After the Cold War, the United States discarded a number of weapon systems. Politicians sought to cash in a “peace dividend” to placate voters who were happy to see the fall of the Soviet Union. With “the end of history,” we could afford those cuts, right? Less than ten years after the Soviet Union dissolved, we were proven wrong on 9/11. Our troops arguably paid the price for those cuts.
One of the systems that was retired very hastily was the OV-10 Bronco. It looks kind of funky – not attractive in the traditional sense – especially with that tail arrangement and the over-sized cockpit that looks a little bit like a greenhouse. But it was used as a platform for American forward air controllers from 1969 to 1995. The plane is still in service in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Venezuela. The Bronco can carry up to 3,600 pounds of bombs, rockets, and missiles, and originally came with four 7.62mm M60C machine guns. With a top speed of 288 miles per hour and a range of almost 1,400 miles, an OV-10D can stick around for a long time.
That upgrade is probably one of the biggest unanswered questions surrounding the current wars. While the Department of Defense gained a lot of plaudits for the way the MC-12 was developed and deployed to Iraq, suppose the DOD instead had kept enough Broncos around? The Philippines, who are in no great shakes militarily, have adapted their OV-10s to carry smart bombs.
The Bronco could very well make its comeback. SOCOM tested two OV-10G+ versions under the COMBAT DRAGON II program in recent years, actually conducting a few strikes against Taliban targets using SEAL Team 6 personnel. Those airframes were formerly Marine Corps birds that were briefly operated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Proposals for an OV-10X have surfaced as well. Among the proposed upgrades are replacing the M60 machine guns with M3s, faster-firing versions of Ma Deuce, as well as giving it the ability to carry a dozen Hellfires.
Last year, two Broncos were pulled from service with NASA and the State Department and sent to Iraq to fight ISIS. They flew 82 sorties, and reports about their performance were very favorable. (And to think that Senator John McCain (R-AZ) wanted to pull the plug on the COMBAT DRAGON II program.)
Now military experts are wondering if the decision in the 1990s to retire them from the Marine Corps and Air Force was short-sighted, saying that having a plane with the MC-12’s surveillance abilities with some GBU-12 or GBU-38 smart bombs and AGM-114 Hellfire missiles would have been very effective in supporting our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.