US Air Force, November 12, 2015 - FORT POLK, La. by Capt. Joseph Bush – After five hours of flying an OH-58D over Fort Polk, La., Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jason Richards, a Kiowa Pilot with 1-17 Cavalry Squadron, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, respond to troops in contact with enemy armored mechanized vehicles. He immediately engages the rear of the column destroying two and damaging another before going bingo (near empty) on fuel, and return to quickly refuel and get back into the fray.
While at the Forward Area Refueling Point, (FARP) his wingman is shot and taken out of the fight. Richards returns to the fight single ship. Om his way out he picks up a new wingman, an A-10 Warthog flying overhead about four miles out. Chief Richard begins calling in the targets for the fixed wing aircraft to engage. He continually exposes his helicopter, so when the opposition force comes out of hiding, to engage his Kiowa, they are met with a barrage of 30mm gunfire from the A-10.
This was the scene on Nov. 9 during 1st Brigade Combat Team’s Joint Readiness Training Center Rotation 16-02. It is the last rotation of the Kiowa’s before they are shipped off to their final resting place in the Arizona desert at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in mid-2016.
“I’m glad to see they’re here, but it pains me to know they are going away,” said Maj. Adam Camarano, the Operations Group Aviation Division S-3 Trainer and former OH-58D pilot.
Camarano said the initial last scheduled Kiowa rotation at JRTC was earlier this year, but due to the 82nd Airborne Division’s Global Response Force mission, it was deemed that 1-17 CAV, would participate as additional aerial reconnaissance in the rotation as the AH-64 Apaches begin to transition into the reconnaissance and quick response role.
As part of the Global Response Force, the Kiowa’s are air landed by a C-130 or C-17 aircraft, and they are in the fight in less than 2 hours from wheels down to skids up. With the Apache taking over the role, the 82nd CAB is testing the AH-64’s capabilities and procedures needed for them to take over the fight.
“Reconnaissance is a mission, not an airframe,” said Camarano in reference to the Kiowa Pilots being retrained on the Apaches transition. “Making the transition with the Kiowa pilots will cross-pollinate the recon mindset to Apache.”
“They’re taking it whole hog,” said Richards, who has been flying the OH-58D since 2004 and in both Iraq and Afghanistan. “It’s hard to change the mindset from the inside to the new suedo-recon role.”
Richards said they need the Kiowa pilots’ mentality to not just look at the deep fight but the shorter fight. He adds local area security built from the mindset of the recon pilots make the new aerial attack squadrons work effectively.
The Apache will be outfitted with an L2-MUM, an unmanned aerial vehicle uplink, so the AH-64 pilots can have eyes forward on the battlefield in order supply intelligence that the ground commanders needs and still engage without being detected.
“One of the drawbacks is that UAV’s can’t get people to come out because they can’t see them,” said Richards. They see us and we scare them, and that forces them to come out and fight, then we shoot them.”
The 82nd CAB will send their Kiowa’s off for decommission next summer to meet the Army’s final decommission timeline of December 2016. The remaining pilots of the 1-17 CAV will be retrained as Apache Pilots or be moved to another job. For many of them this rotation will be their final ride into the sunset on the OH-58D Kiowa.