Reserve Components Aviation / By COL Andrew Cecil: The U.S. Army Reserve (USAR) represents a small but unique capacity within the Total Force’s Aviation structure. Both Active Component (AC) and Army National Guard (ARNG) Aviation center on their associated divisions.
An Air Force Special Operations Force operator pulls security as a UH-60 from 8-229 Assault Helicopter Battalion lands for the exfiltration after forces seized their objective. / U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO BY TSGT SANDRA WELCH
The USAR represents a distinctive wedge providing opportunity to the Army for the current and future force. As the Army considers options to address the lack of sufficient attack and reconnaissance capacity and lack of air assault capability in the Air Assault Division the USAR provides some needed flexibility.
Utilizing Current USAR Structure to Address an Immediate Need
One example of the USAR’s flexibility is the Total Force Partnership Program (TFPP) between the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and the 244th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade (ECAB). The goal is to enable the 101st ABN DIV’s (AASLT) ability to conduct a brigade combat team (BCT) level air assault in the Fiscal Year (FY) 25-27 timeframe. As a Title X force, the USAR is more closely akin to COMPO 1 than COMPO 2. The 244th ECAB commander can bring the full force of his brigade to train with the 101st ABN DIV’s (AA). GEN McConville’s vision and Total Force perspective led him to harness the USAR’s unique capacity in the Army to provide a significant increase in lift and cargo capability for pre-planned Screaming Eagle training missions.
Considering USAR Structure to Address Capacity Gaps
Another opportunity is the Army’s effort to build attack capacity to address the shortage of 10 attack/reconnaissance battalions. The Army has 26 battalion-size elements with plans to grow to 28. Standardizing attack helicopter companies (AH CO) to eight aircraft, attack battalions (ABs) to three companies (24 AH-64), and air cavalry squadrons (ACS) to two troops (16 AH-64) could enable the Army to build either two additional ABs or three ACSs. The issue in the 2021-2030 timeframe is the number of AH-64D/Es. By 2030, the issue will be force structure due to Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) fielding.
The USAR could provide the spaces and equipment to enable growth of two or three additional attack helicopter units in the near term by utilizing an expeditionary combat aviation brigade and associated battalions as bill-payers. Instead of 48 eight-ship companies and 24 ten-ship troops (72 total companies) in 28 battalions, the Army could have 78 standard eight-ship companies in 30-31 battalions with the same number of aircraft. This would provide a greater number of units to accomplish missions and increase the Army’s capacity in a critical capability.
Considering USAR Aviation Expertise for New Missions
A final option to consider is the future of fixed wing formations post 2035. The end of the Future Utility Aircraft (FUA) program and the capabilities of the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) present another opportunity. FLRAA, or a variant of it, may replace the Army’s fixed wing fleet mission set. If so, an option is equipping the theater fixed wing battalions (TFWB) with FLRAA to accomplish the time sensitive delivery mission. Equipping these theater formations with FLRAA could change the nature of the time sensitive delivery of key personnel and equipment from airfield restricted fixed wing aircraft to vertical lift capable aircraft.
There is much uncertainty about the size, shape, and composition of the future force. The Army must balance the enduring fleet with the future fleet and determine the best number, size, and composition of units equipped with Future Vertical Lift (FVL) aircraft. The USAR’s Aviation structure provides a unique wedge, possesses incredible expertise, and remains relevant and ready. In these exciting times of planning for FVL and Army Aviation 2028/2035, we should consider all available options.
COL Andrew Cecil is the deputy commanding officer of the Army Reserve Aviation Command.