Special Ops / By COL Philip Ryan, CW5 Michael Hardy, and CSM Christopher Bosowski: The bonds between Army Aviation and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) run deep and strong. We’ve shared the same desert airspace, flown around the same harsh and unforgiving peaks, choked on the same dust, fought the same enemy, and, ultimately, bled the same blood. The Regiment traces the roots of its distinguished history to Army Aviation, the famed 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) to be exact; the Regiment could not exist as it does today without the lifeblood of Army Aviation.
An MH-60 conducts Fast Rope Insertion/Extraction System (FRIES) to a compound under NVGs. / ALL PHOTOS COURTESY U.S. ARMY SPECIAL OPERATIONS AVIATION COMMAND
The 160th is well-funded and Army Aviation mans our force with its best and brightest, willingly offering up those who would seek a new challenge. Possessing an integrated research and development capacity and unencumbered by the burden of size – think of turning a sedan vice a battleship – the 160th possesses a unique capacity to lead change; change with a purpose.
While Army Aviation has done the heavy lifting, often maintaining three entire combat aviation brigades deployed at the height of our recent wars, the 160th has operated on the edge of the operational spectrum at the highest of operational tempos while at the same time innovating new ideas, exploring new technology, and sharing our experiences and investments with the rest of Army Aviation.
An MH-47 conducts overwater operations.
Pioneering Technology, TTPs & Training
More than three decades ago the plank holders of the 160th pioneered the use of night vision goggle (NVG) technology through their ground breaking testing and training. These brave souls cut away the full-face ANVIS-5s and developed tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to use NVGs in every environment expanding the envelope and employment of the helicopter. While this dangerous work came at a high cost in terms of both men and machines, Army Aviation, and the military at large, benefitted greatly from the efforts of these early Night Stalkers.
Throughout the years, the 160th has led the way with other efforts in terms of training, doctrine, tactics, and equipment. Non-rated crew member training, with a rigorous system for crew member progression, has allowed for mission success through safety and standardization. Establishing criteria to mark advancements in nearly every military occupational specialty (MOS)(officer and enlisted) through a culture and structure of Basic Mission Trained (BMT), Basic Mission Qualified (BMQ), Fully Mission Qualified (FMQ), and, for our warrant officer aviators, Flight Lead Qualified, has helped steward the performance and proficiency levels across the formation to allow commanders to properly choose crews and build teams. This commonality in training has allowed the Regiment to integrate all four line battalions seamlessly into combat missions during our most recent major operations.
Warrant Officer Leadership
Over 10 years ago, then-COL Kevin Mangum recognized the value of the experience and credibility of our most senior warrant officers by establishing the first Command Chief Warrant Officer (CCWO). Taken out of hide at the time, the significance of officially designating the CCWO was more than symbolic; it formalized a leader among our 400+ warrant officers and gave a focal point to voice issues and concerns in the formation. The CCWO became a critical advisor to the Regiment Commander to identify and manage talent in each of our more than 25 different warrant officers MOSs. Today, nearly every Aviation battalion and brigade has a CCWO position, an officer of critical importance within each command team.
Two MH-6s insert the ground force to the rooftops of an urban downtown area.
Owning the Spectrum
In the first 20 years of our existence, the unofficial slogan of the unit was “we own the night” with a nearly obsessive focus on employing our black helicopters under NVGs. Speed, surprise, and violence of action became our calling card for the infiltration and close air support of our nation’s Special Operations Forces. Today, the proliferation of night vision technology and other advanced electronic warfare systems in the hands of our foes threatens all of us who operate at the slower end of the third dimension. The 160th is actively pursuing advances in many areas to develop, test, and train with new technology and TTPs in an effort to now say, “we own the spectrum.” The use of chaff, maneuver, and jamming capability has allowed us to defeat or defend against many of these systems in testing. We are sharing our lessons learned with the Aviation Center of Excellence to ensure that every unit can benefit from our training.
Maintaining and Sustaining
On the maintenance side, our Tech Supply NCOs and technical inspectors (TIs) collaborated to create a process and system known as “Task Based Maintenance” (TBM). This not-so-revolutionary concept allows for aircraft maintainers to draw a pre-packaged set of all components needed to conduct a specific maintenance task from the unit’s tech supply room saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in future sunk costs (see MAJ Josh Clemmons’ article elsewhere in this issue for more on this).
Our maintainers have been developing an electronic maintenance job book over the past three years. With the renewed focus on individual maintenance training, including an emphasis to properly track this work, there was an opportunity to work in partnership with the greater enterprise. The software that the 160th shared has key tasks and subtasks that it tracks. The innovative part of this program, however, is how it draws and catalogs information to automatically pull the information from the migrated logbook and assign credit to those that did the work. By the TI signing off the work they not only validate that the Soldier did the work correctly, they also will be confirming that the Soldier is familiar and/or trained in that task. The program enables Soldiers to retain their training records, showing a tangible assessment of their individual skill level, when they PCS to a new duty station.
In recent years, we have expanded our purview to include unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The extraordinary success of our MQ-1C Gray Eagle company in combat has led to advances in the employment of this high demand system. Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 160th, the winner of four previous AAAA UAS Unit of the Year awards, continues to harness advances in its beyond line of sight capabilities and its unprecedented record of kinetic strikes in combat. Recently, the Army approved the expansion of the 160th with the addition of a second Gray Eagle company based on the tremendous success of Echo Company. The unit regularly shares its lessons learned with both the Project Manager and TRADOC Capability Manager UAS, as well as the Army’s other Gray Eagle formations.
Lastly, the 160th is honored to frequently return leaders to the greater Aviation force, many of whom are privileged to command and lead formations at all levels. Here they apply what they’ve learned over the years in our formation with the persistent excellence of the broader Army Aviation enterprise in providing unparalleled support to and teamwork with our nation’s ground warriors.
After 35 years, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) has evolved from a nascent band of daring warriors willing to attempt a second hostage rescue into Iran to a lethal and formidable force of more than 3,000 seasoned professionals providing precision helicopter assault, close air support, ISR, and aviation advisory support to our customers around the world, all while remembering our roots and giving back to Army Aviation.
Night Stalkers Don’t Quit!
Above the Best!
COL Philip Ryan, CW5 Michael Hardy, CSM Christopher Bosowski are the commander, command chief warrant officer, and command sergeant major of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) headquartered at Fort Campbell, KY.