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    The End of an Era: OH-58 Kiowa

    NASHVILLE, TN, UNITED STATES

    01.01.2016

    Story by 1st Sgt. Robin Brown 

    Tennessee National Guard Public Affairs Office

    The rotor blades spun on the last nine of Tennessee's 30 OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters as they departed their units in Louisville, Tenn. and Jackson, Tenn., for the last time November 30. The Tennessee Army National Guard was the last National Guard unit to have the Kiowas, which were sent to a scrap yard in Arizona as part of the Army's divestment of the airframe.

    "It's kind of bittersweet," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Peter Neveu, maintenance test pilot with the Tennessee Army National Guard's 1/230th Armored Cavalry Regiment. "Our main mission has been to keep the bad guys from shooting the good guys and I think the Army is going to miss it."

    It took three separate trips during November 2015 to get all of the state's remaining aircraft to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), known as the "bone yard," which adjoins Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz. AMARG is a joint service aerospace storage and maintenance facility managed by the Air Force. Neveu took part in all three trips.

    "We don't have to do anything when we drop them off. It's their helicopter. They shake our hand, say thank you, and we walk away from it," said Neveu. "It's a different feeling, kind of painful, knowing we have flown all of these aircraft in different countries and now see them being torn down for storage. It hurts a little bit." The aircraft is partially disassembled for long term storage.

    Tennessee's Kiowa Warriors joined more than 140 OH-58 helicopters already turned in just this year alone, as well as some C-5 Galaxy and C-130 Hercules aircraft from the Tennessee Air National Guard's 164th Airlift Wing based in Memphis, Tenn., and the 118th Wing in Nashville, Tenn. In 2013, there were more than 330 Kiowas in the Army's inventory, with 30 of those in the National Guard.

    "The Army made the decision that the OH-58 airframe was going to be taken out of the inventory," said Maj. Gen. Max Haston, Adjutant General, Tennessee National Guard. "It has been in service since Vietnam. It's a great airframe."

    Ultimately, the Army wanted to reduce the overall number of airframes in its inventory. "It was a mathematical decision," explained Haston.

    The OH-58 Kiowa helicopter has been used continuously by the Army since its inception in 1969. In May of that year, Maj. Gen. John Norton, commanding general of the Army Aviation Material Command, received the first OH-58A Kiowa at an official ceremony at Bell Helicopter's plant in Fort Worth, Texas. After only two months, the first batch of helicopters were arriving in Vietnam for use in the war. Ultimately, 2,200 would be built between 1966 and 1989.

    Development and Operational History

    "The 58-D has been very reliable the entire time I've flown in it," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Andrew Farrell, a master gunner for the OH-58D with the 1/230th ACR. "It tends to always be available when nothing else is," he added.

    The OH-58 is a single-engine, single-rotor military helicopter used primarily for observation, utility, and direct fire support. The OH-58D model, also known as the Kiowa Warrior, is mostly used as an armed reconnaissance helicopter to support troops fighting on the ground. The Kiowa Warrior is the armed version of the OH-58D.

    In October 1960, the Navy began accepting proposals, as part of an Army-Navy design competition board, from several helicopter manufacturers. In May 1961, Bell was announced as one of the winners. The original model Bell presented was later rejected by the Army because it lacked cargo space and provided cramped quarters for the aircrew. The Army then chose a design by the Hughes Tool Co. Aircraft Division, but, in 1967, the Army reopened the competition for bids because the company couldn't meet the contractual production demands. Bell resubmitted a redesigned aircraft with more cargo space and a more aesthetic appearance. In the end, Bell underbid Hughes and the Bell 206A was designated the OH-58A "Kiowa" helicopter, following the Army's naming convention honoring Native American tribes.

    By the 1970s, the Army wanted to improve the capabilities of their scout aircraft, but found that the OH-58A lacked power for operations in higher altitudes and hot temperatures.

