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Several Western nations decided that tactical aviation should remain in the army domain. We did otherwise. Those interested in Canadian Army aviation history may well ask the question, what happened during the unification process that caused Canadian Army aviation to be eventually absorbed by the air force? What were the considerations of the time? The Army had developed, fostered and funded artillery air observation, armoured air reconnaissance and transport helicopter capabilities to provide support at the tactical level. Although some technologies, such as UAVs may now supersede the former battlefield functions, importantly, the utility and transport helicopter requirement continues to exist. And notably, armed helicopters are not seen, nor considered for the army weapon inventory.

The following paper helps to set the scene, the thinking and what the author views as significant events that played out during unification.

LCol (Ret’d) A. Victor Coroy, Coordinator, Canadian Army Aviation Website


The following article is a reproduction of the version of Chapter 8, Canadian Aerospace Power Studies, Volume 2 Big Sky, Little Air Force, edited by W. A. March. The article may be found at: URL . The article has been reformatted for the website. Otherwise all content is the same as the original article.

Canada’s Army loses its Air Force:

The Royal Canadian Air Force and the Origins of 10 Tactical Air Group

This paper reflects the early judgements and opinions of the author, based on preliminary research into what the author has dubbed the Canadian Army’s air force. The paper is not necessarily consistent with any position or policy of the Department of National Defence, Canadian Forces and Members of the Canadian Army Aviation Website Editorial Board.

        In 2001 it was an honour for me to be invited to the annual gathering of the Canadian Fighter Pilots’ Association. At the time, 403 Squadron was celebrating its 60th anniversary, and as Commanding Officer, I made a special effort to represent the squadron, especially knowing as many as seven veteran 403 Squadron fighter pilots might be there. I was wearing a flight suit at the gathering, having flown a Griffon helicopter to the site. But such was not the case one year later, when I was invited to return. For that second visit I wore my air force blues. I did not have a helicopter to bring the second time around, since I had relinquished command of 403 Squadron earlier in 2002. As the second reunion began to wind down, a veteran approached, thanking me for being there. He said it was nice to finally see someone decked out in air force blue. “Last year,” he continued, “some wanker brought a helicopter, of all things; that’s not air force, what?” For a very brief moment I was speechless. “That was me,” I eventually blurted out. He made a hasty retreat. I, on the other hand, was left standing there wondering if army aviation had ever been considered a respectable part of Canada’s air power.

        Why would someone want to discount the tactical aviation element as a part of Canada’s air power, in the first place? Hugh Halliday once emphasized that “in the beginning, air power was tactical and nothing more.”1 What more proof do we need? This issue of the inclusion of army aviation in a nation’s air power is relevant to a discussion of the establishment of Canada’s Air Command, 30 years ago, because that momentous event in the history of Canada’s air power was about reclaiming all things that operated in the aerospace dimension in defence of Canada, and placing them under one air power-minded commander. But the inclusion of tactical aviation in Canada’s Air Command is a multi-faceted, complex issue. To illustrate, in 1996, I was a flight commander with 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, preparing for Command and Staff College, when a junior pilot approached me somewhat curious if not entirely confused about tactical aviation doctrine and Canada’s missing attack helicopters. Surely the 1975 assimilation of army aviation and the organization known as 10 Tactical Air Group (TAG) by Air Command reflected the importance of army aviation. Some amongst Canada’s Air Force visionaries must have felt 10 TAG was critical to a future air force. Coincident with that assimilation, however, was the demise of the Canadian Army’s anti-tank helicopter project. Were these two events connected in any way? This reflection on the establishment of Air Command in 1975 will consider this question, not in any great depth, but simply to see if we can peel away some layers of historical obscurity left by the passage of time to gain a better appreciation of that momentous event.

        This paper explores some aspects of the Canadian Army’s military air power capability - a capability that was eventually absorbed by Air Command in September of 1975. An understanding of the evolution of the Canadian Army’s “air force” may shed some light on the reasons for the assimilation by Air Command of that air force. The Canadian Army’s military air power capability had its beginnings during the closing months of the Second World War (WWII). Army visionaries recognized the value of aviation in direct support of ground forces - one of the many lessons learned from the First World War, but forgotten during the interwar period. Lessons learned during the Korean War emphasized those earlier combat experiences, reinforcing efforts to establish a military air power capability organic to Canadian Army units. By 1955, the Army was well along a path to establish its own air force.2 Helicopters and organic tactical aviation support to land forces were formally introduced as a subject of study at the Land Forces Staff College that year. While the Army was taking to the sky, however, a passive observer the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) was not. From the closing moments of WWII, when Canadian soldiers first demonstrated 98 Sic Itur Ad Astra: Canadian Aerospace Power Studies Chapter 8 Canada’s Army Loses its Air Force: The Royal Canadian Air Force and the Origins of 10 Tactical Air Group a growing interest in aviation, RCAF officers were there to shape the Army’s “above ground” activities. Three decades would pass, however, before the RCAF would assume full command of the Canadian Army’s air force in 1975. The fundamental question we seek to answer concerns what that outcome says about the Canadian Army’s cold war facility for innovation. Essentially, to what can we attribute the Canadian Army’s decision to back away from pursuit of an organic aviation capability? If the RCAF had assumed the Canadian Army was incapable of managing its own air force, was that assumption a reasonable one? Additionally, if we gain an understanding about what led the Army to so decide, and what problems proved to be such a challenge, if any, it is likely that we will understand better the momentous task that our Air Force predecessors had taken on when they established Air Command three decades ago. It will be shown that while early Army efforts to innovate were promising, as aviation doctrine grew more complex and concepts of warfare evolved, capability biases and organizational preferences may have interfered with the Canadian Army’s efforts. A greater degree of centralization may have helped to overcome the challenges the Army had been trying to deal with, and some hard decisions had to be made about the Canadian Army’s future air force.

