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Army Aviation in Transition, 1992-2003

By The Army Aviation Branch Chiefs and Complied by GEN (Ret.) B. Doug Brown: The events in the years 1992-1993 would be a precursor of events a decade later that would have a dramatic impact on the World, the United States, the U.S. Army and Army Aviation.

TH-67 Creek replaced the TH-55 Osage as the primary rotary wing training aircraft./ U.S. ARMY AVIATION CENTER PHOTO

On 3 October 1992 U.S. forces from the Joint Special Operations Command conducted Operation Gothic Serpent in the city of Mogadishu, Somalia. Task Force Ranger was supported by elements of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. By the end of the day two U.S. Army MH-60 Black Hawks are shot down and the effort to rescue the crewman is met with stiff resistance.

By the time the U.S. redeploys the operation leaves over 1,000 Somalians dead and over 73 Americans wounded in action (WIA), 19 killed in action (KIA), and 1 U.S. Army Aviator captured and eventually returned.

On 26 February 1993 a van loaded with explosives detonates in the parking garage of the World Trade Center killing six, injuring over 1,000 and causing the evacuation of downtown New York City. At the time, it was the biggest terrorist attack on U.S. soil in history. Little did anyone know that less than a decade later the World Trade Center and the Pentagon would again be attacked leaving 2,996 people dead, over 6,000 injured, thrusting the United States into a war in the Middle East that would still be raging as this article is being written. The world threat environment was changing and would require the Army and specifically Army Aviation to fight the full spectrum of operations without reducing the ability to fight in a major contingency.

When MG Dave Robinson became the Army Aviation branch chief he explained the environment like this: My three year tenure as Chief of Army Aviation was marked with unprecedented modernization and operational demands on the Army. War in the Middle East, peacekeeping operations, civil disturbances, disaster relief and the threat of lesser regional contingencies punctuated the need for a trained and ready contingency-oriented Army possessing organic Army aviation.

By 2001 Army Aviation would again be called upon as a critical enabler for the success of the ground forces as America went to war in Afghanistan; but this time the war would be different. Our years of planning and rehearsing for fighting in the Fulda Gap against Soviet doctrine before the fall of the wall in 1989 had prepared the force for Desert Storm. But now we were facing a much different force. This enemy was made up of non-state actors, mostly small dispersed groups with border crossing sanctuary or could easily melt into the population and then disappear. The enemy may not be terrain oriented but ideologically motivated and new names like Al-Qaida and Taliban would become part of the everyday battle briefings. The terrain would be extreme to the point that some of the primary aviation platforms would be unable to operate with effectiveness at the altitudes, temperatures and loads that were necessary, and the battlefield would be highly urban and often require difficult dust landings, an incredible challenge for the assault aircraft and those assets trying to protect them. The MH-47 in many cases was the assault aircraft of choice because of its ability to get to the altitude necessary to carry the battle to the enemy.

The years following Desert Storm saw an Army Aviation force returning from being a potent battlefield force to a branch in reorganization and rebuilding while fighting for resources to modernize and maintain training readiness. The focus remained on the primary threat of defeating a sophisticated and capable enemy and all modernization, doctrine and tactics were predicated on winning the high end fight but, if anything, Army Aviation is adaptive and our adaptability would be tested in hot-spots like Bosnia or Haiti where Army Aviation deployed and launched from ships at sea.

The experts on Army Aviation in any time period are the commanding generals of Fort Rucker, Alabama, the Aviation Branch Chiefs, so I asked each of them that had served during this decade to provide some thoughts about their time leading the Branch. The response was amazing and I strongly recommended to each that they write a longer piece for publication at a later date. Of course, there are some themes that impact every commander and I have eliminated much of their comments only for the sake of brevity. This article is about hard work, seldom glamorous but important. It is about programs with initials like FS XXI, ARI, AAMP which were responsible for today’s Army Aviation force.

