratching. I think that the “whoo! grassy knoll! whooooo!” card that you’re trying to wave at me got voided when President Eisenhower drew attention to its existence …. and since then, the problem has become worse.

    • seeker6079

      Will, there’s really two irreconcilable views held in your post, and both are problematic.

      Starting point: either the F-22 and the F-35 are or are not operating “on established principles and technology too”.

      If they are so operating, then your post that they aren’t is wrong on its face, very wrong because they are a massive developmental cost that is being incurred. My point was that COIN aircraft don’t cost that much because they don’t represent any quantum leaps forward, that they are, in essence, off-the-shelf aircraft whereas Raptors and JSFs aren’t.

      If they aren’t so operating then they should be cancelled because their whole reason for existence and procurement is that they are a major leap forward in principles and technology and are a whole new generation of fighters. If they’re not a great leap forward then there isn’t any reason for buying 2 Raptors instead of 5 Super Hornets [flyaway cost for both].

      Sorry, Will, you can’t suck and blow at the same time. (Well, DoD and the aerospace industry can, I concede: they suck money out of the pockets of Americans who are losing their jobs and homes and futures, and blow smoke in the eyes of people who want to hold them accountable.)

  • M.G.Halvorsen

    Thanks, Seeker…You are correct for all the disgusting reasons you listed. Isn’t it sad that the Military-Industrial Complex rates the support of the Guy (or Gal) on the ground with the rifle at the very LAST of their priorities? But, then, they’re only in it for the $$$, after all. Good Gawd, looks lik e the old Vietnam Protest poster was right after all: “War Is Good Business! Invest Your Son Today!” And, If any Brass A## out there gets P.O.’ed at me, then PROVE ME WRONG and GET A GOOD,RELIABLE Counterinsurgency bird out there where it’s NEEDED …Without making a couple of billion more for Boeing/Lockheed/Grumman/General Dynamics/Etcetera…Can’t do it, Eh? Then shut up and call this old ‘Nam Vet a pinko liberal bleeding-heart subversive Obamamonkey…Wharever…my back hurts and I feel like crap…

  • William C.

    I’m not talking about marijuana here, they can legalize and tax it as far as I am concerned. But things like heroin, meth, cocaine, LSD, those have to be illegal in my opinion. If the only “solution” to that problem is to legalize those drugs, then our society is in deep, deep trouble. Legalizing those drugs in particular won’t fix anything. A crack-junkie stabbing a guy for money in order buy his drug legally rather than illegally is not a real improvement.

    My father was a cop, as were many of his friends and my friends. They’re common people who almost always see it like any other job. They want to do what they need to, get paid, and go home to their families. Yes you have good and bad cops, but you have good and bad people in any line of work. To characterize SWAT officers for example as power-hungry or violent is simply wrong.

  • seeker6079

    That’s your dichotomy? That the only alternative to Soviet-style Stalinism-lite is a military industrial complex that is massive, uncontrollable and sucks in increasing amounts of tax dollars for a decreasing quantity of weapons and security provided? That’s a reductio ad absurdum if I’ve ever seen one, and one unworthy of refutation.

    You are spot-on though about midstream changes. Those have been a key reason for the Canadian Sea King replacement program(s) becoming massive sinkholes of funds [and on projects that were badly handled from both the procurement and political ends to begin with!].

    • William C.

      No I’m saying that is the other extreme. The best solution I can think of is what I mentioned, more competition, oversight done properly, and less midstream changes.

  • Matt Holzmann

    one place to start the cutbacks is in D Ring at the Pentagon. They have managed to mismanage virtually every major program to the tune of hundreds of billions that could have funded a COIN aircraft and all sorts of other deserving projects.

    So let’s look at the last several Wars; Grenada, Panama, Gulf War, Bosnia/Serbia, and now Afghanistan and Iraq. Not one of these conflicts required the high performance air force we have built. We could have outclassed the Iraqis and Serbs with A-4’s and F-4’s fer chrissake.

    I believe we need the high tech deterrent, but not at the expense of the wars we are fighting.

  • spud_60

    I’m an old Mohawker and it’s great to see her being brought back to life. In fact I have time in the airframe that is pictured. I doubt the US will pick the concept up. Argentina had a fleet of Mowhawks that were purchased in the early 90’s as we phased them out of Army service. Perhaps they will look upon this project with interest.

    The Mohawk was an outstanding platform and one of the best aircraft I have ever had the pleasure of flying.

    • Bill

      You had to fly her to understand. I work with 2 organizations in Georgia that have flyable Mohawks. I will keep flying them as long as I can.

  • seeker6079

    Those ROEs are in place to prevent tons of civilians being killed, Earlydawn. There’s no point, victory-wise if not patriot-wise, in saving a GI’s life if the cost of that is an extra 30 dead civilians and ten new taliban from their enraged widowers and grieving fathers. It is not rocket science: if you kill someone’s family they WILL hate you and try to kill you.

    It amazes me that Americans feel that the killing of their fellow citizens on 9-11 made it perfectly rational to invade a country that had nothing to do with it but find it irrational that American killing of other people’s citizens/coreligionists might make the survivors want to kill more Americans. It isn’t a question of right and wrong, but one of inevitability.

  • zevgoldman

    You’re bull shitting me right? Deconflict?

  • Infidel4LIFE

    Hard to believe the US cannot come up with a COIN aircraft-operated by the Army.

  • Oleg

    usa is fucking gay

    • SMDH

      Seriously? That’s the best you could come up with? What are you? 13?

  • Mike Crisman

    Put 1100 hours in the right seat of one of those babies. I’m trying to study how many of these gents have PTSD. Any info – please contact me.

  • yoni

    Proposed name for the newly upcoming COIN/CAS airplane for the Army & USMC services : ‘Super-Bronco’.