        The inherent flexibility of military air power has been a double-edged sword. A singular, understandable focus on air superiority during the early part of WWII exposed a critical weakness in terms of another important mission: air force support to ground forces on the battlefield. An unrelenting air force focus on the air superiority role during the cold war forced many a Western army to take the matter of support to the land forces into their own hands by forming their own army air forces. Canada did not escape this controversial evolutionary period of air power history. The Canadian Army pushed for its own squadrons during WWII, and continued to do so throughout the cold war. While the Canadian Army was actively trying to create its own air force, however, it is suggested that difficulties the Army experienced with its aviation innovation led air power visionaries to fear the likelihood of a greater decline in Canada’s air power for as long as aviation remained in the hands of those without adequate experience in such matters. Therefore, this future may have been simply unacceptable for air power proponents, thus prompting them to push for greater air force centralized control of the Army’s air force.

        The Canadian Army’s air force began as a fixed-wing capability using gliders and other airplanes for spotting, reconnaissance, and mobility purposes. However, that air force gradually transformed into a helicopter-borne or aviation force beginning about 1955. By 1975, sufficient command and control of the aviation force was transferred from the Canadian Army to Air Command. As a consequence, that aviation force grew less and less organic to the Army. In his 1992 analysis in Military Helicopter Doctrines of the Major Powers, 1945–1992: Making Decisions About Air-Land Warfare, Matthew Allen claimed that the key to success in terms of the helicopter innovation in the United States (US) Army was ensuring that “helicopters did not become so independent of land forces that the integration required by air-land warfare was impossible, and at the same time they had to prevent helicopters from becoming so closely linked that their unique mobility advantage over ground vehicles was lost.”3 The degree to which aviation forces are considered organic to land force formations depends in part on the command and control measures employed. This issue of command and control featured prominently in the doctrine-based debate between the Canadian Army and the RCAF throughout the period in question. With respect to doctrine, assumptions are supposedly made about the nature of future battlefields, and those assumptions are reflected in doctrine that stipulates what the division of labour on those battlefields will be between different military capabilities.4 Doctrine, it turns out, helps to determine organizational hierarchy in military formations responsible for capabilities. Effective doctrine would have contributed to the Army’s efforts to successfully innovate in regards to the employment of helicopters in an organic air force. The Canadian Army’s effort to innovate, however, by implementing a helicopter-borne aviation force, may have introduced aviation doctrine threatening to the Canadian Army’s war-fighting philosophies. But what do we mean by innovation? Possibly the simplest definition of “innovation” is “alternative(s) to the established.”5 Implementing an innovation can be a complex act vulnerable to politics at many levels, and the politics of innovation are laid bare in those processes designed to “promote, disseminate and implement” the innovation.6 This paper is a limited exploration of the lengths to which various Canadian Army organizations may have favoured preservation of the established over introduction of alternatives.

        98 Sic Itur Ad Astra: Canadian Aerospace Power Studies Chapter 8 Volume 2 Big Sky, Little Air Force99 Canada’s Army Loses its Air Force: The Royal Canadian Air Force and the Origins of 10 Tactical Air Group in 1975, a reorganization of Canada’s military air power components culminated in the establishment of a formation known as Air Command. Up to that point, the organization of Canada’s military component of air power could best be described as a diaspora of formations, some of which were not under command of an entirely air power-minded officer. The existence of that diaspora can be attributed in part to the Canadian government’s unprecedented effort to unify the Canadian Forces, a process that had begun with the release of the government’s White Paper on Defence in March 1964.7 Of the three former services, however, it was the RCAF that was most affected by the force structure changes that followed.8

        The functional-based partitioning of the RCAF resulting from the integration process was problematic for military air power proponents for two reasons, not necessarily of the same significance. First, owing to the existence of Maritime Command and Force Mobile Command, Navy and Army officers in general could reasonably expect to rise to command their own service at the rank of lieutenant-general or vice-admiral. The same could not be said for Air Force officers who may have aspired to three stars, since the aforementioned partitioning and integration only served to close such doors for them. Secondly, and more importantly for air power proponents, under the threat of further budget constraints of the early 1970s, the Commanders of Force Mobile Command and Maritime Command were inclined to cut, if not eliminate, their components of military air power first, before cutting anything else. No air power-minded officers employed within these formations were in a position to protect, defend, or promote military air power in these formations; thus, the conditions were present to ensure air power’s future demise rather than growth.9 In some cases, senior Army commanders were unabashedly contemptuous of their Air Force brethren.10 When General Allard, the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) designate, was invited into the incumbent’s office, Air Chief Marshal Miller suggested Allard try out his chair “to see if it fit.” Allard complied, but in doing so he openly complained that “the back [of the chair] was… soft.” Allard’s written account of this event suggests nothing other than the intent to insult. A thorough analysis of other passages that hint of similar disdain for the Air Force are beyond the scope of this paper; however, it is clear from his accounts that Allard felt the Air Force as it existed exceeded that which Canada needed.11 Allard’s selection of the CF5 Freedom Fighter aircraft over other types preferred by the Air Force is an interesting case in point. As a consequence of certain events, military air power proponents worked hard to re-establish an air force to protect it from arbitrary decisions such as this, which were seemingly designed to gut Canada’s military air power capability. However, while their efforts contributed to the centralization of military air power under an Air Force commander, reorganization came at a cost. A natural evolution to the Canadian Army’s air force came to an end in September 1975, as did the Canadian Forces’ ability to participate effectively in all aspects of air-land battle—the preferred concept of war fighting at that time.

