Exercise SAGE BRUSH, conducted at Fort Polk, Louisiana, became the largest field trials held in the United States since World War II. It included 110,000 Army troops plus 40,000 Air Force personnel. The exercise scenario tested the divisions under conditions of simulated atomic war, covering 25 major areas and focusing on dispersion, communications and mobility. Joint exercise SAGEBRUSH included a test of an aerial reconnaissance concept. Continental Army Command (CONARC) formed an experimental reconnaissance company by combining the 82d Airborne's recon troop with a Transportation helicopter unit. Labeled "Sky Cavalry," the unit performed traditional cavalry roles, though aircraft were unarmed.
The Sky Cavalry concept stirred a controversy with the US Air Force US Air Force, beginning with Exercise SAGEBRUSH in 1955, and within the Army that lasted into the early 1960s. The Air Force claimed Sky Cavalry violated the Pace-Finletter agreement of 1952 defining the battle zone. Armor wanted helicopters attached to mechanized cavalry units. Intelligence wanted aircraft with radar and infrared sensors for passive intelligence collection. The Army Aviation School wanted a mix of armed helicopters, troops carriers and electronic warfare. Doctrine stayed in flux.
MG Paul D. Adams, CG, XVIII Airborne Corps, disagreed that Sky Cavalry in exercise SAGEBRUSH violated the 1952 memorandum of agreement. He claimed the US Air Force was not responding to Army needs for close air support because the AF preferred using nuclear weapons and armed their aircraft accordingly.
SAGE BRUSH and GEN Gavin's article convinced BG Carl Hutton, CG, US Army Aviation Center and School, to experiment with arming helicopters and received CONARC approval to conduct 'mobility' experiments under a training memo.
In the end the final test report did not recommend the test division organization, concluding the designs could not sustain high tempo, dispersed operations. Even before the tests had concluded, however, there were signs that senior leaders had soured on the concept of an Army designed to fight only in a general nuclear war. In April 1956 the Army officially closed the study.