    Looking for a new scout helicopter, in March 1974, the Army created a special task force at Fort Knox, known as the Advanced Scout Helicopter (ASH) Program. The requirements the Army wanted met were an aircraft capable of performing during the day and night, in adverse weather conditions, and compatible with advanced weapons systems planned for development and fielding in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the ASH program didn't get off the ground because Congress declined to provide funding for it in the fiscal year 1977 budget and the program was closed in September 1976.

    In 1979, the decision was made to defer development of a new aircraft in favor of modifying existing airframes. The development of the Mass-Mounted Sight (MMS) was the primary focus to improve aircraft capabilities. The MMS gave aircraft additional mission capability through target acquisition and laser designation in both day and night, as well as better visibility during adverse weather. Prior to the Kiowa, helicopters couldn't fight very well at night. At the time, there were only flares to light up the sky.

    "The MMS was really good for the time period when it was initially put on the aircraft; but as far as today's technology goes, it lacked reliability," explained Farrell. "So divestiture of it is really a good thing. There were other choices for sights that could have been mated to this aircraft, but they chose not to move forward with those."

    Initially, two aircraft were evaluated to use this system, the OH-58 and the UH-1 Huey, but the UH-1 was dropped from consideration due to its larger size and ease of detection. But, the OH-58 demonstrated a dramatic reduction in detectability with MMS.

    Another distinctive feature of the OH-58 is the wire strike protection system. These are the knife-like extensions above and below the cockpit. This system protects 90 percent of the frontal area of the helicopter from striking telephone and power lines at low altitudes. The system directs the wires to the upper or lower blades, cutting them before they can entangle the rotor blades or landing skids.

    "It was first used on the Kiowa and now it's widespread throughout the Army fleet," said Farrell. The Kiowa was the first helicopter to test this system, which was later adopted by the Army for most of their helicopters. "They work just as advertised."

    The modification of existing airframes became known as the Army Helicopter Improvement Program (AHIP). Bell and Hughes once again redesigned aircraft to compete for the contract. In September 1981, Bell Helicopter Textron was awarded the development contract and the first prototype flew in 1983. The aircraft, known as the OH-58D, entered service in 1985, fulfilling its role as the Army's multipurpose helicopter utilized for troop transport, medical evacuation, and external lift missions using cargo hook. This model would eventually become what is in use today and known as the Kiowa Warrior.

    "It started out just kind of attaching different systems on it, like velcro," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Brad Hutsell, an instructor pilot with the 1/230th ACR. "It started out with stinger missiles, then hellfire missiles were added later on. An upgraded version of the .50 caliber machine gun was tested before we went to Afghanistan, but it did not come to fruition."

    Hutsell also said that the MMS had been improved over the years, as well as internal computer systems within the aircraft and the engines.

    The Warrior was developed through the AHIP program due to hostile gunboats patrolling and placing explosives in the Persian Gulf at night in 1987. A small armed helicopter was needed for interdiction. Bell completed the Warrior model in less than 100 days. Known as Operation Prime Chance, 15 OH-58D helicopters were shipped to the Persian Gulf aboard Navy vessels to protect vital sea lanes for the world's oil supply. During Operation Prime Chance, Kiowas escorted oil tankers during the Iran-Iraq war. OH-58D operations primarily entailed reconnaissance flights at night, rotating from the Navy's Mobile Sea Base Hercules and other combatant ships to a land base every one to two weeks, with no loss of personnel. After just two incidents, the gunboats would no longer venture out at night. When Hercules was deactivated in September 1989, all but five helicopters returned to the United States. The modified armament to support Operation Prime Chance became the basis for the weapons and fire control systems for the Kiowa Warrior.

    In 1989, the Kiowa had a small role in Operation Just Cause, a US-led action in Panama that eventually ousted Manuel Noriega from power. It was during Just Cause that a team consisting of an OH-58 and an AH-1 Apache were part of the Aviation Task Force during the securing of Fort Amador in Panama. The Kiowa was fired upon by Panama Defense Force soldiers and crashed 100 yards away, in the Bay of Panama. The pilot was rescued, but the co-pilot died.