        The Canadian Army, like a number of its counterparts, had gradually developed a helicopter based air force capability. Many armies had opted to build their own such capability because air forces responsible for providing air support to those armies chose to invest instead in other military air power needs.12 In the meantime, as the cold war unfolded, the enemy’s development of massive armoured formations—or tank and mechanized infantry units - and a wide array of battlefield air defence vehicles multiplied at an alarming rate. The West soon recognized that they lacked the conventional military capability to deal with these evolving threats. “It [became] clear that… Western forces [would have to] fight at a quantitative disadvantage, and qualitative parity” if war broke out.13 The helicopter was just the sort of innovation needed because it offered improved mobility to move soldiers around the battlefield at speeds greater than those that might have been possible with tanks and the armoured personnel carriers that were the mainstay of mechanized infantry formations. The helicopter would also eventually offer more in terms of firepower. The helicopter became an important means by which land forces could improve their anti-tank capabilities. By adding an antitank version to their mobility-focused helicopter formations, many Western militaries believed they had found a more effective means of dealing with the evolving enemy armoured threat.

        The anti-tank helicopter was but one element of a four-pillared capability known as tactical aviation; the others were reconnaissance, utility, and medium-lift helicopters. In the face of the aforementioned massive armoured formations, a significant number of Western militaries undertook efforts to acquire anti-tank helicopters. And, yet, Canada was a notable exception. Neither the 100 Sic Itur Ad Astra: Canadian Aerospace Power Studies Chapter 8, Canada’s Army Loses its Air Force: The Royal Canadian Air Force and the Origins of 10 Tactical Air Group Canadian Army nor the “new” Air Force, known as Air Command, pursued to the acquisition phase an anti-tank helicopter. Royal Canadian Armoured Corps (RCAC) doctrine included references to equipping “reconnaissance helicopters… with anti-tank missiles” as early as 1962.14 Ten years later, RCAC pilots and non-commissioned crew members proved to be key players in the Ansbach Trials, during which the lethality of the missile-laden anti-tank helicopter was demonstrated.15 A plan to acquire such helicopters was in circulation in Canada, yet little seems to have come of it. Why was this so? Two possibilities seem plausible: the transformation of the Army’s helicopter force to include anti-tank helicopters may have been at odds with the Canadian Army’s views, culture, or longer term plans; or, secondly, the Army may have opted to place all their trust in the Air Force to secure for them the helicopter variants expected to be needed in future conflicts. Either the Army wanted their helicopter forces to evolve apace the evolving nature of conflict, or they did not. At the time that Air Command stood up, however, the Air Force’s focus was on fighters, not helicopters. For that it would seem part of the blame belongs to Allard and the aforementioned decision to buy the CF5 aircraft. That decision may have been one of the “last straws” for air force proponents. In 1966, Allard, an infantry officer who by virtue of having successfully completed a pilot training course was qualified to wear the Canadian Army’s flying badge, referred to himself as a “FINK,” or “Flying Infanteer with Naval Knowledge.”16 More importantly, to Allard, Force Mobile Command was a tactical command, nothing more.17 He structured it according to his perceptions of the tactical mission he had been given. His grasp of military air power doctrine, reflected in the selection of the Northrop CF5 Freedom Fighter ground-attack/reconnaissance aircraft, confirmed a greater understanding of the tactical, rather than the strategic, when it came to matters of air power.

        To the optimists among them, the end of the beginning for the Canadian Army’s air force came in 1972, near Ansbach, Germany. One long-serving member of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, Jim Grant, 18 explained that it was in fact a bit of good fortune that Canada was permitted to participate in the Ansbach [European Cobra] Trials.”19 Lieutenant-Colonel Paul D. Manson was the Canadian Forces Europe (CFE) officer apparently responsible for Canada’s “good fortune.”20 A joint steering group consisting of military personnel from Germany, Canada, and the US was formed, and Manson served as the CFE representative responsible for initial and final planning of the evaluation and conduct of the field trials.21 The senior data analyst from the US, Dr. Harrison H. Hoppes, recalled that Manson observed the trial, participating during “a number of runs.”22 Therefore, Manson’s role in the trial and interest in the results should have provided him with some early understanding as to the lethality and effectiveness of these anti-tank helicopters in a ground-attack role.23 The Ansbach Trials’ final report concluded that “anti-armour helicopters [were] extremely effective in destroying attacking enemy armour,” and that “high performance aircraft [were] not impressive [against such] helicopters.”24 It was thus declared that anti-tank helicopters outperformed most if not all other anti-armour weapons systems.

