Army Aviation

No Time to Lose

Air Cavalry Leaders Course / By LTC Clifton Causey and MAJ Michael Gourgues: In the past, we assumed risk in training for combined arms maneuver against a near-peer threat. I am not willing to accept that risk anymore. – GEN Robert B. Abrams, 2018 FORSOM Command Training Guidance

ACLC students conducting fires planning during the course of action (COA) Development phase of MDMP. / U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY CW4 SHAUN BRETH, ACLC COURSE SP

After 16 years of fighting in a counter insurgency (COIN) environment, Aviation leaders planning against our near peer threats are inexperienced in the critical skills required to win. Our nation will call upon us to fight a near peer threat and we must therefore immediately shift our focus to the difficult task of warfighting in the decisive action environment. Essential to this fight are the reconnaissance and security operations that must occur to gain and maintain the initiative.

Three specific circumstances exacerbate this issue.

  • Our UAS capability is not yet fully integrated as a combined arms element to offset the capability gap caused by the divestiture of the OH-58Ds
  • Battalion level staffs are inexperienced in using the military decision making process (MDMP) to produce a practical centralized plan to combat a near peer threat in the direct action environment
  • Junior aviation leaders do not appreciate the difficulty of warfighting against a near peer threat The Air Cavalry Leaders Course (ACLC) is extremely effective in addressing these issues. This course teaches how to apply abbreviated MDMP using limited information from higher to develop a plan which will get reconnaissance and security assets “out front” as soon as possible to develop the situation and gain the initiative. The course uses the following techniques to develop practical skills:
  • Tailored academic discussions teaching recon and security doctrine
  • Tactical discussions highlighting vulnerabilities of current tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) 
  • Squadron level planning using abbreviated MDMP resulting in a practical OPORD
  • Troop level planning with that OPORD that culminates with a mission in the Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer (AVCATT)

ACLC enhances Cavalry leaders’ ability to conduct MDMP and troop leadership procedures (TLPs) with a focus on parallel planning to meet desired reconnaissance and security objectives. This course pushes the class through multiple iterations of planning in a short period of time. They develop an advanced understanding of reconnaissance and security operations through academics, practical exercise and simulation resulting in a leader that can effectively plan and employ Cavalry assets in the decisive action environment.

Week One
Day one begins with a diagnostic reconnaissance and security doctrine exam. The results of this exam inform the instructors on how to specifically tailor the course to the needs of each class. Additionally, feedback derived from exam trends is given to AVCCC and AWOAC instructors to ensure courses are nested across the Aviation Enterprise. COL (Ret.) Joe Eszes, a AAAA Hall of Fame member and honorary Colonel of the 16th Cavalry Regiment, delivers a frank discussion about the expectations of a Cavalry leader. His insight provides needed historical context for our current issues.

During the first week, students plan reconnaissance and security missions as a heavy attack reconnaissance squadron (HARS) staff aligned with a brigade combat team (BCT) fighting a realistic peer threat utilizing the cavalry planning principles and an abbreviated MDMP. Students are given minimal guidance from their higher command and are forced to complete a thorough intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) analysis in order to reach the situational understanding required for mission success.

Once complete with their squadron level plan, students are assigned to the troop level to further refine and execute their plan. In this phase, students gain an appreciation for the nuances of mission command by identifying gaps in their squadron plan as well as areas where their order was too rigid.
Real learning comes with execution. Students use TLPs to develop all of the necessary knee board and mission packets for a full execution. ACLC uses simulation technology in the AVCATT to evaluate the plan and develop a robust after action review (AAR) to drive home lessons learned.
Week one culminates with a one-on-one verbal evaluation with an instructor on the concepts covered in the class during the first week. This identifies weak areas that require focus in week two so students are successful during their final examination.

Week Two
The intensity is elevated when students must complete four planning iterations in four days. This often results in long days as students are held to the training standard. The added pressure along with the reduction in available time forces the class to abbreviate MDMP without decreasing performance.
There are two peer evaluations in ACLC worth 10% of the student’s final grade. For many students, these peer evaluations are the first time they have received candid 360 degree feedback from superiors, peers, and subordinates in their military career. Feedback from end of course critiques confirm this is a highlight for young officers, warrant officers and senior enlisted personnel eager for self-improvement.

Is it worth the investment?
When your unit receives an ACLC graduate, you can expect to lean heavily on them to train your staff and assist with the training plan to ensure that you are employing Cavalry assets to their full potential. A graduate of the ACLC has advanced knowledge of reconnaissance and security operations. These leaders develop, refine and correlate intelligence requirements and are proficient in doctrinally applying MDMP and TLPs in Cavalry missions.
Our nation is counting on our officers to be professional warfighters, not just COIN experts. The Air Cavalry Leaders Course is an essential tool to educate aviation leaders, enabling them to harness the talent and ingenuity that reside in our formations to fight a smart and agile near peer threat. Personally, I can attest that this is one of the most professional warfighting courses I’ve attended in 17 years of service. It is well worth the time.

LTC Clifton Causey has been selected to command 3rd Squadron, 17 Cavalry and is currently attending the AH-64 aircraft transition; and MAJ Michael Gourgues is the director of the Air Cavalry Leaders Course; both are assigned to Ft. Rucker, AL.