    During Operation Desert Storm, 115 deployed OH-58D helicopters participated in a wide variety of critical combat missions and were vital to the success of the ground forces mission. During Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the Kiowas flew nearly 9,000 hours with a 92 percent fully mission capable rate. The Kiowa Warrior had the lowest ratio of maintenance hours to flight hours of any combat helicopter in the Army. In the 1990s, it was utilized around the world in support of US forces, including Haiti, Somalia and Bosnia. All OH-58D aircraft have now been converted to the armed Kiowa Warrior configuration.

    Kiowa Warrior Comes to Tennessee

    In 1991, Congress appropriated money to procure 36 OH-58Ds for the National Guard, allowing the active Army to use the assets in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm if required. The active component absorbed all 36 aircraft, eventually issuing 15 to the Mississippi National Guard in 1994. It would be decided in 1996 and fiscal year 1997 that the Tennessee National Guard's 4th Squadron, 278th Armored Calvary Regiment, would receive 24 of the aircraft. They were the last National Guard unit equipped with the Warrior model. At the time, Tennessee had 20 OH-58D qualified aviators and no aircraft with which to train.

    Bell helicopter started producing Warrior models for the 278th in 1996. Brig. Gen. Gus Hargett, Tennessee's Assistant Adjutant General for the Army at the time, went to the assembly plant and saw them on the line. The 278th ACR was already written on the helicopters and on the production orders for 16 aircraft. However, by 1998, the Tennessee National Guard still didn't have any of the aircraft. Tennessee leadership adamantly pressed congressmen and senators to get their helicopters back in the state.

    "We are talking about millions of dollars worth of equipment that will be coming into East Tennessee and will have far reaching impacts on the local economy for that area, as well as enhance the rest of the state," said Tennessee Army National Guard Lt. Col. Bob Mitchell in 1998, who is now retired. "This is bigger than the 278th ACR, this is about the Tennessee Army National Guard."

    Counterdrug Operations

    In 1989, Congress began to expand the military’s support role to conduct military training exercises in drug interdiction areas. The Department of Defense became the lead federal agency for the detection and monitoring of aerial and maritime transit of illegal drugs into the United States. In response to this mandate, the Army National Guard Bureau created the Reconnaissance and Aerial Interdiction Detachments (RAID) in 1992.

    Several OH-58As were modified for counterdrug operations. Modifications included the addition of thermal imaging systems, enhanced navigational equipment and high skid gear. RAID initially consisted of aviation units in 31 states that utilized 76 specially modified OH-58As to assume the reconnaissance/interdiction role in the fight against illegal drugs. In 1994, 24 states conducted more than 1,200 of these missions. Utilizing the capabilities of the OH-58A, several of these missions took place at night. Eventually, the program was expanded to cover 32 states utilizing 116 aircraft.

    The RAID program's mission was later expanded to include the war against terrorism and supporting Border Patrol activities in support of homeland defense. The National Guard RAID units' area of operation is the only one in the Department of Defense that is wholly contained within the borders of the United States.

    As equipment continued to be modernized, the Army National Guard gained nine OH-58C helicopters and 15 Kiowa Warriors in FY 1994.

    The 1/230th ACR was tasked for border protection operations during Kosovo in 1998 and 1999.

    "We were in operations throughout the country as a multinational force for peacekeeping operations," said Hutsell. "We maintained the peace as they dealt with the situaiton."

    June through October of 2007, the Tennessee National Guard took part in Operation Jump Start.

    "Jump Start was National Guard Bureau's involvement with border operations, particularly utilizing aviation assets," explained Hutsell. "They were outfitting other aircraft for a longer term solution. We were interim to fill the gap until they got those aircraft done."

    "We had a mission set every day, mostly at night, and mostly utilizing the night vision and thermal capabilities of the aircraft," he added. "It was one of the first instances where we had to figure out how to work communication capabilities with civilian agencies."

