By LTC Paul J. Fardink, Ret.: Very few events have had the impact on Army Aviation as did the Howze Board and its follow-on activities. The Howze Board is the informal name of the Tactical Mobility Requirements Board that was created at the request of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to review and test new concepts integrating helicopters into the United States Army. It gave birth to idea of airmobility.
This UH-60 Black Hawk, a star performer in Desert Storm, represents the culmination of the evolution of the Army’s Utility Tactical Transport System, which began with the Howze Board and the application of the airmobile concept in Vietnam.
In 2008, I had the incredible honor of doing an extensive interview with LTG Robert R. Williams (1918-2009), whom AAAA refers to as the “Father of Army Aviation.” As a member of the epochal Howze Board, General Williams offered many behind the scenes observations with the candor and unique vantage point that only direct participation could provide.
The following is from this interview.
Fardink: During April of 1962, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered the Army to take a “bold new look” at land warfare mobility. McNamara directed this examination to be conducted “in an atmosphere divorced from traditional viewpoints and past policies.” The second memorandum of two asked for the examination of six specific areas and again ordered the Army not to stifle new ideas and to “seriously consider fresh, new concepts, and give unorthodox ideas a hearing.” What was your input to these historic memoranda?
Williams: From 1961-1962, I had been the Deputy Director, Tactical Warfare Systems Office, Director of Defense Research and Engineering Office, Secretary of Defense. I was the action officer for our directorate on the Air Force-Navy joint Tactical Fighter Experimental Program.
During one of the meetings on the program, Dr. Alain Enthoven, Director of Operations Research, commented to me that the Army seemed dead in the water with the Army Aviation program and was not considering new uses for its aircraft. So we decided to recommend to the Secretary of Defense to “stir up” the Army. I sought the off-the-record, wise advice and help from the Army Chief of Research and Development, LTG Arthur G. Trudeau, who then encouraged this plan of action and offered the assistance of COL Edwin Powell.
We spent about two weeks drafting two memoranda which directed that a study be made, who should participate, and that the results be forwarded to the Secretary of Defense unedited by the Army Staff. We expected the memoranda to be softened considerably in the staffing, but the memoranda were approved and signed by Secretary McNamara with very little change from our original drafts.
Fardink: What happened next and what was your involvement?
Williams: The Army had five months to complete this task and immediately convened the U.S. Army Tactical Mobility Requirements Board, now commonly known as the Howze Board. LTG Hamilton H. Howze, the commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps, Ft. Bragg, NC, was appointed its president, and COL John Norton its secretary. As the commanding general of the Army Aviation Center (then), I became a member. The Howze Board was charged to determine future Army requirements for equipment and organization in the years 1963-1975.
An ambitious Howze and Norton used one month to assemble personnel and equipment, two months for testing, and the remaining time for analysis and report preparation. The final report, especially considering the limitations of time and resources, was a small masterpiece and offered far-reaching recommendations.
Fardink: Who appointed Lieutenant General Howze as President of this Board?
Williams: LTG James M. Gavin was G-3 at the time, so I assume he did.1
Fardink: What then transpired following the report of the Howze Board?
Williams: A decision was made to create and test the two major organizations recommended, an airmobile division and an air transport brigade. This satisfied the people in OSD. I stayed in the job until the decision was made for BG Harry Kinnard to command the division. Harry immediately joined me in Washington, and together we selected the key people for the division. The first two we picked were COL Phip Seneff and COL Dell Bristol. The personnel people said that they would not move them from their present assignments, so we took the matter to the vice chief of staff, and he said, “Move them!” During the test, a general from Washington who had opposed airmobility, spent two days in the field with the division. He then said to me, “This test will not prove anything. The people in the division could make any concept work.”
Fardink: In February 1963 at Ft. Benning, GA, the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) and the attached 10th Air Transport Brigade were activated. MG Harry W. O. Kinnard, the veteran G-3 of the 101st Airborne Division’s 1944 Battle of the Bulge, would lead these units. Under his command and leadership, these units would validate the airmobility concepts of the Howze Board and then later deploy to Vietnam as the 1st Air Cavalry Division. In your capacity as the commander of the Test, Evaluation, and Control Group charged with conducting and evaluating these tests, did you encounter any interesting moments?
