Aviation Branch Chief Update / By MG William K. Gayler: It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. – Charles Darwin
A student in the Aviation Captains Career Course, class 18-04, completes a Modified Combined Obstacle Overlay as part of an attack operation planning iteration that focused heavily on the Troop Leading Procedures, Jan 23rd, 2019. / U.S. ARMY PHOTO USAACE, FT. RUCKER, AL
For the past seventeen years or so, Army Aviation was asked to fight, train, and sustain at an amazing operational pace that literally spanned the globe – and we did. Fairly quickly that fight transitioned to predominantly company and below operations, taking on doctrinal characteristics our few remaining Vietnam aviators remembered and helped to re-energize. Now we are in a similar transition, and the doctrinal shift to Large Scale Combat Operations (LSCO) finds that there are not many AirLand Battle aviators left to rekindle the knowledge.
To paraphrase a well-known historian, you have to recognize the nature of the fight you are in and not try to make it something it is not, which is exactly what we are doing. We are changing how we must fight to face the threats emerging around the world, and that is no easy task while the branch is still 84% committed worldwide.
As the rate of change in the world around us has intensified, I will tell you that the Aviation Enterprise has done a phenomenal job keeping pace. Two of the major accelerators for change have been the establishment of the Army Futures Command (AFC) and the release of The Army in Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) 2028 concept.
AFC and the Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team (FVL-CFT)
The creation of AFC is completely changing how we acquire materiel. At the heart of this new process is reducing the time it takes (the goal is by half), from concept to delivery, to put a major system into Soldiers’ hands. To accomplish this, AFC created a cross functional team (CFT) for each of the Army’s top six modernization priorities. Each team is composed of a mix of personnel, all teaming with academia and industry, that encompass requirements, science and technology, program management, sustainment, and testing.
FVL falls in the Army’s top 3 modernization priorities. The FVL-CFT is currently focused on Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA), Future and Advanced Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), and the Modular Open Systems Architecture (MOSA).
By design, all these systems are structured to move quickly from concept to fielding with FVL-CFT already making significant inroads to reducing the time it takes to get these systems off the drawing board and into operational use.
Multi-Domain Operations (MDO)
TRADOC has replaced The Army Operating Concept with The Army in MDO 2028 Concept, focusing some very specific guidance from the National Defense Strategy: deter and defeat Chinese and Russian aggression in both competition and conflict. The MDO article from the Aviation Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate (CDID), later in this publication, is a good primer for getting you thinking about Army Aviation and our role in MDO. I do, however, recommend that we all delve into this document and understand the nuances of MDO, because like it or not, if we transition from competition to conflict tomorrow, we will have to fight as part of the Joint Force in all five domains to achieve our operational/strategic objectives – and we will have to figure out how to do it with the equipment we have today.
Aviation Warfighter Initiative: Knowledge Without Purpose Is Trivia
Over the past several years, USAACE has been examining specific ways to address the coming change in how the Army fights, one of which became the Aviation Warfighter Initiative (AWI). The AWI shifts our branch’s focus away from the overly technical and back to tactical competencies, in order to increase readiness for LSCO while capitalizing on existing counter insurgency (COIN) experience.
The execution of LSCO will require us to go back to the future in combatting significant challenges, such as how to operate in comms or GPS-denied environments. The upcoming IERW redesign, the Basic Army Aviator Course (BAAC), will reinvigorate such atrophied skills as map reading and terrain association, as well as focus instruction back to improved control touch and the base tasks applicable to combat aircraft. With the same intent of incorporating rigor, the Instructor Pilot and Aviation Mission Survivability Officer Courses have also increased their emphasis on doctrine, warfighting fundamentals, and hands-on survivability.
Doctrinally we have been aligning our manuals to address some of the other fundamental and complex challenges LSCO will present to us, such as airspace integration and planning considerations in contested airspace, expeditionary sustainment considerations (FM 3-04), an increased focus on fighting platoons and companies (FM 3-04.1), and enhanced survivability in a LSCO/peer-threat environment (FM 3-04.2).
We have also increased rigor for our leaders through the Professional Military Education they receive at the institution, which focuses on building their capacity for critical and creative thinking, tactical agility, and overall resilience.
At the Pre Command Course we are incorporating LSCO into every aspect of training culminating in a three-day LSCO scenario (wet gap crossing) enabling discussion of the Plan, Prepare, Execute, Assess phases of operations.
At the Captain’s Career Course we are increasing the number and complexity of assessments, to include iterations of Troop Leading Procedures (TLP) and the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) utilizing LSCO simulation. Additionally, we have increased instruction in threat, survivability, and aviation and ground maintenance operations.
Will the change, adaptation and integration that’s associated with any significant doctrinal shift like LSCO and concepts like MDO be smooth and unfettered? Probably not. Will Army Aviation continue to be asked to fight, train, and sustain at an operational pace over an area that spans the globe? Absolutely, because that is what our brothers and sisters on the ground are being asked to do.
As you read through MDO 2028 and note the three core tenets of Calibrated Force Posture, Multi-Domain Formations, and Convergence, you will quickly realize that Army Aviation is a lynchpin to their successful implementation. And you will also realize that the changes we have already charted, and those we have yet to develop, are what will make us successful.
Above the Best!
MG William K. Gayler is the Army Aviation branch chief and commander of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, AL.