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Aviation’s Place in the U.S. Army.

August, 1991 / By Captain Peter M. Vozzo: Months after the impressive display of military might which has come to mark the short-lived operation known as DESERT STORM, Captain Peter Vozzo related a narrative marking the post-Soviet era that was to follow; one into which the United States Army had been thrust, and, which has been characterized by a term of overriding significance . . . downsize.

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General Hamilton H. Howze, chairman of the 1962 Howze Board which set the Army on the road to adopting Airmobility.

The writer explained that the Army would face a shortfall of personnel and equipment; in essence, reduced to maximizing shrinking resources.  Captain Vozzo noted Defense Secretary Dick Cheney’s observation, “that units that are versatile, multi-purpose and rapidly deployable will have priority in all future budget considerations.”  For Captain Vozzo, among those assets which fit the bill was the helicopter.  For as he observed:

“Now, in the early 1990s, the helicopter readily provides the mobility foreseen by the Howze Board.  Today, observers recognize airmobility as common practice in the Army.  During a low-intensity situation in Panama, Army Aviation enabled a constrained force to occupy virtually an entire nation in a single day.  A year later, on the other side of the world in a mid-intensity conflict, the largest successful air assault operation in history airlifted an entire division into the center of Iraq to cut off the enemy’s withdrawal from Kuwait.”  But the writer takes it a step further.

“The time has now come to highlight the overwhelming killing power of the helicopter on the battlefield and recognize Aviation’s status as a combat maneuver element.  The Army should not recognize the same high-level outside influence as it did in 1962 from the Secretary of Defense in order to recognize Aviation as the principle element on the battlefield.  If the Department of Defense formed a “Tactical Firepower Requirements Board” today it might well conclude—‘the eventual transition to a vertical rising, aerial platform as a main battle vehicle for shock and firepower is inevitable, as was the transition from the horse-mounted cavalry to the tank.’”

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General James M. Gavin, Airborne Soldier Extraordinaire, and early booster of the Airmobility Concept.

Captain Vozzo, it seems, is another of those who appeared to be taking up the cudgel in the wake of those who came before him, one of whom was General James M. Gavin.  Seven years before General Gavin wrote an article for which he is esteemed, “Cavalry, and I Don’t Mean Horses,” which appeared in a 1954 issue of Harper’s magazine, he had penned “Airborne Armies of the Future,” published in The Field Artillery Journal, May-June 1947 issue.  Here General Gavin made the case for Aviation as a decisive aspect in the post-1945 world; a world overshadowed by that recently developed weapon of enormous destructive capability and viewed by some as the epitome of Total War, the Atomic Bomb.

“The nation that in the future has the best trained and equipped airborne forces has the best chance for survival.  Indeed, more than this, only by having such security forces can any nation survive.  For as long as these means of waging modern war are available to us they are available to aggressor nations.  And modern airborne forces of aggressor nations cannot be fought successfully with the weapons that fought past wars.  Not if they are to be engaged at parity and beaten.

“Airborne troops are our best national security and the world’s most promising hope for international security . . . The knowledge of the existence of a well-trained airborne army, capable of moving anywhere on the globe on short notice, available to an international security body such as the United Nations, is our best guarantee of lasting peace.”

Captain Vozzo was underlining the case offered by General Gavin back in 1947 and 1954.  That airmobility is the answer to the Army’s problem of moving freely on the modern battlefield, affording ground troops a freedom of movement akin to that of the insurgents they are liable face.  In his bible, On Guerrilla Warfare, Mao Tse-tung summed it up, “When the situation is serious, the guerrillas must move with the fluidity of water and the ease of blowing wind.  Their tactics must deceive, tempt and confuse the enemy.  They must lead the enemy to believe that they will attack him from the east and north, and they must then strike from the west and south.  They must strike, then rapidly disperse.  They must move at night. . .   Guerrilla initiative is expressed in dispersion, concentration and the alert shifting of forces.”

What the guerrilla can accomplish on foot, the airborne soldier can certainly achieve in the air.   Yet as Captain Vozzo so astutely observed, Aviation is ambidextrous enough to help decide the issue on the conventional battlefield. 

SourcesGavin, Major General James M., “Airborne Armies of the Empire,” The Field Artillery Journal, Vol. 37, No. 3, May-June 1947, pages 178-182.

Mao Tse-tung, On Guerrilla Warfare, Praeger Publishers, New York, NY, 1961, pages 103 and 104.

Vozzo, Captain Peter M., “Aviation’s Place in the U.S. Army,” Army Aviation, Vol. 40, No. 10, October 10, 1991, pages 14, 16, 18 and 19.