        The Ansbach Trials were “one of the most realistic experiments ever conducted on the place of helicopters in conventional warfare.”25 The trials’ conclusions pointed to the efficacy and survivability of helicopters as platforms from which one could wage more effective anti-tank warfare and thereby provide enhanced support to ground forces. The transformation of the two-dimensional battlefield into a three-dimensional battle space by the helicopter was on the verge of taking hold in 1972. By virtue of their performance in the trials, Canadian armoured reconnaissance pilots had all the skills needed for Canada to participate in the transformation, and doing so would seem to have been important to those concerned with Canada’s interoperability with the US. Finely-honed tactical helicopter anti-tank skills netted the Canadians results that exceeded by an extraordinary margin those realized by the US participants in the trials.26 Canadian helicopter crews attained a notional ratio of tanks killed to helicopters killed of 41.7 tanks per aircraft lost.27 Despite their considerable Vietnam combat experience with helicopters, the Americans could only muster a ratio of 8.6 tank kills per helicopter lost. “No matter how the statistics were sliced, the [aggregate] score was between 12- and 20-to-1 in favour of helicopters.”28

        Most who witnessed the trials felt that these ratios were quite conservative.”29 Captain Bruce Muelaner was Canada’s lead helicopter pilot,30 and his accomplishments during the trials were noteworthy. The results reinforced the not uncommonly held view that “the quality of Canadian Forces was much above the NATO average. ”31 Hoppes “was not inclined to disagree,”32 with the claim 100 Sic Itur Ad Astra: Canadian Aerospace Power Studies Chapter 8 Volume2 Big Sky, Little Air Force 101 Canada’s Army Loses its Air Force: The Royal Canadian Air Force and the Origins of 10 Tactical Air Group that Canadian skills at nap-of-the-earth flying contributed to the decision to cancel the Cheyenne helicopter project in favour of the Apache. Colonel (US Army) James W. Bradin (Retired), author of From Hot Air to Hellfire: The History of Army Attack Aviation, believed that training and military élan accounted for the Canadians’ “excellent performance.”33 Brigadier-General George Patton, Assistant Commandant Armor Center Fort Knox, had ordered Bradin to Ansbach to observe the trials.34 One of the Canadian pilots participating took Bradin flying on a mission and Bradin was so impressed with the crew’s skills that he immediately advised the US Army Colonel (Ferris) responsible for the Ansbach Trials at the time.35 It was the crew concept employed by seasoned, professional Canadian armoured corps pilots and crewmen observers that Bradin was most impressed with.36 The Canadians just seemed to take to the anti-tank helicopter role naturally.

        By the time the Ansbach trials concluded, the US Army had made a pivotal decision regarding its anti-tank helicopter program. On 10 August 1972, the Cheyenne helicopter project was officially cancelled, and the Advanced Anti-tank Helicopter Project began.37 the end result would be the purchase of the Apache helicopter rather than the Cheyenne. The former proved more manoeuvrable and more stable than the latter. This was especially important for pilots who needed to position their anti-tank helicopters close to the ground and to other obstacles such as vegetation. The ability to sneak about the battlefield at nap-of-the-earth ground-hugging altitudes was of paramount importance. Less than a year after the Ansbach Trials concluded, in November 1973, Lieutenant General V. Gatsolayev of the Soviet Union published his concerns about “the [flying] tactics of Western” helicopters. He stated that “Soviet Ground Forces and air defences had much greater reason to be concerned about helicopters than they did fixed-wing aircraft… citing [the helicopter’s] ability to change flight altitude and speed very quickly, a cargo-carrying capacity that enabled them to carry various types of guns and instruments, the fact that helicopters did not require costly and vulnerable airfields, and, most importantly, that they were much more effective against small, mobile targets than their fixed-wing counterparts.”38

        The anti-tank helicopter was the quintessential icon of the innovation that was the helicopter, and all indications are that Canadian armoured corps helicopter crews were more than just well suited for the role. During the 1970s and 1980s, tactical helicopter aviation became a manoeuvre arm in the close fight, and was the weapon of choice for nations who believed in the expansion of the battle space. “In terms of the mechanics of land warfare, the most significant innovation since [WWII] was the helicopter. It [surpassed] fixed-wing aircraft for battlefield transportation and close air support, and [gave] new meaning to the term ‘air-land battle.”39 No less than eight NATO allies set as a goal for their land forces the adoption of air-land battle standards, in which helicopters were to play a significant role.40 Perhaps astonishing to some, in the face of all this it would appear that the Canadian Army fell rather silent. The requirement for an anti-tank helicopter faded away. One Canadian Army Operational Research Study reported that “atomic powered long-range heavy tanks” with engines giving “20,000 miles cheaply” held out much promise in 1970, but the report was less optimistic about the prospects for helicopters.41

        The question remains: how does one account for what seems like Army inaction? Was the Canadian Army’s effort to implement a full-suite of tactical aviation helicopters sacrificed on the Air Command altar of higher priority air power requirements? A brief look at how organizations tend to protect themselves in the face of innovation serves to highlight some possibilities worth considering in a larger study of the evolution of the Canadian Army’s air force. It also suggests that the transformation or transition to Air Command may have had less of an impact on the antitank helicopter project than one might think. For these possibilities, we now consider additional challenges the Canadian Army faced while trying to build its fledgling air force capability, and remain interoperable with allies. It would be unfair to hold the former commander of Mobile Command accountable for all of the Air Force decisions made by the Canadian Army. After all, the RCAF had a hand in some aspects of the Canadian Army’s air force aspirations from the outset. One former senior RCAF officer who commanded the Canadian Joint Air Training Centre (CJATC) circa 1961 claimed that while Army air force training units existed within the CJATC, they were still under his (RCAF) command.42 The idea of soldiers taking to the air was anathema to a number of nations’ air forces in the wake of WWII, so we should probably not be surprised to see the RCAF’s hands so deeply in the Canadian Army’s air force pockets. The experiences of armies in the US, the United Kingdom (UK), 102 Sic Itur Ad Astra: Canadian Aerospace Power Studies Chapter 8 Canada’s Army Loses its Air Force: The Royal Canadian Air Force and the Origins of 10 Tactical Air Group and Australia testify to the rivalry that arose between the air force and army in these countries, as a consequence of army efforts to build an air force of their own. Air force leaders typically opposed army efforts to establish an organic air capability, “especially in the armed helicopter and larger transport categories.”43 Canada’s Army and Air Force did not escape this rivalry. “Like the [Royal Air Force], the [Royal Canadian Air Force] was loath to let the army fly any aircraft.”44 Regardless of their location, all army air force units were under command of the nearest RCAF Station or unit commander for the purposes of flight safety. As a result of these flight safety concerns, flight training, and other such impositions, it may not have been possible for the army to respect to the extent necessary certain tenets of air power theory.45 Such a possibility may explain why air power proponents believed that full command of the Canadian Army’s air force more properly resided in the hands of Air Command.

