Aviation Branch Chief / By MG William K. Gayler: Although capabilities to enhance our survival in combat are often associated with materiel solutions, or “things,” it is the combination of these “things” with trained Soldiers armed with knowledge of best practices that enable us to fight and win in complex environments.
A U.S. CH-47 Chinook helicopter, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion (General Support), 169th Aviation Regiment, Georgia Army National Guard, discharges flares before landing. / U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY CPT ADAN CAZAREZ
When Army aviators hear the word “survivability” they often equate the term with “ASE” – Aircraft Survivability Equipment. As a community, we tend to think of survivability in terms of “things” – black boxes hung on our aircraft that provide specific abilities to detect or degrade the effectiveness of enemy weapons systems. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does limit how our aircrews frame the problem of accomplishing our aviation mission in a high-threat environment. We have counted on technology to increase the survivability of our aircraft for as long as we have been a branch. However, ASE is only one component of a survivability strategy that includes how we fly (tactics), our understanding of the enemy (IPB), our ability to operate as a member of the combined arms team (doctrine), and the capabilities of the aircraft we employ.
A Set of Capabilities
Make no mistake – ASE matters. When combined with maneuver and an understanding of the threat environment, it serves the crucial role of enabling our aircrews and aircraft to revise the results of an encounter with the enemy to a more favorable outcome when no other mitigations methods remain. But ASE is one element of aviation survivability, an entire set of capabilities – and our way of thinking about them – that enables us to fight, win, and come through the chaos ready to fight again. In a broader context, an effective aviation survivability strategy requires us to make use of Army Aviation’s inherent mobility, speed, and range capabilities as the aviation maneuver force of the combined arms team.
We cannot rely on ASE alone to solve our survivability challenges – because of fiscal constraints, and because we cannot continue to add the weight of additional systems to our existing aircraft without making tough choices about performance trade-offs. This is why ASE modernization efforts cannot happen in a stovepipe.
We must bridge align modernization efforts that build complimentary capabilities across the Army Aviation force to achieve the aims of the Army Operating Concept – achieving surprise through maneuver; striking from multiple directions; using mobility to gain a position of advantage—in the future while meeting the immediate demands of commanders in the field.
The Aviation Equipment Modernization Strategy aims to increase our options in this regard by improving our capabilities in terms of reach, protection, and lethality. The Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) takes the first critical step in developing reach – speed, mobility, range, and endurance – to avoid or mitigate high-risk situations, generate maneuver options for commanders, and go where the mission requires. The Advanced Threat Detection System (ATDS) and Degraded Visual Environment (DVE) programs address the threat and environmental hazards we face today while retaining growth capacity to keep pace with an increasingly complex world. Small Guided Munitions (SGM) and the Joint Air Ground Missile (JAGM) programs provide Lethality options that will enable us to eliminate those threats on our terms. As we expand our abilities in terms of reach, protection, and lethality, so too must we grow our mindset to make the best use of the inherent capabilities of Army Aviation as part of the combined arms team.
Range, Speed, Mobility
We do our branch a disservice if we only think about survivability in terms of our aircraft. In a high-stakes, high-threat, decisive action environment, speed and mobility are critical to the survival of more than just our manned and unmanned aircraft. Our command posts cannot be effective if they lack the ability to swiftly relocate to avoid enemy targeting efforts or the ability to create shared understanding among friendly forces by remaining linked in with forces on the move. Our range, speed, and mobility advantages bring great capabilities to supported ground forces, but those same qualities also demand agile and robust logistics networks able to keep up with the range and tempo of maneuver operations.
To succeed in a complex world, it’s not enough to expand our thoughts on survivability from aircraft-related systems – “things” – to a broader understanding of speed and mobility as capabilities uniquely suited, and necessary, to Army Aviation forces. We must open our aperture wider still.
Truly our best protection comes from effectively integrating Army Aviation as a maneuver arm of a combined arms team. In this framework, we exploit our inherent aviation advantages to enable commanders to dictate the terms of operations; at the same time we increase our own survivability by presenting the enemy with multiple dilemmas in which we are just one of many threats they must deal with. We each have a critical role in this effort, because to do this well requires rigorous collective air-ground training in combined arms maneuver.
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.