Williams: About halfway through Air Assault II, the field test of the 11th Air Assault Division, a very senior group from DC came to observe the exercise. I was commanding general of the Test Evaluation and Control Group. From my viewpoint, the two key members of the group were GEN Harold K. Johnson, who had just become Chief of Staff of the Army, and Dr. Alain Enthoven, Director of Operations Research in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. This was my first meeting with GEN Johnson. I knew and had worked with Dr. Enthoven when I was in OSD. Dr. Enthoven dominated the questions, continuing to challenge our measurements of such things as mobility.
I finally explained to the group that finding agreed-upon criteria for this test seemed impossible; and, to illustrate my point, I told an off-color story about two drunks at a bar bragging about certain measurements – I will leave it at that. When the meeting ended, GEN Johnson motioned for me to step outside with him. He braced me like I was a plebe at West Point and lectured me that general officers do not tell stories like I did.
Fardink: Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara is frequently given credit for his support of Army Aviation during this period of incredible growth. Army aircraft numbers grew from approximately 6,000 in 1962 to over 12,000 in 1970, the peak year. It is obvious that he was a driving force. Could you expand on this?
Williams: Our best friends and supporters in OSD were Dr. Enthoven and his group of Operations Research Specialists, and Secretary McNamara listened to them.
Fardink: General Hamilton H. Howze obviously had great trust in you since you were selected to edit and review his magnificent autobiography A CAVALRYMAN’S STORY Memoirs of a Twentieth-Century Army General (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996) shortly before his death on December 8, 1998. You also wrote the Foreword to the book. Could you kindly describe your relationship with GEN Howze during your Army and subsequent careers?
Williams: He was my mentor and very close friend to the very end. He is recognized as the intellectual force behind the concept of airmobility and the beginnings of the current U.S. Army Aviation doctrine. Howze’s chairmanship of the now-famous Howze Board in 1962 led to the implementation of modern helicopter warfare, an innovation that has characterized every conflict from Vietnam to Desert Storm and beyond. In helicopter warfare, helicopters are integrated into the Army forces to carry out maneuver, fire support, intelligence, air defense, logistics, and battle command. The concept has been known as Air Cavalry and as Air Mobility, but the most popular title in use today is the title GEN Howze gave it in 1962 – Air Assault.
A final thought: In GEN Howze’s excellent book, A CAVALRYMAN’S STORY, he concludes his chapter on the Howze Board with the following concern, “As I write this (1996), the Army has one very capable Air Assault Division, the 101st, but no air cavalry brigades as we envisioned them. It does, however, have in its new Aviation Branch a very considerable capacity for combat, anywhere…
The Board in all its recommendations considered basic the idea that Army Aviation, to achieve maximum effectiveness, had to be closely integrated into the structure of the combat branches.” Today, this capacity has indeed been integrated with 21 combat aviation brigades (CAB). Thirteen are active duty units and eight belong to the National Guard.
The CAB is the Army Aviation equivalent of the brigade combat team (BCT) supporting the Army’s modular force transformation. As a division deploys, a combat aviation brigade goes with it. A CAB contains, on average, 2,700 troops and 120 aircraft which is dependent on one of three possible configurations: light combat, heavy combat and full spectrum.
While the dream of seeing air cavalry brigades did not come to fruition during Howze’s lifetime, the 21 CABs serve today as a legacy to the foresight and vision of this great Army general, Hamilton Howze, and all Howze Board members.
Delbert L. Bristol, Hamilton H. Howze, Harry W.O. Kinnard, John Norton, George P. Seneff and Robert R. Williams, are all inductees of the Army Aviation Hall of Fame.
LTC (Ret.) Paul Fardink is a retired Army Aviator and life member of AAAA. He is also a member of the American Helicopter Society’s History Committee and enjoys writing about Army Aviation history.
1 Editor’s Note: See page 236, A Cavalryman’s Story, by Hamilton H. Howze. Howze states: “McNamara suggested that I be made a member of what he called a committee, and he named eight others as well.” Earlier in the narrative, he writes about Gavin’s decision to choose him as the first director of Army Aviation, page 179: “’Gentleman’ Jim Gavin. . . had selected me, I judge because of my demonstrated emphasis on mobility in the tactics of ground warfare, to become the first director of Army Aviation.