        The strength of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in part depended on the degree to which member nations’ armed forces were compatible with each other as the cold war unfolded. Incompatible forces, or those that were non-interoperable, became less relevant as doctrine and strategy evolved. In this vein, the Canadian Army’s efforts to establish an organic air force capability were, out of operational necessity, supposed to be compatible with those of the UK, and later, the US. Canadian divisions were eventually organized and equipped using US methods and weapons so as to “obtain experience with the US organization and equipment in view of the obvious necessity to coordinate [their mutual defence].”46 These policies of interoperability led to a considerable number of Canadian Army pilots being trained in the US during the 1950s and 1960s. As a result, these pilots could be found at the coalface of the tactical helicopter innovation. Paul Hellyer, Canada’s Minister of National Defence in the mid-1960s, appears to have believed in the helicopter-based airmobility concept, for the seeds of helicopter acquisition were sewn during his tenure. Subsequent purchases eventually led to the delivery of US-manufactured tactical reconnaissance and utility helicopters in 1971 and 1972. Claims that Canada’s tactical helicopter force used as its model the 1962 Howze Board47 testify to the extent Canada’s Army remained committed to interoperability with the US Army, in so far as tactical helicopter operations were concerned.48 Nevertheless, such an interoperability-focused desire on the part of the Canadian Army imposed increasing demands on the Canadian Army’s capital equipment requirements. One officer explained that at about this time he was responsible for delivering a $12 million cheque to the US manufacturer that built the Chinook helicopter, eight of which Canada had purchased. The cheque, he explained, represented almost the entire capital budget for the Army for that year.49 Faced with these pressures; self-preservation probably became more important for each of the Canadian Army’s sub-units that could boast of an air force capability. After all, history suggests that individual military sub-services, such as the artillery, armoured corps, or the air force, have tended to place their own survival ahead of all other concerns, regardless of what the evolving battlefield logic might be telling them about the irrelevance of the capability each has to offer.50 However, by 1972, interoperability demanded the implementation of yet another helicopter type—the anti-tank helicopter—and adoption of new strategies such as active defence, and, later still, air-land battle. As a consequence, the artillery, armoured corps, infantry, and the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps (RCASC) competed amongst themselves for shrinking funds needed to help them meet their overall interoperability aspirations. As long as each of them remained wedded to traditional war fighting methods, however, there seemed to be less and less manoeuvre space for implementing the full tactical helicopter innovation in the Canadian Army.

        As one scholar has explained, this type of competition is natural in any organization, especially the military. To Barry R. Posen51 certain factors tend to account for why states stress one type of military service or capability over another. Even within the various services (army, navy or air force) available to the state, different types of weapons tend to be privileged over others. Consequently, “military doctrine [reflects] the preferences of a group of services, a single service, or a sub-service,” such as the artillery.52 This military doctrine, therefore, is a product of the rivalry that exists amongst the various groups with a vested interest in ensuring their capabilities are reflected in the state’s military doctrine. Since rivalries tend to be resolved through compromise, it would be important to determine what compromises may have played out between the Canadian Army and Air Command, and to what extent the anti-tank helicopter played a role. Secondly, identification of the compromises 102 Sic Itur Ad Astra: Canadian Aerospace Power Studies Chapter 8 Volume2 Big Sky, Little Air Force 103 Canada’s Army Loses its Air Force: The Royal Canadian Air Force and the Origins of 10 Tactical Air Group reached by the various arms within the Canadian Army should provide a greater understanding of the evolution of the Canadian Army’s air force. For example, can the Canadian Army’s decision not to pursue an anti-tank helicopter be tied to any concerns expressed by the artillery? In other words, was the anti-tank helicopter seen as a threat to the artillery’s long-range indirect fire role? From the artillery’s perspective the anti-tank helicopter project name—Aerial Artillery Fire Support (AAFS) System—itself may have been enough to convince them of the degree to which an anti-tank helicopter threatened the artillery’s traditional role and future well-being. According to one senior officer from the US Army, a significant dispute erupted over this issue between the US Army artillery and armored branches. Owing to the “aerial artillery” reference, the artillery branch put much effort into demanding that aviation fall under their jurisdiction. In response, the commanding general of the armored corps argued that since artillery self-propelled howitzers were now “tracked vehicles,” it was clear they should belong to the armored corps.53 What for that matter, did the Canadian Army’s tank corps think of the anti-tank helicopter? Were reports that the helicopter served as a better anti-tank weapon than the tank sufficiently upsetting to the Canadian armoured corps? Are we to conclude from such events that the anti-tank helicopter was not relevant to an evolving Canadian Army? Or, was the helicopter seen as a threat to the traditional combat arms (artillery, armoured, infantry, and service corps) in Canada? Armies everywhere else fell for the helicopter, forgiving its “relatively considerable expense and extensive maintenance challenges.”54 But, at approximately $400,000 (US) each, the Cobra anti-tank helicopter was not as expensive as the fighter aircraft that were declared suitable for that role. Perhaps the Canadian Army could not overcome these financial and maintenance problems. Perhaps the Army believed that Air Command would pursue an anti-tank helicopter on its behalf, once Air Command assumed responsibility for all aspects of air power throughout the Canadian Armed Forces in 1975. Nevertheless, the probity of the Canadian Army’s decision, if one was made, possibly privileging the Army’s traditional capabilities, calls into question the kind of war for which the Canadian Army was bracing itself.