    In 2012, the Tennessee National Guard flew 185 counterdrug related missions, resulting in 1,785 arrests, 268 weapons seized and 1,811 meth labs found and destroyed. The Tennessee National Guard's Counterdrug Task Force has worked with communities across the state since the 1980s. They do more than just eradicate drugs by spotting them from helicopters. The Task Force is also responsible for anti-drug education programs, operating summer camps across the state for juvenile offenders as an alternative to state custody, and providing intelligence analysis for federal drug-trafficking cases.

    Prior to losing several Soldiers due to budget cuts, the Task Force conducted roughly 450 classes each year at more than 70 schools and other groups across the state.

    The Tennessee National Guard does have a few LUH-72 Lakota helicopters to continue working the counterdrug mission in lieu of the Kiowas. These were the first brand new, never before used aircraft the state has ever received. Initially, there were only four in the state, making it difficult to keep up with the counterdrug requirements.

    "I asked, just for standardization training, if we could fly our OH-58Ds and it worked out superbly well," said Haston. "Counterdrug is reconnaissance and that's what the OH-58 is designed for. So now that we've lost those, our complete counterdrug program will depend on the supply and support company of the four LUH-72s. It will tax the flying hours for those aircraft."

    Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom

    The Kiowa was never the Army's first choice, but it has proven itself time and again in modern air cavalry operations. The Army utilized the OH-58D during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

    Unfortunately, the higher-density altitude in Afghanistan caused complications for the underpowered, single-engine helicopter. Due to combat and accidents, more than 35 airframes were lost, and 35 pilots were killed. The Kiowa has also been credited with saving lives, having been used to rescue wounded Soldiers despite its small size.

    According to Bell, as of 2013, the OH-58 has more than 820,000 combat hours. From 2001 to 2010, the OH-58D accounted for nearly 50 percent of all Army reconnaissance and attack missions flown in Iraq and Afghanistan, the highest usage rate of any other Army aircraft.

    "It was a very fulfilling experience knowing the Soldiers on the ground knew we were in the air to protect them," explained Neveu, who deployed as a pilot in both Operations. "The fact that just our rotor noise keeps bad guys at bay is what makes our job worthwhile and that's why we all love to do this job."

    Misfortune Befalls Tennessee Aviators

    With all the skill and positive mission accomplishment stories that come along with the OH-58, Tennessee has also experienced tragedy; not once, but twice.

    "When we went to flight school, they talked about it's not if you're going to lose a friend in aviation, it's when," said Neveu. "What we do is inherently risky. We are all a huge family-it has such a great impact to all of us and we all suffer."

    In 2010, two Tennessee Army National Guard pilots were killed in a helicopter accident in Iraq. Capt. Marcus Alford and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Billie Jean Grinder were killed when their OH-58D suffered a hard landing near Qayyarah Airfield. The Soldiers were assigned to Troop C, 1/230th Air Cavalry Squadron based in Louisville, Tenn.

    Later, in 2011, two more of Tennessee's National Guard aviators were killed while conducting a routine training mission in an established training area in Campbell County, Tenn. The Kiowa struck power lines, resulting in a catastrophic accident that claimed the lives of 1st Lt. Thomas Williams, Jr., and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Daniel Cole.

    "We all know what loss is and it hits pretty hard. We have to take it in stride and keep moving on. That's what we've done to do our mission," Neveu said.


    Divestment

    "What we flew was modernized," said Haston. "Our oldest OH-58D was newer than our newest UH-60 (Blackhawk)." Now, the time has come to retire the OH-58 fleet. The Army has been trying to find alternatives for years.

    The first attempt to replace the OH-58 came in 2004 with the RAH-66 Comanche. This was cancelled the same year. The ARH-70 was the second choice for replacement, but the airframe was scrapped in 2008. Fiscal restraints and cost overruns at that time kept delaying the inevitable.

    "When I came to the Tennessee National Guard from the active duty Army in 1983, we had 83 aircraft. Over my career, we have gone through 32 different airframe modernizations," said Haston. "We will end up with less than 40 rotary wing aircraft in the Tennessee National Guard. That's a significant capabilities loss."

