Army aviation special operations forces and conventional aviation forces will continue to collaborate and forge bonds that will become tighter as the Army downsizes, special operations forces and other commanders said today.
Col. John R. Evans, commander of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), said as demands for his unit's services have increased, conventional aviation has stepped up in every regard and supported operations across a broad spectrum.
Evans spoke as part of a four-member panel made up of conventional and special operations commanders at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual Aviation Symposium and Exhibit. They discussed the present and future roles of conventional and unconventional aviation units.
"I can tell you right now, we have as good a relationship as we've ever had with conventional aviation. It's been a very collaborative and collegiate one," he said. "We've got units within the conventional Army that are doing missions that are very similar to what we're doing with regard to assault, precision fires and then all the critical medevac, logistics and supply functions as well."
Evans noted that special operations forces, or SOF, rely heavily on the Army aviation enterprise for virtually everything it does -- from manning, to training and resourcing -- and will continue to tighten its bonds with its conventional brothers to make the overall aviation enterprise even more successful.
"As we take a look at not just the current battlefield and what our emerging battlefields are going to be and see our forces become more regionally aligned, we're also looking at things like our emerging global force requirements," he said.
Addressing emerging global force requirements and the shift from Afghanistan to the Pacific-Asia area of responsibility, Col. Daniel E. Williams, director of aviation for U.S. Army Forces Command, said maritime over-water competency was already in place, the book written by Army aviation SOF.
"We've taken that book and made it match to Apaches, so as recently as four weeks ago, we had conventional 160th Apache aviation 75 miles off-shore in the Atlantic Ocean on Navy ships," he said. "That's happening today in limited operations."
Williams said Army conventional and SOF had been working with each other for the last decade and as a result long-term friendships have been made between the groups and their commanders. He also said FORSCOM's headquarters move to Fort Bragg, N.C., was "huge" because it cemented conventional with SOF aviation.
Today, Joint Special Operations Command, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, known as USASOC, the Joint Special Warfare Center, XVIII Airborne Corps and the 82nd Airborne Division are all at Fort Bragg, and the geographical location has made all the difference.
"Synergy probably didn't happen as easily as before when we were down in Atlanta and other places," Williams said. "It's now happening -- it's too easy to get out of your office to go talk with your brothers, and that's air and ground."
Williams said that with rapidly dwindling resources and the drawdown of Operation Enduring Freedom, conventional and SOF aviation would find themselves in contact in the same battlespace with little notice or planning, so it was imperative they stay in synch and interoperable at all levels.
Former commander of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, or CAB, Col. Terry "TJ" Jamison addressed the challenges he and his Soldiers had as a conventional CAB commander in working with SOFs. He said that in Afghanistan he had 196 rotary-wing aircraft -- made up of utility helicopter, cargo helicopter, and medevac helicopters out of the Army Reserve and National Guard communities. On any given night 15 to 20 percent of those aircraft were in a direct support role to SOF mission sets.
"As you look at SOF mission sets that we did, we had what was a 20 percent utilization rate," Jamison said. "What I mean by that is you would commit aircraft and crews to an SOF mission set as they waited for target fidelity and the ability to execute that target opportunity sometimes that took time, but you still had to have those aircraft and crews dedicated to that mission set."
Jamison said "counter-intuitive" to what most people would think, his conventional force usually had the riskier missions and often pulled five and sometimes six air assaults a night if the "hunting was good during the fighting season." His crews also had the autonomy to engage the enemy when positively identified, whereas an SOF mission was more specific to the target and rarely performed an air assault more than once per night.
"The biggest challenge we had was the terminology and the verbiage that the aircrews use in talking to the SOF elements on the ground," he said, adding that since the SOF community is "joint" across the board, they all use joint terminology.
"We are not there in most of the conventional CABs," he said. "The ground force customer is working off standard operating procedures; we're working off SOPs for terminology. Just in my own brigade we had four different words for 'in-flight, link-up'. There's an effort to fix that and that should continue."
Rounding out the panel, Brig. Gen. Clayton Hutmacher, commander, Army Special Operations Aviation Command (Airborne), said that on the materiel side, the interaction with conventional aviation has been going on for quite a while, noting that "Army influence and participation in programs such as Future Vertical Lift and Armed Aerial Scout is not only desirable, but critical because we're likely going to see ourselves in a COIN (counter-insurgency) fight for the future, which will require an SOF-like approach to a lot of these problem sets."
"We're moving into the UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) world now with Gray Eagles, Ravens, and Shadows, and I think you will see in the future our influence over those programs within the Army as we try to break new ground and incorporate new technologies into those platforms which I see will proliferate down," he said.
Article by J.D. Leipold, Army News Service