        As late as 1972, the Army’s air force consisted of three different groups operating their own different aircraft for their own purposes. Preferences and biases within the Army may explain why capability overlaps and duplication in roles were problematic. From an air force perspective, the Army seems to have been challenged in its efforts to implement army-wide air power efficiencies. The artillery, for example, was reluctant to abandon its L19 “Bird Dog” low-wing monoplanes 55 in favour of the kind of light reconnaissance helicopter their armoured corps brethren had introduced into service, despite the helicopter’s utility in the artillery mission. The armoured corps also had problems with its organic aviation, but its problems were manpower related. For example, a number of armoured corps pilots admitted to disincentives employed by career managers and senior officers in regards to any armoured corps pilot who volunteered for a second flying tour on helicopters. 56 Perhaps most interesting of all is the eight-year-long effort of one senior armoured corps officer turned-air-force helicopter pilot to discredit the very Ansbach Trial results he himself scored as a participant. Recalling that the Ansbach experiment proved anti-tank helicopters would easily destroy no less than 19 and as many as 41 tanks before a helicopter would be lost, given the conditions of the experiment, ndy Séguin could not bring himself to accept these results. In a follow-on experiment he personally devised, he came to the conclusion that based on the attacking speed of tanks and the effective range of anti-tank missiles, he and his helicopter would probably traverse the entire width of West Germany while engaging enemy tanks from the east, and would run out of time and geography before being able to take shots at that many tanks. 57 It is clear from the rest of Séguin’s testimony that he understood how such incredible results were to be achieved, based on numbers of helicopters employed and depth and breadth of defensive coverage. Yet it is revealing that a Canadian armoured corps officer-turned-helicopter pilot went to such mistaken lengths to disprove one of the more credible experiments. Finally, we can understand his motivation when we consider the lengths to which one of the other Canadian armoured corps officers-turned-helicopter pilot said about the Ansbach Trials. Despite the aforementioned and remarkable official results, published in the Ansbach Trial final report, which we are to believe Captain Bruce Muelaner had a hand in writing, Muelaner’s Canadian Defence Quarterly article is surprising for its nuance and general lack of support for the antitank helicopter concept.58 The contrast between the final report and Muelaner’s article deserves to be thoroughly deconstructed to gain a better understanding of why he seems to have chosen to discredit in that way the very results he helped to attain.

        104 Sic Itur Ad Astra: Canadian Aerospace Power Studies Chapter 8 Canada’s Army Loses its Air Force: The Royal Canadian Air Force and the Origins of 10 Tactical Air Group Under conditions like these it may have been quite difficult for a military air power element to thrive, let alone evolve. For these reasons, and many others, to be sure, the future of the Army’s individual air force elements may have seemed uncertain as the 1970s unfolded. To the extent to which it could be referred to as such, the Canadian Army’s pre-1975 air force was seemingly adrift, and perhaps, only by dint of its own air power organizational and operational experience, was Canada’s air force, now known as Air Command, able to resolve this military air power challenge by giving land aviation some sort of new direction. From its experience-based lofty vantage point the true Air Force recognized that a proper application of air power principles might help meet the army’s military air power needs. By gathering together the disparate elements of Canadian air power found within the Army, the organization known as Air Command was able to help preserve and then enhance an air force more readily dedicated to the whole Canadian Army. That post-integration, post unification air force capability dedicated to supporting Canada’s land forces was known as 10 Tactical Air Group.

        Little seems to be known about the Canadian Army’s reaction to the establishment of Air Command from a purely air force perspective. The Army appears to have made a decision to back away from such a capability, circa 1975. For reasons not readily evident, the Army abandoned that goal, accepting, possibly reluctantly, a tactical aviation capability considerably less organic to the Army. As the Canadian Army’s military air power capability grew ever more complex, did the evolution of that capability threaten to eclipse other traditional army capabilities? It might be possible to attribute the Army’s decision to shed its air force to a desire, in the absence of adequate funding, to preserve and protect core army competencies, such as tanks and artillery, instead. But, much work remains to determine the exact quality of the Canadian Army’s air force before Air Command was stood up in 1975. It would appear that that air force was in very good hands at the lowest levels. Pilots and crews flying helicopters and aircraft in the artillery, infantry, armoured corps, and service corps were dedicated, professional airmen. However, some tribalism is evident in action that can only be described in terms of protecting land forces first. How else can we account for the inability to innovate into the realm of anti-tank helicopters? The time was certainly ripe for such an endeavour, and the advent of new battlefield strategies seemed to demand such a helicopter variant. And yet, nothing ever came of the Canadian Army’s anti-tank helicopter project. Perhaps the establishment of Air Command had something to do with this turn of events, but the issue requires much more analysis.