    The original OH-58 was designed to fly about 14 hours each month; however, it averaged 85 to 90 hours a month. As a result of its heavy use in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Kiowa Warrior underwent major upgrades and modifications, including the Cockpit and Sensor Upgrade Program (CASUP) and weight reduction program. The CASUP featured a nose-mounted targeting and surveillance system in addition to the MMS. This resulted in the OH-58F.

    The first OH-58F was finished in October 2012. The Army designed and built the new variant itself to lower costs.

    "It's the first time that the Army has been the system integrator for a new mission design series or new aircraft," said Lt. Col. Mat Hannah, the Army product manager for the OH-58F in 2012.

    The F model weighs about 200 pounds less than the D model. The weight savings are attributed to more efficient wiring and a lighter sensor. The first production F models were built in 2013 with its first flight in April of that year. The Army had planned to remanufacture all A, C, and D models to the F model, and the first operational squadron was to be equipped by 2016. An estimated 321 aircraft were scheduled to be upgraded to the F model. Each helicopter conversion was estimated to cost between $4 million and $5 million, according to Hannah.

    In the first quarter of 2014, Bell received a stop work order for the F model program, shortly after the Army ended the Armed Aerial Scout (AAS) Program in late 2013 due to sequestration budget cuts. AAS was the third replacement option for the OH-58. Now, the Army has ended the F model CASUP upgrades and is retiring the entire Kiowa fleet. Upgrades were estimated to cost about $10 billion.

    "We did not find a single aircraft out there that could meet Army requirements," said Lt. Gen. William Phillips, the principal military deputy for acquisition, during testimony before Congress on May 8, 2013. This came after evaluating five aircraft candidates under the AAS program. Other aircraft considered included the AH-6I, AAS-72X, MD 540F and AW169.

    The reduction from the fleet is all in the interest of saving money and reducing the number of different helicopter types in the Army.

    "I can't afford all the fleets of aircraft I have right now. We can't afford them. It is impossible under the budget that we've been given," said former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno at an Association of the US Army breakfast in January 2014.

    The Army also planned to pull all of the Apaches from the Guard and Reserve into the active duty Army fleet to fill the scout role voided by the Kiowas.

    Divesting the OH-58 fleet is supposed to save the Army money; however, a Bell-contracted Logistics Management Institute study found that the Apache would cost $1 million more than the Kiowa per year for maintenance and fuel costs, according to Jim Schultz, Bell program director. This study also said that if the Army used an Apache in the Kiowa scout role in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, it would have cost an additional $4 billion in fuel, maintenance and operating costs.

    Additionally, the smaller size of the Kiowa is more beneficial when it comes to transporting the aircraft overseas. Apaches must be partially dismantled to be loaded onto strategic airlift and then rebuilt in theater. This can take about three hours or more. Whereas, two Kiowas can roll directly into a C-130, and then roll back out in theater and be in the air within 15 minutes.

    The downside to Kiowas is that they are more vulnerable in deployed environments, having lighter armament and armor.

    "I know in reality the Army is trying to juggle tough budget decisions, but I feel as if what I've done has been designated no longer necessary," said Farrell. "I feel the biggest loss is the effectiveness of the reconnaissance and attack mission itself, more so then the loss of the helicopter."

    "Having been in the aircraft for several years and the missions we have performed, I hate to see the aircraft and the missions go," added Hutsell. "No other aircraft fills that roll. It's an aircraft I hoped would stay around."

    The OH-58D currently reaches 20 percent of armed aerial scout mission requirements. Upgrading to the F model standard would have raised that to 50 percent. However, replacing the Kiowas with Apaches and unmanned systems in scout roles is expected to meet 80 percent of the requirements. It is unknown if the already upgraded F models will also be retired. The AAS mission will be performed by the MQ-1C Gray Eagle, AH-64 Apache, and RQ-7 Shadow aircraft until a permanent replacement is found. It is estimated the Army will be able to meet 80 percent of its AAS requirements using these Apaches and unmanned aerial vehicles.

