• The Patriot Missile System, developed at Redstone Arsenal in the 1970s and '80s, was named as one of the Army's Big 5 military systems in the '80s. It remains a vital part of the Army arsenal today.

    Patriot missile firing

    The Patriot Missile System, developed at Redstone Arsenal in the 1970s and '80s, was named as one of the Army's Big 5 military systems in the '80s. It remains a vital part of the Army arsenal today.

  • The Apache helicopter went into full production in 1982, was introduced into Army service in 1986 and was first used in combat in 1989.  Its great start in the '80s put it on the Army's list of the Big 5 military systems.

    Apache helicopter

    The Apache helicopter went into full production in 1982, was introduced into Army service in 1986 and was first used in combat in 1989. Its great start in the '80s put it on the Army's list of the Big 5 military systems.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- There's only one phrase needed to define the Army Materiel Command during the 1980s -- the Big Five.

Actually, at the time, AMC wasn't even operating under the name that has become synonymous with today's Army's premier provider of materiel readiness in the areas of technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection and sustainment. The organization was going through a bit of an identity crisis, starting the decade under the name Development and Readiness Command. DARCOM is a name it took on in January 1976 to symbolize its change to a more corporate structure.

As DARCOM, and then later in 1984 as AMC once again, the organization focused much of its energies throughout the '80s on the military systems that to this day are still known as the Army's Big 5. These systems remain at the core of the Army's military strategy and are prominent in the arsenals of both the U.S. military and its allies. The Big 5 are:

Apache AH-64 Helicopter -- This four-blade, twin-engine attack helicopter with a tailwheel-type landing gear arrangement, tandem cockpit for a two-man crew, target acquisition and night vision systems, Hellfire missiles and Hydra 70 rocket pods was developed as a replacement for the AH-1 Cobra. It went into full production in 1982 and was introduced into Army service in April 1986. The Army formally accepted its first production AH-64A in January 1984 and training of the first pilots began later that year. The first operational Apache unit -- the 7th Battalion, 17th Cavalry Brigade -- began training on the AH-64A in April 1986 at Fort Hood, Texas. Two operational units with 68 AH-64s first deployed to Europe in September 1987 and took part in large military exercises there. The Apache was first used in combat in 1989, during Operation Just Cause, the invasion of Panama. The AH-64 participated in more than 240 hours of combat attacking various targets, mostly at night. Gen. Carl Stiner, commander of Operation Just Cause, praised the Apache for its precision: "You could fire that Hellfire missile through a window from four miles away at night." Although upgrades were considered throughout the '80s, rapidly developing technology kept any changes on the drawing board. It wasn't until the next decade, in August 1990, when development of the more advanced AH-64D Apache Longbow was approved by the Defense Acquisition Board.

UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter -- This four-bladed, twin-engine, medium-lift utility helicopter entered Army service in 1979 to replace the UH-1 Iroquois as the Army's tactical transport helicopter. It was first fielded by the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division in June 1979. The U.S. military first used the UH-60 in combat during the invasion of Grenada in 1983, and again in the invasion of Panama in 1989. After entering service, the helicopter was modified for new missions and roles, including mine laying and medical evacuation. An EH-60 variant was developed to conduct electronic warfare and special operations aviation developed the MH-60 variant to support its missions. Due to weight increases from the addition of mission equipment and other changes, the Army ordered the improved UH-60L in 1987. The UH-60L included several upgrades while also increasing lift capacity from 1,000 pounds to 9,000. Production of the L-model began in 1989 and continued as the model of choice until a new variant was approved in 2001.

M1 Abrams Tank -- This third-generation main battle tank is highly mobile, designed for modern armored ground warfare, and well-armed and heavily armored. Weighing nearly 68 short tons, it is one of the heaviest main battle tanks in service. The M1 Abrams entered Army service in 1980, replacing the M60 tank. A total of 3,273 M1 Abrams were produced from 1979 to 1985 and about 6,000 of the upgraded M1A1 Abrams were produced from 1986-92. It served for more than a decade alongside the improved M60A3, which had entered service in 1978, and with other NATO tanks in numerous Cold War exercises in Western Europe and South Korea. The Abrams remained untested in combat until the Gulf War in 1991.