1. Hugh A. Halliday, “Tactical Air Power: Some Observations Respecting its Origins, Development and Battlefield Impact” in The Evolution of Air Power in Canada: 1916 to the Present Day and Beyond, vol. 1 (papers presented at the 1st Air Force Historical Conference, Air Command Headquarters, Winnipeg, MB, November 18–19, 1994), 39

2. All of the RCAF Staff College (Toronto) students traveled to Kingston for joint training sessions that year. See the Directorate of History & Heritage collection of précis for the Canadian Land Force Command and Staff College, 1955.

3. Matthew Allen, Military Helicopter Doctrines of the Major Powers, 1945–1992: Making Decisions About Air Land Warfare (London: Greenwood Press, 1993), 230.

4. “Military Innovation: Technology, Strategy and the Security Environment” (course notes, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Seminar, June 2003).

5. Allen, xxvi.

6. Frederic A. Bergerson, The Army Gets an Air Force: Tactics of Insurgent Bureaucratic Politics (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 79.

7. F. R. Sharp, “Reorganization of the Canadian Armed Forces,” Air University Review, 1967. Air Marshall Sharp described Canada’s efforts as pioneering

8. K. R. Pennie, “The Impact of Unification on the Air Force,” in The Evolution of Air Power in Canada: 1916 to the Present Day and Beyond, vol. I (papers presented at the 1st Air Force Historical Conference, Air Command Headquarters, Winnipeg, MB, November 18–19, 1994), 105

9. Ibid., 107.

10. See Jean V. Allard and Serge Bernier, The Memoirs of General Jean V. Allard (Vancouver: The University of British Columbia Press, 1988), 249.

11. Ibid, 252. 104  Sic Itur Ad Astra: Canadian Aerospace Power Studies Chapter 8 Volume2 Big Sky, Little Air Force  105 Canada’s Army Loses its Air Force: The Royal Canadian Air Force and the Origins of 10 Tactical Air Group

12. Louis A. Sigaud, Air Power and Unification: Douhet’s Principles of Warfare and their Application to the United States (Harrisburg, PA: The Military Service Publishing Co., 1949), 36. See also Harold R. Winton, “A Black Hole in the Wild Blue Yonder: The Need for a Comprehensive Theory of Air Power,” Air Power History, Winter 1992, 32.

13. Steven Metz, “Centers of Gravity and Strategic Planning,” Military Review, April 1988, 23.

14. Canada, Royal Canadian Armoured Corps CAPTP 23-100, Provisional Training Précis, RCAF Helicopter Reconnaissance (includes Amendment #1), May 1962, paragraph 10, 3.

15. The evaluation of the anti-tank helicopter took place in two formats: experiments, and actual combat. The experiments were those that took place as part of the “European Cobra Trials” near Ansbach, Germany. The actual combat took place at about the same time, but in Vietnam. See J. C. Burns, “XM-26 TOW: Birth of the Helicopter as a Tank Buster” (master’s thesis, unknown location, 1994).

16. Allard and Bernier, 257.

17. See National Library of Canada XC34-271/1-11, First Session–Twenty-seventh Parliament, 1966, Standing Committee on National Defence, Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence No. 11, Tuesday, June 21, 1966, Respecting Main Estimates 1966–67 of the Department of National Defence, Ottawa, 304. In response to a question from the Chairman (David W. Groos) as to why there seemed to be a shortage of naval officer representation in Force Mobile Command, Lieutenant-General Allard responded by emphasizing that his was a tactical command.

18. Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Grant retired in 1981 after thirty years of service. In his last few years with the Canadian Forces much of his time was spent in aid of the formation of the 10th Tactical Air Group in St-Hubert, Quebec.

19. See James W. Bradin, From Hot Air to Hellfire: The History of Army Attack Aviation (Novato, CA: Presidio, 1994), 127–31. Bradin explains that the Ansbach Trials were divided into two phases, the first of which has been referred to as the “Cobra Trial.”

20. See Jim Grant, “From Pharmacy to Helicopters,” (accessed June 24, 2010).

21. NATO, Headquarters Joint Evaluation Group, Joint Anti-tank Helicopter Instrumented Evaluation, vol.2, Main Report, December 1972, 3 (hereafter cited as NATO).

22. General P. Manson, correspondence with author, n.d. He confirmed Hoppes’ claim after referring to his pilot’s log book entries for 1972, noting that he had observed as many as two Ansbach Trial experimental runs.

23. Dr. Harrison H. Hoppes, interview with author, January 8, 2005 (hereafter cited as Hoppes); General P. Manson, e-mail message to author, n.d. It was confirmed that his pilot’s log book did indicate that he did partake in at least two flights, one of which was on a Cobra attack helicopter.

24. NATO.

25. Allen, 24.

26. Bradin, 126–33. Average Canadian and German results exceeded 40 notional tanks killed to one notional helicopter lost, while the American crews were not able to exceed a ratio of 8:1.

27. One participant’s recollections were that the ratio was closer to 34:1. See Andre J. Séguin, interview by J. R. Digger MacDougall, Canadian War Museum, Oral History Program Interview Transcript, Interview Control Number: 31D.4.SEGUIN, February 9, 2004, 20.

28. Brooke Nihart, “Score: TOW/Cobras 20, Armor 1,” Armed Forces Journal 110, no. 1 (September 1972): 20.

29. Hamilton H. Howze, “The Case for the Helicopter,” Army, March 1979, 18.

30. Jim Grant, e-mail message to author, December 2004.

31. Canada, Minister of National Defence, “Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Defence Policy: The Sutherland Report” (Ottawa: September 30, 1963), Section IX, 107, para 9.