The Army Aviation website lists the mission of Army Aviation – find, fix and destroy any enemy through fire and maneuver and provide combat support and combat service support in coordinated operations as an integral member of the combined arms team fully integrated within joint operational framework. Our Aviation Branch Chief whether 1992 or 2017 must provide a combat ready trained and equipped aviation force fully capable of supporting the Army’s mission. The constant fight for resources, the plan to maximize effective training at the schoolhouse and the modernization of the force all while retaining combat power but eliminating older platforms, leadership development and sustainment of the physical footprint of Fort Rucker was an enduring challenge they each faced as does the Branch Chief today.


MG John D. Robinson, Ret. — July 1991 - July 1994

MG Dave Robinson led the branch for three years and saw the transition of Army aviation like this: During this period Aviation Branch was focused on upgrading the aircraft fleet and investing in new and emerging technology. Weapons with the “effects of massed forces” including precision munitions, digital communications and position location equipment promised to change the face of future battle.

A night retaliatory raid on Al-Qaida in Kandahar following the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was made possible by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and Air Force Special Operations Command C-130’s ability to aerial refuel at night./ U.S. ARMY PHOTO

The physical and intellectual dimensions of battlespace demanded intuitive and versatile aviation leaders supported by agile battle staffs and well-trained soldiers. Mobility, agility, simultaneity of effort, lethality, increased battle tempo, and space age logistics were needed to dominate the Army’s restructuring initiatives and investment decisions. It was against this backdrop Army aviation was evaluated to determine our focus in this changed environment.

Reconnaissance, attack, assault, special operations and medium-lift helicopters complemented by electronic mission aircraft and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) helicopters comprised our contribution to the force. However, some persons outside the aviation community objected to Army Aviation as the third dimension centerpiece of the land force. While the operational continuum demanded readiness for a wide range of employments, we believed warfighting was our central mission. Our restructuring, training, combat development and investment initiatives centered on this belief.

While aviation planners considered Army Aviation the third dimension centerpiece of the land force, not all agreed outside the aviation community. Despite Desert Storm and Special Operations aviation unit performance, many felt aviation too expensive for the benefit received. Many influential leaders did not believe aviation had earned its stripes as a warfighting force capable of maneuver ready to take its place among the combat arms. Participation as a combat arm in the TRADOC Battle Lab community was essential to show the value of aviation forces in battle. Aviation deserved a separate laboratory and that did not become a reality during my command.

Creating a 21st century schoolhouse at Fort Rucker and the Logistics School at Fort Eustis [Virginia] was a major priority. Initial entry training was significantly revised given the newly procured, cost-effective TH-67 Creek. Helicopter gunnery included a master gunner program developed by several experienced warrant officers. Combined arms warfighting training was included in the aviation officer basic and advance courses, warrant officer and pre-command courses. NCO training was overhauled adding a “Stripes on the Flight Line” program providing a technical career track for aviation NCOs.

U.S. Army AH-64 Apache helicopters of 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade fly in a tactical formation while conducting an aerial attack scenario during Exercise Griffin Smite at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, Dec. 9, 2016. / U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY SPC DANIELLE CARVER

We committed to reducing the helicopter fleet from 10 systems to an objective of 4; the fixed-wing fleet from 8 to 4. UH-60 procurement was maintained so the aging UH-1 could be retired. Apache was being modernized and Longbow brought on-line. All OH-58Ds were to be converted to the Kiowa Warrior configuration and we continued pressure for CH-47D modernization. Comanche was to be the centerpiece for 21st century Army Aviation. Much energy was placed in Comanche but it was for naught. Research and development from Comanche did provide insight into advanced composites, propulsion, sensors, avionics, vision equipment and electronic survivability equipment. At that time, we believed the Army would increase its investment in manned and unmanned sensors, intelligence-producing systems, space-age communications, joint precision fires, agile and maneuverable armed reconnaissance, attack and assault platforms, and missile technologies. These technologies fit nicely into aviation modernization planning.

