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The OV-10’s last hurrah

It was recorded that the OV-10 Bronco experienced its last combat hurrah under the United States Armed Forces during the operations of the 1991 Gulf War, but in 2016 it was called from retirement. The newly-modified OV-10G models were sent to hammer ISIS in Syria.

During the Desert Storm of 1991, the coalition led by the United States benefited from the latest combat aircraft and military technologies, but also utilized some of the oldest model planes that were functioning during that time.
Airplanes such as the F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighter, designed to avoid radar detection, flew alongside the likes of the legendary Boeing B-52 Stratofortress (developed in the 1950s), and our own beloved North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco.

The Persian Gulf War: A brief history

The 1991 war originated from a tense geopolitical environment in the Persian Gulf. More specifically, it came from a sudden, surprising and fiery speech delivered by Iraq’s then-president Saddam Hussein.

Before this, there was a heavy air of expectation from countries all over the world and especially inside the Middle East that Hussein would finally turn towards peace and withdraw Iraqi armed forces stationed in areas that they have long held. These expectations came from Iraq’s foreign minister who attended the July 1990 Geneva Convention. During these times, the future seemed bright for the Middle East.

Alas, it was only darkened by the speech given by Hussein. There were three points to note from his speech: (1) Hussein accused neighbor nation Kuwait of siphoning crude oil from Rumaila, a super-giant oil field located in Southern Iraq 20 miles from the border of Kuwait; (2) Hussein insisted that Kuwait and Saudi Arabia cancel out Iraq’s foreign debt amounting to 30 billion USD; and (3) that Hussein was suspicious of the two said countries keeping oil prices low in order to indulge the needs of the United States.

Briefly after he had delivered his speech, Hussein began amassing Iraqi troops along the border of Kuwait. This caused worries to soar among the heads of state in the Middle East. Egypt’s president of that time, Hosni Mubarak, began negotiations between the concerned parties only for Iraq to step out of the negotiation table after a short two hours.

On August 2 1990, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait began. It garnered disapproval and condemnation from two-thirds of the 21-member Arab League, the king of Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait’s government-in-exile. Those who condemned this act of aggression turned towards the US and the NATO for support.

Operation Desert Shield – Desert Storm

The United States, Britain and the Soviet Union immediately condemned Iraq’s trooping into the nation of Kuwait. The United Nations Security Council gave Iraq a deadline to withdraw from Kuwait: January 15, lest the intervening nations would be authorized all necessary means of force against Iraq. January 15 passed with no word and no sign of withdrawal whatsoever from Iraq’s military forces.

Operation Desert Shield was the chain of events leading up to the deadline, wherein the United States continuously deployed armed forces to Saudi Arabia, along with Egypt, other NATO allies, and several Middle Eastern nations. This buildup was designed to defend against a possible attack on Saudi Arabia.

Operation Desert Storm began the day immediately after January 15, and was the combat phase of the US’ participation in the Gulf War. What can be simply described as the utter decimation of Iraqi forces, the first few days of Operation Desert Storm consisted of bombing sorties rapidly and consistently pummeling Iraqi military targets, with over 2500 missions a day, for many days.

The OV-10 Bronco during Operation Desert Storm

The US Marines sent Marine observation squadrons VMO-1 and VMO-2 to bases in Saudi Arabia despite doubts about the effectiveness of the OV-10 Bronco in a desert environment.

The Middle East is a great expanse of desert with long stretches of nothing but sand—an environment completely opposite to the one which the OV-10 Bronco was designed for, AKA the tropical jungles of Southeast Asia. Flying and fighting in the desert proved to be different from the fighting in Vietnam, but this difficulty was overcome thanks to improved equipment and new techniques.

OV-10s performed duties similar to those they had during the Vietnam War. OV-10 pilots during the Gulf War flew as forward air control, to report relays and for other reconnaissance missions.

The most significant threat faced by the OV-10 during the time of Desert Storm were shoulder-launched heat-seeking missiles dished out by Iraqi ground troops. The A-model Bronco was at a great disadvantage to this as compared to its later D-model types. The D-model had the ALQ-144 “disco light” IR jammer installed which helped derail the tracking mechanisms of heat-seeking missiles. The A-model enjoyed no such benefit, resulting in two incidents where an OV-10 was shot down, before their squadrons were assigned to lower-threat areas and a greater emphasis on D-models was circulated.

Operation Desert Storm: Conclusion

A ceasefire was declared on February 28 effectively ending the Gulf War. Iraq, according to the defined terms of peace, recognized Kuwait’s sovereignty as a state and relinquished all its weapons of mass destruction. Iraq did not leave Kuwait untouched. In Iraq’s retreat from Kuwait, a reported 600 to 700 oil wells were set on fire in their wake causing massive health and environmental damage to the region and its citizens, as well as to the world in what was to be known as the Kuwaiti oil fires of 1991.

The OV-10 has soared, lived and seen action from the Vietnam War of the 1960s, the Persian Gulf War of 1991, and the fight against the ISIS terrorist organization last 2016 and 2017. The venerable plane is also in service in other countries as well as other departments in the US. Foreign countries such as Venezuela, Colombia, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia all have combat-ready squadrons of OV-10s. The Bronco is also in active service with the California Department of Forestry and Fire, the US Department of State and even NASA.

To this day, the plane holds a special place in the hearts of people and veterans alike, as well as in the history of the American military.