32. Hoppes.

33. Bradin, 129

34. Hoppes.

35. André “Andy” J. Séguin, “From Saint-Henri to Singapore,” in Blackdown to the Wild Blue Yonder: A Collection of Fond Memories, by Former Members of the RCASC, ed. Jim Grant, 111, http://www.tachelmemories. ca/memories/RCASC/Blackdown To The Wild Blue Yonder.pdf (accessed June 30, 2010).

36. James Bradin, interview with author, January 7, 2004.

37. While the final report for the Joint Anti-tank Helicopter Instrumented Evaluation was not released until December 1972, which would have been after the aforementioned date for the cancellation of the Cheyenne, the anti-tank helicopter phase of the Ansbach Trials was the subject of an advanced report titled “Joint Anti-tank helicopter Instrumented Evaluation, Preliminary USAREUR [US Army Europe] Report,” July 1972, and also published as Annex III of Appendix C of volume 4 of a report titled “Advanced Anti-tank Helicopter Task Force Report.” Also, Jean M. Southwell, e-mail correspondence with author, Aviation Technical Library, Fort Rucker, AL, n.d. 106  Sic Itur Ad Astra: Canadian Aerospace Power Studies Chapter 8

38. Dan Shephard, Soviet Assessments of US Close Air Support: Research Report No 86-4 (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1986), 11.

39. Christopher Bellamy, The Evolution of Modern Land Warfare: Theory and Practice (London: Rutledge, 1990), 108.

40. US, UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and Belgium.

41. Canada, Department of National Defence, Canadian Army Operational Research Establishment, Memorandum 59/10, “An Assessment of Scientific and Technological Advances of Military Interest During the Next Decade,” (Ottawa: November 1959), 9.

42. Group Captain Cliff Black (Retired), interview with author, November 1, 2004.

43. Shelby Stanton, The 1st Cav in Vietnam: Anatomy of a Division (Novato, CA: Presidio, 1999), 23.

44. D. L. Fromow, Canada’s Flying Gunners: A History of the Air Observation Post of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery (Ottawa: Air Observation Post Pilots’ Association of Canada, 2002), 31.

45. Tenets of air power may not exist. However, some work has been done to define principles or propositions of air power. See Phillip S. Meilinger, “Ten Propositions: Emerging Air power,” Air Power Journal (Spring 1996).

46. John Swettenham, McNaughton, vol. 3, 1944-1966 (Toronto, 1969), 171.

47. Lieutenant-General Hamilton H. Howze. The Army Tactical Mobility Requirements Board would eventually be referred to as the Howze Board, after the name of its chairman. The purpose of this early 1960s board was to make recommendations to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara with respect to the viability of sky cavalry in combat.

48. Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Grant, interview with author, January 20, 2005.

49. Colonel Bert Casselman, interview with author, February 14, 2005.

50. See Shelford Bidwell, Modern Warfare: A Study of Men, Weapons and Theories (London: Allen Lane, 1973), 96. See also Carl Builder, The Masks of War: American Military Styles in Strategy and Analysis (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989).

51. Associate Professor of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of The Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain, and Germany Between the World Wars (London: Cornell University Press, 1984).

52. Barry R. Posen, The Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain, and Germany Between the World Wars (London: Cornell University Press, 1984), 14.

53. The “Aerial Artillery Fire Support System” appears to have been the project name for the AH-1 Cobra anti-tank helicopter. The same name was used in Canada as late as 1973 to designate the project reflecting the Canadian Army’s interest in an anti-tank helicopter. Interview and e-mail correspondence with a US Army Colonel (Retired) and tactical aviation author, February 2005.

54. Peter Mead, Soldiers in the Air (London: Ian Allan, 1967), 81.

55. Interviews with various Air Observation Post (Air OP) pilots, January, 2005.

56. John Marteinson, interview with author, November 15, 2004.

57. See Andre J. Seguin, Canadian War Museum, Oral History Program, Interview Transcript, 20–21.

58. B. A. Muelaner, “The Search for the Best Anti-tank Defence,” Canadian Defence Quarterly 3, no. 4, Spring 1974, 24–30.

Lieutenant-Colonel Dean C. Black, CD (Retired) Dean Black was born in Lachine, Quebec, and joined the Canadian Forces in 1977, earning his pilot’s wings in November 1982. He holds a B.Sc. (1981) and an M.A. (2001) in War Studies from the Royal Military College. Dean joined the UN Mission in Haiti (1995), and commanded 403 (Helicopter) Operational Training Squadron from 2000 to 2002. Following three years as a strategic defence analyst, Dean reported to the Defence Research & Development Establishment (Ottawa) as the Senior Military Advisor (2005). Dean began pursuing a Ph.D. at Queen’s University in 2003. His thesis employs organizational behaviour, military culture and military history to explore the Canadian Army’s decision to abandon its organic air force in 1975. Dean presented papers at the Inter-University Seminar (Toronto, October 2004), the NATO Concept Development and Experimentation Conference (Calgary, November 2004) and the McGill-Queen’s Graduate Conference in History (Kingston, March 2005). Dean retired from the Canadian Forces in 2007, having served as a tactical helicopter pilot on six operational tours. He became the Executive Director of the Air Force Association of Canada in January 2007. After two years of studying association management he earned his CAE in June 2010 from the Canadian Society of Association Executives.

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  • 1 Air OP Flight Group photos.
    Assistance would be welcome in identifying personnel in these photographs: View Content.

    Compiled by BGen (Ret'd) R.G. Heitshu.