The Aviation Restructure Initiative (ARI) was designed to modernize Army aviation into an affordable contingency ready fighting force. From the beginning, ARI was challenged as too costly. Without Comanche, planners began to find innovative ways to redesign forces structure and develop operational procedures. The details of that design are many pursued in successive years. However, we began to look at the Apache used in scout and attack missions. This was hardly optimum especially when diverting an attack platform to a scout role.


LTG Ronald E. Adams, Ret. — July 1994 - September 1996

In July of 1994 LTG Ron Adams took the reins and describes the fiscal environment and the rush to consolidate and find cost savings.

This was a period of dramatic reductions in Defense resourcing as a consequence of the demand for a peace dividend after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The mid-nineties was a time of scarce resources and pressure at every turn to reduce costs.

During a time of scarcity of resources the studies and initiatives to improve efficiency are always rampant. Many were certainly more efficient but far from more effective. One of those and other issues are discussed by LTG Adams below:

There were several initiatives that required us to protect the Aviation Center and School (USAAVNC) from potential dismantling by various TRADOC studies such as Clusters and Satellites and Hubs and Spokes. The HQDA/TRADOC concept was to consolidate training at centralized locations to reduce costs and ideally improve training. One such study resulted in the consolidation of maneuver support branch schools at Fort Leonard Wood [Missouri] and the consolidation of combat service support at Fort Lee [Virginia]. What put USAAVNC at risk was the proposal to relocate the Armor Center and School from Fort Knox [Kentucky] and the Aviation Center and School from Fort Rucker to Fort Benning [Georgia], combine them with the Infantry Center and School and create a “Maneuver Center of Excellence.” The Armor Center and School did relocate but USAAVNC was able to successfully argue that the airspace and training infrastructure was impossible to replicate elsewhere. More difficult to articulate was the uniqueness of Aviation’s professional development training and education (especially officer and NCO) which was already well integrated with the other branches. We successfully made the compelling argument that Aviation contributed across all warfighting functions and battlefield operating systems, not simply “combat” or “maneuver” thus USAAVNC avoided being rolled into the new Maneuver COE at Benning and remained a separate stand-alone entity.

During this period it was important to strengthen and expand Aviation’s role in Force XXI and TRADOC Battle Labs and it took personal engagement with senior leaders and with individual battle labs to overcome the growing perception of senior leaders at HQDA and TRADOC that Aviation had become “too expensive.” Aviation according to some, consumed “22% of Army discretionary RDA spending” and the biggest (“inordinate”) portion of the training mission budget.

Gaining proponency for unmanned aircraft systems which had been given to the MI [Military Intelligence] Branch and its school at Fort Huachuca [Arizona] was important. We “lobbied” for change with senior leadership and solicited the support of outside “influencers.” We worked it hard and it eventually came to pass.

The DEPSECDEF [Deputy Secretary of Defense] decision in August 1994 to have Defense Resource Board shift resources to support revised POM [program objectives memorandum] priorities adversely impacted aviation related RDA [research development activity]. Most significantly, the Comanche developmental process was significantly altered by retaining only two flyable prototypes causing the program to be restructured and production delayed. A subsequent CLOSE HOLD USAVVNC study “Whither Comanche” examined a range of options to include Comanche program termination and reprogramming of dollars to speed the retirement of all legacy airframes, fix Apache, Black Hawk and Chinook programs as well as ground support equipment, simulation and modularity shortfalls. NOTE: the briefing was eventually “quarantined” by higher headquarters and no action was approved.

In early 1995, despite serious funding shortfalls, the Apache Longbow Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) with USAAVNC oversight was completed to wide acclaim, ensuring successful production and procurement decisions.

The very first “Women in Army Aviation Symposium” was held at Fort Rucker February, 1996 to address a growing number of gender specific issues such as anthropomorphic differences for cockpit design, individual flight equipment; aero-medical issues, etc. The symposium, which drew great interest from the other Services, was singled out by DACOWITS [Defense Advisory Committee On Women In The Service] for a special award in 1996.

