Army Aviation

A Small Team with a Big Mission

Aviation Survivability Development and Tactics (ASDAT)Team / By CW4 Mitchell K. Villafania: As the sun rose over the ridgeline, a flight of Army UH-60s threaded their way up the valley toward a growing purple cloud from a smoke grenade that had been tossed out by the ground security forces. The cloud was growing on the flat open terrain of the valley floor, and it helped mark the landing zone (LZ) and wind direction for the inbound aircraft. After the aircraft landed, three Army warrant officers jumped out and quickly moved to meet with the security forces on the LZ. After meeting up with the security forces and receiving a quick briefing on the threat in the area, the group began the short walk to a damaged aircraft that had been forced down. The warrant officers momentarily paused to observe the scene as they came within view of the partially damaged helicopter before simultaneously beginning their assessment of what brought this helicopter down.

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The graduating class of JCAT Phase I conducted at Fort Rucker, Alabama taught by the ASDAT Team in January 2015. / USAACE ASDAT COURTESY PHOTOS

Assessing aircraft damage to identify weapon systems is just one small task that the ASDAT team can encounter in its very diverse mission set. By understanding the weapon systems that are employed on the battlefield and their effects against aircraft, the ASDAT team improves Army Aviation’s abilities. The team accomplishes this improved ability through understanding weapon systems and their effects, knowledge of the aircraft survivability equipment (ASE), teaching the planning techniques and aircrew tactics that reduce susceptibility to the threat, and analyzing the aircraft vulnerabilities to weapon effects. These tasks will remain a key part of ASDAT’s mission as the threat evolves worldwide.

The ASDAT team began as a group of experienced technical experts from various backgrounds sent to Iraq in 2003 with a mandate to “Determine the threat weapon systems used by the enemy, recommend immediate short and long-term solutions, and brief the findings to the commander, Combined Joint Task Force-7 (CJTF-7), and all deployed aviation units.” By 2007 the need for this specialized skill set caused the permanent creation of the ASDAT Team to support the Aviation Enterprise. With this permanence, ASDAT was given an authorization of one officer in charge (OIC), and five Aviation Combat Forensics Officers (ACFO). These AFCOs are all senior warrant officers, each experienced in flying different Army airframes and all experienced as tactical operations (TACOPS) officers. The team also has one Department of the Army civilian survivability specialist and one Department of the Army civilian intelligence specialist to add the additional experience and expertise that the team needs during assessments.

The official mission of ASDAT is to train and equip two combat assessment teams for worldwide, no-notice deployment, to assess the combat damage or loss of Army aircraft, determine enemy tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), identify aircraft susceptibility and vulnerability trends and develop TTPs to counter current threats. It is also responsible to USAACE and Army Aviation for coordination with the test and acquisition community for aircraft survivability.

Since its inception, ASDAT has conducted numerous no-notice deployments to assist units during events while still maintaining continuous support to the Aviation community from garrison. The expertise provided by ASDAT has benefited the combat aviation brigade (CAB) commanders through the support and training that ASDAT provides to Army Aviation.

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Weapon demonstration conducted at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida for the threat weapons and effects training conducted in April 2015.

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To gain and maintain the level of expertise required to accomplish this mission, each team member receives initial training in the Joint Combat Assessment Team (JCAT) training program that is taught by experts from each service. JCAT training consists of three phases with the first phase taught at Fort Rucker, Alabama by the ASDAT team which also serves as the Army component of JCAT. Phase two is taught at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California by Navy JCAT experts. Phase three, also known as Threat Weapons and Effects (TWE) training, is a collaborative effort between the DoD services’ JCAT members (sponsored by the Joint Aircraft Survivability Program Office (JASPO)) to bring intelligence and technical experts to train the survivability community. These experts come from the Missile and Space Intelligence Center (MSIC), National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC), Army Research Laboratory (ARL), Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), and Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC). After the initial training, team members continue to hone their knowledge through research, training and interactions with the operational, intelligence, and test communities. This expertise in survivability is then brought to the Army Aviation community in an effort to develop better systems and TTPs.

The ASDAT team conducts Knowledge Management to share their expertise through the Army Aircraft Combat Survivability manual (pending publishing as ADP 3-04.2), newsletters, weekly intelligence summaries (INTSUMs), Professional Military Education (PME) instruction, and unit pre-deployment briefs. This Knowledge Management has been very successful with over 150% increase in product downloads in FY 2015 from the previous year. ASDAT’s products are projected to go over 143,000 downloads for FY 2015. The team has also successfully continued its outreach by training and briefing over 4,000 personnel for FY 2015 (USAACE PME, Pre-Deployment, Joint, and Non-DoD).

Recently the ASDAT team was directed by the commanding general of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence (USAACE) to move from the Directorate of Training and Doctrine (DOTD) to the Concepts and Requirements Directorate (CRD) to aid the future development of Army Aviation survivability. This realignment will benefit Army Aviation by using ASDAT’s knowledge to assist with the development of Future Vertical Lift (FVL) and countering the evolving threat systems around the world. The move to CRD will also facilitate the team’s ability to take lessons learned from both the operational and intelligence communities to assist CRD develop and acquire new technologies.

With this very diverse and relevant mission ASDAT continues to maintain its tactical and technical expertise in an evolving world. The team works diligently to stay ahead of technological advances in weapon systems while maintaining awareness of the global operational environment. Since its inception, the ASDAT team has evolved and continues to evolve in its ability to improve Army Aviation survivability with a close knit team of experts who want to make a difference for the warfighter.

CW4 Mitchell K. Villafania is an Army assessor on the Joint Combat Assessment Team (JCAT) and member of the Aviation Survivability Development and Tactics team assigned to the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, Fort Rucker, AL.