Bradley Fighting Vehicle -- This American fighting vehicle, which entered Army service in 1981, is designed to transport infantry with armor protection while providing covering fire to suppress enemy troops and armored vehicles. It consists of two types of vehicles -- the M2 Infantry Fighting Vehicle and the M2 Cavalry Fighting Vehicle. The M2 holds a crew of three: a commander, a gunner and a driver; as well as six fully equipped Soldiers. The M3 mainly conducts scout missions and carries two scouts in addition to the regular crew of three with space for additional TOW, Dragon or Javelin missiles. It was first used in combat the Gulf War in 1991, and destroyed more Iraqi armed vehicles than the M1 Abrams.

MIM-104 Patriot Missile System -- Developed by engineers at Redstone Arsenal and placed into service in 1981, the MIM-104 Patriot is the Army's primary surface-to-air missile system. It replaced the Nike Hercules system as the Army's primary High to Medium Air Defense system, and replaced the MIM-23 Hawk system as the Army's medium tactical air defense system. It has also been give the function of the Army's anti-ballistic missile, which is now the Patriot's primary role. It uses an advanced aerial interceptor missile and high performance radar systems, and is a coordinated, secure, integrated, mobile air defense system providing communications, command and control, radar surveillance, and missile guidance. During the 1980s, Patriot was upgraded to discriminate and intercept artillery rockets in the vein of the Multiple Launch Rocket System, which was seen as a significant threat from North Korea; and to engage and destroy aircraft at standoff ranges. The upgraded PAC-2 was first tested in 1987 and reached Army units in 1990, just in time for deployment to the Middle East for the Persian Gulf War. It was there that Patriot was first regarded as a successful anti-ballistic missile system and proof that ballistic missile defense was indeed possible.

In addition, the 1980s were marked by AMC's work introducing and advancing other notable items in the Army inventory, to include the Humvee, the Kevlar helmet and body armor, the Battle Dress Uniform, the MK19-3 40 mm Grenade Machine Gun and the Multiple Launch Rocket System.

The decade also introduced plenty of changes to AMC's leadership and structure. It was commanded by four generals in the '80s: Gen. Donald Keith, 1981 to 1984; Gen. Richard Thompson, 1984 to 1987; Gen. Louis Carson Wagner Jr., 1987 to 1989; and Gen. William G.T. Tuttle Jr., 1989 to 1992.

Keith is known for combining recombines the Army's commodity commands and establishing DARCOM-Europe in 1982 to centralize command and control while reducing costs in Europe. Thompson changed the command's name from DARCOM back to AMC on the organization's 22nd birthday in 1984 to "remove a perceived boundary between development and logistics support implied in the DARCOM name." Thompson also established Laboratory Command and created AMC-Far East in Korea to promote centralized management and control of AMC elements.

In 1986, the Goldwater-Nichols DoD Reorganization Act greatly changed the basic structure of AMC, transferring 47 program managers from AMC to the Army Acquisition Executive/Program Executive Officer structure. AMC was removed from the direct chain of command but had responsibility to support the project managers through matrix management.

Then, beginning in 1987, a number of Army Defense Management Reviews and various Base Realignment and Closure Commissions caused AMC to restructure and downsize by 30 percent. During this time, its commander, Wagner, implemented Total Quality Management and established the Objective Supply System.

Throughout the 1980s, as AMC was redefining itself in its support to the Soldier, its employees remained loyal to the organization's mission. In 1985, Master Sgt. Ronald Hickey of the Army Band, expressed that organization loyalty in a song titled "Share the Pride." The words to this military marching song are:

"Helping to keep our country free
We are the Army Materiel Command
Developing what the Army needs
To meet its technological demands
Providing what it takes to keep the peace,
We have the people with ideas and expertise
We share in the pride that's Army wide,
That comes from leading the way,
'Cause we're the arsenal for the brave today."

Editors Note: This is part six of AMC's 50th anniversary series which will include insight from each decade and comments from people who worked with AMC throughout the years.

Page last updated Thu September 6th, 2012 at 00:00