Saturday, May 7, 2011

What was the 4th Battalion, 77th Field Artillery?

The press never did get it right. 

To them, every Cobra (snake) was a gunship. But then, the Cavalry did receive its fair share of press coverage. So, I guess from that perspective, yes, every Cobra used in Vietnam was a gunship.

For us, for the 4th Battalion, 77th Aerial Field Artillery (AFA), there was a huge difference between houw we used our snakes and the way the Cavalry did.
So, what was the 4th Battalion, 77th Aerial Field Artillery?

Two answer this question, you also have to consider the need and the conditios that satisfied that need.

In Vietnam, three key conditions caused supporting our troops with protective artillery support.  
  1. Terrain features from the location where the artillery could be fired was blocked from reaching its intended target due to obstructions -- mountains -- that got in the way.
  2. When you look up above you, unless you're in a building, your view of the sky is pretty much what you see.  Conversely, in Vietnam, that sky could be obscured by foliage. Indeed that foliage could be think enough and high enough to cause conventional artillery to explode above the intended target. The levels of foliage is known as double and triple canopy.
  3. Large rounds such as the 105mm and 155mm may actually work and get to the intended target, but in truth kill more or as many friendly soldiers as it killed the enemy soldiers.
These conditions needed to be addressed. There needed to be a means by which close range artillery support - with  a smaller yet effective kill range could be deployed. A more precise targeting methodology dictated the need to visual view the situation and --unlike conventional blind grid coordinates to establish target acquisition -- this platform needed to see the situation and react accordingly. 

Based on this mandate, the most logical choice was a Cobra. With its sleek 36 inch wide target signature, at 3,000 feet you could bearely see it diving at you.  Much less hit it with ground fire. It offered over 108 degree view of the situation and was more than capable of getting the job done.

But this aerial artillery flying platform also needed to carry out to the location where the support was needed enough rockets to mark and stay on target until another pair of Cobras could continue the mission. Therefore, carrying a total of 72 2.75 inch rockets out to a location where friendly forces required very close artillery support was sufficient enough -- when combined with the mini gu and 40mm gernade launcher -- to get the job done. 
In pairs of 2, the two seat Cobra was able to provide warhead payloads of both 10 and 17 pound weights. These rockets also included a variety of different and imaginative ways to get to the enemy and stop them from killing us.
What made the Cobra such an attractive aerial firing platform was its canopy view and the fact that line of site firing angles enabled target accuracy and very close support.
Conventional artillery -- meaning ground based -- could not often see targets, were not able to penetrate through the foliage before prematurely exploding, and were simply too large in terms of kill range.
So, they were less effective.
But the Aerial Rocket Artillery Cobras had some issues as well. Weight was one of them. In order to carry all of those rounds out to a grid based fire mission, less fuel could be carried. So the Battery required more Cobras and some kind of logical method of deployment had to be created.
It also had to take into account the rather vigorous maintenance schedule.
So, with this in mind, a 2 minute section, 5 minute section, 15 minute section and a standby section was developed.
That meant 8 out of 12 Cobras were actively being dedicated to supporting friendly forces. Or from a maintenance perspective 67% of the resources were dedicated to being 100% combat ready.  This allowed for two Cobras to be used for other non-combat related missions.
The 2 minute designation did not mean that when Division Artillery hand off a fire mission the 2 minute section would be on target by then.  It meant that within 2 minutes the pilots were alerted and the cobras would start lifting off the ground within that time.

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