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Air Cavalry and the Aviation Restructure Initiative

By LTC Andrew M. Beyer: Early in the spring of 2015, 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry deployed to the National Training Center (NTC) as an aviation task force with 47 aircraft and a 500 trooper task force supporting 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team’s (ABCT) preparation to deploy to Iraq. In the months following this rotation, the Squadron would quickly shift fires to focus on the transition of the Squadron to the new Heavy Armed Reconnaissance Squadron (H-ARS) structure as part of the Aviation Restructure Initiative (ARI).

OH-58 Kiowa helicopters from 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment., 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, fly above the 1st Inf Div. Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard June 23, 2015 at Fort Riley, Kansas, as a tribute to the last flight of the Kiowas due to the decision to transition the aircraft from use by the Army. / U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY AMANDA STAIRRETT, 1ST INF. DIV. PUBLIC AFFAIRS

Over the next year, the Squadron would turn-in the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters and associated equipment. During this period the unit would also have over an 80% turnover in personnel while additionally receiving AH-64D Longbow Apaches from the Army National Guard and RQ-7BV2 Shadow Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). At the end of the transition, the CAV Squadron would grow from having 6 x OH-58D platoons to having 6 x AH-64D platoons and 3 x RQ-7BV2 Shadow platoons. This new capability enables each troop to execute Manned Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) as an independent element with 2 x AH-64D platoons and an organic Shadow Platoon.

The Fighting Sixth strongly sought to transition while sustaining the “CAV Mentality.” The AIR CAV Scout curiosity, combined with the disciplined execution of the fundamentals of reconnaissance and security and new equipment, could enable a similar transition as from the days of the horse cavalry to armored personnel carriers. Historically, the CAV’s adaptability has been one of its greatest qualities keeping it as such a critical asset in the Division arsenal. If the Squadron could harness the curiosity of the scout and the increased capability brought on by the sensors and systems of the RQ-7BV2 Shadow and the AH-64D Longbow, the CAV would enhance its ability of being the eyes and ears of the battlefield. The equipment has changed, but the necessity of empowering maneuver commanders with the critical and real time information to make timely and accurate decisions remains just as relevant on today’s battlefield as it was in 1861.

Fundamentals of Reconnaissance

  1. Ensure continuous reconnaissance
  2. Do not keep reconnaissance assets in reserve
  3. Orient of the reconnaissance objective
  4. Report all information rapidly and accurately
  5. Retain freedom to maneuver
  6. Gain and maintain contact
  7. Develop the situation rapidly

Fundamentals of Security

  1. Provide early and accurate warning
  2. Provide reaction time and maneuver space
  3. Orient of the force, area, or facility to be protected
  4. Perform continuous reconnaissance
  5. Maintain enemy contact

Milestones / Challenges
The following were the milestones and challenges of the transition of the Fighting Sixth through the Aviation Restructure Initiative.

  • 10 March – 10 April 2015: NTC Rotation 15-04 47 x Helicopters flew 2,250 flight hours in support 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team
  • 08 June 2015: 1st Infantry Division OH-58D Kiowa Warrior Ceremonial Final Flight in conjunction with Victory week
  • 01-31 July 2015: Divestiture flights to Davis Monthan Airforce Base, AZ and Redstone Arsenal, AL
  • 15 October – 15 November 2015: Receipt of 24 x AH-64D from the Army National Guard
  • 25 January – 29 April 2016: RQ-7BV2 Fielding and New Equipment Training
  • July – September 2016: 1st AH-64D Fully MUM-T equipping and modifications
  • July 2016: Aerial Gunnery (21 x AH-64 Crews Table VI Qualified / 5 x RQ-7 Crews Table VI Qualified)
  • August – September 2016: Platoon and Troop EXEVALS
  • October 2016: Saber FOCUS Major Field Training Exercise and Advanced Aerial Gunnery Tables

The leaders and junior leaders across the Squadron thrived in challenges with many of them transitioning right along with the equipment. Of 63 warrant officers that were told in December of 2015 to anticipate they would not get a transition, 58 of them did. Many of them received transitions as 150U UAS Platoon Leaders and continue to be instrumental as our Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) capacity continues to grow and progress. Eleven aviators that were prior OH-58D aviators completed the AH-64D Aircraft Qualification Course and returned to the Fighting Sixth. Many of our crewchiefs and maintainers also transitioned and quickly fought to re-achieve the HQDA Standard for aviation maintenance.

In some cases the equipping was the catalyst for the manning and it took some time to get the unit resynched as we equipped first, then manned to train. Many of our key maintainers were not assigned to the Squadron when the aircraft arrived. Having received 24 x AH-64Ds in the middle of November 2015, the Squadron remained at two of nine maintenance test pilots in early March.

This was also a similar situation for the RQ-7 Platoons. Many of the UAS personnel were still in transition courses when the Shadow New Equipment Training Team began which limited the ability to fully harness the initial training. For other units making this transition, the recommendation is to press harder earlier for more manning before the unit begins the fielding process. Getting the right people early is key to maximizing the time and training opportunities to increase efficiently.

The other key recommendation for the unit transition is to, whenever possible, stabilize key leaders during the process. The Fighting Sixth was very fortunate to have several very talented leaders within the Squadron when we began the process. The Senior Warrant Officer Advisor and CSM played pivotal roles in the transition of personnel while the XO, Aviation Support Troop Commander, and PC Officer were focused on the property inventories and transfers. The Standardization Instructor Pilot and the Troop Commanders were absolutely critical in maintaining a safe training plan with so many moving parts.

In July 2016, eight months after receiving the Apaches and six months after receiving the first RQ-7s, the Squadron executed its first aerial gunnery qualifying 21 x AH-64D and 5 x RQ-7 crews through Table VI as part of a gated training strategy. Over the next few months the Squadron will continue to progress and execute a Squadron Level Exercise in October to further build and validate the unit’s Mission Essential Task List (METL).

As the Heavy Armed Reconnaissance Squadron (H-ARS) structure continues to build and mature within the CAV, maneuver commanders should anticipate the return of the close support and curiosity of the AIR CAV Scout. Now riding a different horse, the enhanced capabilites of the manned-unmanned teaming will undoubtedly take the CAV into the next chapter of its long proud history.

1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment is currently forward deployed to the Republic of Korea under the command of LTC Clint Cody and CSM Joshua Bryan; it is the first AH-64D and RQ-7 Shadow equipped air cavalry squadron deployed to the Korean Peninsula.

LTC Andrew Beyer commanded 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment from February 2015 to August 2016; he is currently the commander of 1st Combat Aviation Brigade (Rear), Fort Riley, KS.

Looking Back