The Transformation of U.S. Army Attack Aviation and Its Struggle For Relevance After the Cold War

Date of Graduation

Spring 2004


Master of Science in Defense and Strategic Studies


Defense and Strategic Studies

Committee Chair

C. Walton


Subsequent to the formation of the United States Air Force in 1947, the United States Army developed an independent attack aviation capability. This force developed as an integral component of divisional ground maneuver units and provided a unique ability to operate in the battlespace above the ground. During the 1970s and 1980s, Army attack aviation matured as a fundamental component of AirLand Battle doctrine, designed primarily to counter Soviet forces. Disregarding sharp increases in operational requirements after the end of the Cold War, the Army degraded aircrew training and diminished organic air power to comply with budgetary and political constraints. Moreover, AirLand Battle doctrine remained relatively unchanged despite vastly different security requirements and extensive mission diversification. Consequently, the 1999 deployment of attack helicopters to Albania--an effort to employ Army aviation independent of a ground maneuver force--ended in failure because it occurred in doctrinal void. This thesis reviews the history and state of air power, demonstrates that Army attack aviation shortfalls compelled the Army to rely almost entirely on Air Force precision guided munitions (PGMs) to support rapid deployment units, and examines the tension between the Army and Air Force over close air support (CAS). Additionally, in a total abandonment of AirLand Battle doctrine, the Army excluded manned aviation force structure components from its from its new rapid deployment Stryker brigades. Rejecting Army attack aviation in favor of PGMs and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) produced a doctrinal void that remains unfilled. Finally, this thesis describes Army aviation's search for relevance and proposes a transformational path to build a useful force that is doctrinally aligned and structured to complement and enhance the Army's ground force.


Army aviation, close air support, Stryker, swarming, transformation

Subject Categories

Defense and Security Studies


© William K. Jakola