Major materiel requirements documentation was completed and successfully defended, among the most significant being the mission needs statement for a Light Utility Helicopter and a revised operational requirements document for the Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer (AVCATT), with more specifically defined user requirements to include reconfigurable hardware and reconfigurable software.”


LTG Daniel J. Petrosky, Ret. — September 1996 - September 1998

LTG Dan Petrosky made the following comments about his time as the Branch Chief:
When I took command of Fort Rucker the Army’s Force XXI was in its’ first year of experimental development at Fort Hood, Texas. To my surprise Force XXI experimental force was using a battalion sized multifunctional Aviation task force. I was told that the assumption was the digitized Aviation TF could replace the division aviation brigade. I was concerned that this experiment would result in the divisions losing their aviation brigades. So, retaining the aviation brigade in the digitized division became my number one effort inside Force XXI. I used every example I could to show the value of a seasoned colonel leading an aviation brigade inside our future divisions. We were successful in that the Aviation Brigade was added to the experimental force.

I was still the Branch Chief when the Digitized Force started conducting constructive simulation exercises at Fort Hood. And, I was still the Branch Chief when the entire force went to NTC [National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California] to conduct the live evaluation. During both of these events the aviation brigades were a part of Force XXI. However, aviation was not funded for the digital network exercises. The OH-58D was the sole digitized aircraft as an artillery fire control asset. I strongly felt aviation had to be part of the initial network development, not added after the network was completed.

It was during this time that we teamed with then MG Roger Schultz from the Army National Guard to develop what is today the AVCATT. The NG and Fort Rucker readied a proof of concept system using the NG reconfigurable cockpit and Fort Rucker funding to the system, to include a building Fort Rucker bought and placed across the street from the Fort Hood simulation center. The leaders for this effort were colonels Al Patterson and Bill Powell. Together they created what ultimately became the Aviation Training Exercise (ATX) as our way to give the 4th CAB a venue to train for the digitized exercises. As it turned out we would use the Aviation Center of Excellence ATX program for more than a decade to prepare aviation brigades for deployments to the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Two successes: At this time we only provided flying hours for the aircraft not for all the pilots. By default that meant we only funded crews. So, our staff aviators could only fly simulators. They were called CAT D aviators. By the time I took command of Fort Rucker we had many Advance Course captains that had not flown a single hour in an aircraft since graduation from flight school.

Eventually, after hard work by the staff at Fort Rucker I was called to see the Chief of Staff of the Army and was told to provide the funding stream for staff aviators started ASAP. That was in 1997. When 9/11 occurred I experienced all the same emotions all Americans did. I also immediately thought of the company, battalion, and brigade aviation commanders who had about four years of flying experience in real aircraft because we were able to get the funding approved.
The second success was establishing a dunker for Army Aviation. I had the opportunity to visit the 25th Division’s Aviation Brigade in Hawaii and the 6th Air CAV Brigade in Korea. Both were flying significant amount of hours over the sea. Neither had dunker training readily available nor did their aviation life support elements have much in the way of over water gear. Colonel Bill Powell researched the availability of dunkers and Fort Rucker contracted for one to be brought to Fort Rucker with the intention of making it part of flight school requirements. The Branch Chiefs that followed me made this temporary fix permanent.


LTG Anthony R. Jones, Ret. — September 1998 - August 2001

The Aviation Center was fighting for the new scout/attack helicopter, the Comanche, and the organizational changes that would be required to integrate the attack, lift, and reconnaissance missions organic to an aviation unit. Too often the discussions centered on resources to implement across the total force vice increased capability, and the future warfighting environment which was uncertain.