    "As much as possible, we want the Guard and Reserve to look the same as the active component," said Odierno. "Will there be exceptions? Yes." So far, these include eliminating Apaches from the Guard fleet, in addition to the total divestment of the OH-58s.

    "We can't afford our current fleet, so we have to make adjustments," he added. "The majority of those adjustments are going to happen in our active-component aviation units."

    Maj. Gen. Haston actively spoke out against eliminating the Kiowa Warriors from the Army inventory.

    "I think it was a very bad decision because there is no aircraft that is designed to do what the OH-58D does in our inventory," said Haston. "There is no other aircraft that can do both the reconnaissance and light attack mission for close air support."

    The mission the Kiowas performed will now be shifted to Apache helicopters instead. "In my opinion, Apaches are too large and cumbersome, and not stealthy enough to do that mission," Haston added.

    With the loss of the aircraft comes the loss of jobs for Tennessee National Guard pilots, maintainers, and others who worked with the helicopters.

    "Tennessee was assigned an aviation interim maintenance company and we will lose that company," said Haston. That's approximately 300 people. "A lot of people have secondary skills that are still applicable to aviation, so we will be able to transition them over to the new aviation structure."

    "Tennessee leadership is working to ensure that Soldiers are re-classed to a required MOS," said Lt. Col. Melvin Clawson, currently J3 DOMS, Future OPS, and former Commander of the Aviation unit. "The 1/230th will reduce in size from about 700 to around 400, so some will re-class to non-aviation units." The Regiment will be reorganized as an assault helicopter battalion, primarily flying UH-60 Blackhawks.

    The first 26 Kiowas in the Army fleet to be divested came from the 6th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Wainwright, Alaska in May 2014. As part of the Army's Aviation Restructure Initiative, the unit was later deactivated in 2015 after a nine-month deployment to South Korea.

    Later the same year, the Florida National Guard said good-bye to their OH-58 fleet. Three of the Florida helicopters went to different Florida sheriff's offices. One was kept and placed as a permanent static display outside the Army Aviation Facility in the state. Florida utilized the A and C models. Tennessee and Mississippi were the only National Guard units to utilize the D model.

    "D models have never gone to a civilian agency," said Clawson. "They are not practical for civilian use because of the cost to transition them. A/C models are good for this." He added that three of Tennessee's Kiowa Warriors are being retained for static display across the state in Louisville, Jackson, and either Smyrna or Nashville. A fourth went to Tupelo, Miss. for static display there.

    "I think we have resigned to the fact that the Army is committed to the divestment, reluctantly giving up the aircraft," said Hutsell. "It has provided a lot of support over the years."

    In the end, Maj. Gen. Haston reclaimed the pilot seat to say goodbye, as the last aircraft left the state.

    "It was very nostalgic to know that its capabilities and the lives the aircraft has saved on the battlefield, that that service is no longer going to be there," said Haston about his final flight November 10. "And to know it's being flown to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to an uncertain future." It is possible for the helicopters to be sold to foreign militaries, but that has yet to be determined.

    "It felt very good to fly the aircraft," Haston added. "It showed me it can operate in an environment like the Smoky Mountains or Afghanistan. I had the privilege to be part of its final journey; it was a sad flight."

    Over the years, Tennessee has utilized the Kiowas for missions in Kosovo, support of Hurricane Katrina, Operation Jump Start, various counterdrug operations, as well as approximately 29,000 combat hours during Operation Iraqi Freedom and another 8,635 during Operation Enduring Freedom. The aircraft finally came to rest at AMARG in Arizona on November 30.

    Early December 2015, the unit was redesignated as the 1/230th Assault Helicopter Battalion.

    "I personally want to thank the pilots, the crews, the maintainers, schedulers and the refuelers. All of the people who have put their hands on that aircraft and made it the workhorse of our inventory over the past 25 years," said Haston. "It is really tough to see an old friend-a reliable piece of equipment-being divested for all the wrong reasons. There is always something new on the horizon."

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    Date Taken: 01.01.2016
    Date Posted: 07.21.2016 15:22
    Story ID: 204642
    Location: NASHVILLE, TN, US 

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