Realizing that we had to change and position Army Aviation for the next century, we developed the Army Aviation Modernization Plan (AAMP) in 1999-2000. Below are some of the issues the AAMP addressed: The Initial Entry Rotary Wing (IERW) training program and leader development process were not providing young aviators with the skills needed to join their unit with a readiness level of proficiency needed to be part of the team. The burden of getting new aviation officers to Readiness Level 2 was shifted to the receiving units, with green platoons being created by Divisional Aviation Brigades. This dilemma created an insurmountable backlog for unit Instructor Pilots and Standardization Instructor Pilots whose mission was continuation training, and the resources were not available to execute this training and prepare for mission readiness. Fort Rucker was launching approximately 450 flights per day with over 800 of the oldest aircraft in the Army inventory.

The solution was the approval Flight School XXI (FSXXI) which was the concept developed, and included in the AAMP. This plan called for divesting of older aircraft, more efficient use of simulations, and IERW students getting more time and proficiency in their go-to-war assigned aircraft. The initial graduates had a much greater level of readiness and were readily accepted in their first unit of assignment. Continual improvements to IERW training also included in the FS XXI concept were completion of Level C SERE Training prior to beginning of IERW, and Water Survival Training prior to graduation.

The following are some of the highlights to move Army Aviation forward into the next century during my tenure as Branch Chief:
Part of the AAMP was to divest all the older aircraft which were the UH-1H, the OH-58A/C, and some fixed wing assets that remained in various organizations and locations. Repair parts were becoming non-existent or obsolete and these aircraft were not mission capable.

Complimentary with the divesting of older aircraft, Initial models of the AH-64 and UH-60 aircraft were proven in combat, but needed modernization and upgrade to increase capabilities, reliability, and integrate technology. The process of modernization is continual, and must be always planned and budgeted for the future.

Development of the new recon/attack aircraft, the Comanche, was continuing. The first prototypes were being flown at contractor facilities. Due to budget constraints, impact on organizations, training base, and envisioned mission scenarios, continual work had to be accomplished at the highest levels of the Army to gain approval for milestones leading to production and fielding. Several issues confronted the development of the Comanche—peak budget requirements were forecast for 2008, the same time as fielding the Stryker ground combat vehicle; the price per aircraft continued to climb as technology was maturing rapidly with a composite-type airframe; consensus on the real need for the Apache and the Comanche, how does the Comanche support the ground maneuver forces; and what is the life cycle cost across all domains for this new aircraft in the inventory.

The Comanche story is documented in many areas of the evolution of Army Aviation. The final decision to stop the Comanche program occurred after my departure
The AAMP was also used later for reference by the Aviation Review Committee directed by Gen Schoomaker, one of 16 initial focal areas for review, at the beginning of his term as Army Chief of Staff. Gen (ret) J. D. Thurman led the Aviation Review Committee for the CSA.

On the night of 19 October 2001 Special Operations Forces, in response to the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, supported by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and Air Force Special Operations Command C-130’s launched from ships at sea in the Indian Ocean and executed a night retaliatory raid to the heart of the Al-Qaida attackers….Kandahar, Afghanistan. The mission lasted 14 hours and was only possible because of the ability of the Special Operations helicopters to aerial refuel at night. The helicopters inserted forces directly into the former Kandahar home of Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader. It was a powerful message that the United States could hit the very inner sanctums of the Taliban and Al-Qaida, reminiscence of the famous Doolittle’s raid of World War II. The entire operation was led by an Army Aviator MG Dell Dailey. This response had many of the characteristics of the failed Desert One raid in 1980 except one significant difference …. At the time of Operation Rice Bowl and the failure at Desert One there was no Special Operations Aviation Regiment in the DOD. That same night MH-47’s from the 160th SOAR crossed the border of Afghanistan from multiple locations and inserted members of Army Special Forces to link up with the members of the Northern Alliance. This small number of forces strategically emplaced would quickly topple the Taliban government. All made possible by Army Aviation. Additionally, it again validated the resources and authorities that were provided to the 160th that allowed the rapid growth in capability during this period.