SPECIAL FOCUS Aviation Mission Survivability
Preserving Aviation Combat Power
By CW5 Michael S. Kelley
Historical Perspective – Employment of aviation capability provides tremendous impact to the balance of forces on any battlefield as evidenced when balloons were introduced for observation and adjusting field artillery fires.
The introduction of manned aircraft changed warfare and ever since, man has been designing methods of destroying the opponent’s aviation force. From installing machine guns on aircraft for direct action to the introduction of man-portable surface to air missiles during Vietnam, the methods used to target aircraft continue to advance.
Addressing this threat during the early days of aviation included designing aircraft capable of withstanding weapons effects. Most combat aircraft developers today will agree this is a course of action with diminishing returns. Exchanging fabric encased aircraft with sheet metal and wood structures with titanium is fairly straight forward; hardening the aircraft structure with full armor results in significant size, weight, and power issues.
Hence, today’s combat aircraft are designed with vulnerability reduction as a part of the engineering process resulting in a more survivable scenario if hit with a weapons system.
During the 1980s there was considerable discussion within the Army aviation community concerning surviving the hostile environment encountered on battlefields.
In the October 1984 issue of “Aviation Digest,” CW2 Charles Butler authored an article titled Threat Air Defense. At the time, he was assigned to the Threat Branch at Fort Rucker, AL.
In his article, he mentions “Knowledge of the enemy, knowledge of his weapons and of their capabilities” was something no aviator should leave home without.
CW2 Butler lists Threat Air Defense Countermeasure Rules, the first of which establishes the goal of denying the enemy the ability to acquire targets. In closing his article he states “Though threat air defense should command our respect, it is hardly unbeatable. By realistic training, a true awareness of the threat and proper use of counter-measures, this giant can be cut to size.”
CW2 Butler listed several passive and active counter-measures which continue to hold value today. The survivability scenario is enhanced with additional installed equipment capable of warning the aircrew through detection and displays.
Some of these systems provide decoys to the inbound threat systems through automatic expendables or aircrew action. The development of these survivability systems is essentially a never ending process because advancements in threat systems is an ever evolving industry.
The recent combat experiences during prolonged conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq have produced some meaningful tactical skills while at the same time allowed others to atrophy.
These operations pitted Army Aviation against an enemy with limited surface to air capability. The integration of an advanced infrared threat countermeasure system produced a large population of aviators more reliant upon systems and less reliant upon tactics.
There seems to be a prevailing attitude among many aviators today if you simply turn the aircraft survivability equipment (ASE) on, it will take care of you.
Certainly, our ASE systems have proven largely successful against an enemy with no air power or effective surface to air threat systems.
Facing an enemy with advanced integrated air defense systems (I-ADS) and a robust command and control capability would most likely result in a catastrophic outcome.
Aviation Mission Survivability Training
The Army Aviation Mission Survivability (AMS) program is a holistic approach to preserving aviation combat power. During initial training as aviators at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence (USAACE) and initial readiness level progressions at the units, aviators focus on the technical aspects of employing their assigned airframe.
Individual tasks are practiced and evaluated both in scope of the evaluator-trainee perspective and complete one task prior to moving onto the next.
Once an aviator or crew member achieves readiness level one, they are partnered with experienced pilots-in-command and other aircrew as appropriate. Following this, the unit survivability officer begins to add scenarios to already scheduled training flights.
Crew level training encompasses the understanding of aircraft survivability equipment capabilities and limitations, employment of the aircraft, and an understanding of threat systems. This relates specifically to own-ship protection.
Once all personnel are trained as integrated aircrew the unit training advances to collective scenarios.
Collective scenarios should be related to the unit’s Mission Essential Task List (METL) and incorporated into every training mission. Commanders should leverage their AMS officers (AMSO) to prioritize this effort.
The most effective piece of aircraft survivability equipment on-board our aircraft is the aircrew.
Scenario based training events within simulation and in the actual aircraft are critical to achieving reflexive immediate actions on contact, safely executed with precision. Simply stated, tactics are used to deny our enemies the ability to effectively engage aircraft with threat systems.
When tactics fail and the enemy gets a shot, it is imperative to properly identify the threat system being used and select the most effective maneuver to counter the threat system’s effectiveness.
Improperly identifying the threat system typically results in incorrect counter-tactics often exacerbating the threat risk. With weapon fly out times measured in seconds, aircrew must be trained to immediately identify threat systems based on ASE indications and visual signatures presented.
They must instinctively select the proper tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) to prevent or mitigate weapons effects while keeping the aircraft safe from obstacles.
This consideration is not limited to the aircraft whose ASE detected and declared the threat. Since all aircraft in a flight formation operate with essentially the same tactical employment techniques, the instinctive reaction is required for all aircraft in the flight regardless of which aircraft was initially targeted.
Failure to employ this methodology may result in subsequent aircraft in the flight being targeted by threat systems. These tasks must be accomplished during an engagement scenario where there is little time to contemplate solutions.
Therefore, the training scenarios must be presented in as close to real-world engagement solutions as possible and include AMSO evaluation of the crew and collective responses.
Training Devices Designed to Enable Commanders
The challenge for aviation commanders is to refocus a cohort of seasoned aviators, with over a decade of combat experience from counter-insurgency missions to a decisive action fight. The desired end-state will be to maximize the preservation of aviation combat power while providing the ground maneuver force capable and continued lethal air support and robust re-supply capability.
In order to achieve the desired end-state in a fiscally constrained environment, commanders must rely upon simulation and aircraft embedded threat emulation systems to create realistic training environments with peer and near-peer enemy force structure.
These systems must generate threat capability as close to real-world systems as possible.
The Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer (AVCATT) was recently upgraded to integrate installed aircraft survivability systems, including hostile fire indicator (HFI).
Fielding this capability provides aviation commanders the ability to train HFI in simulation prior to first unit equipped with the actual system.
Threat system visual signatures were modeled with more realism making them usable to train aviators to accurately identify threat systems engaging them.
There is a vast difference between identifying a man-portable air defense system (MANPAD) in a picture to how it actually looks when fired. Commanders can use these systems to ensure assigned aircrews are fully trained as individual crews and collectively. The after action review (AAR) capability supports a discussion based evaluation of crew and collective reaction of an ambushed “aerial convoy” or flight.
The Man-portable Aircraft Survivability Trainer (MAST) became a program of record in first quarter FY13.
With its fielding to the combat training centers, participating aviation units now have a system which interacts with installed Common Missile Warning System (CMWS), providing declaration to the aircrews and a visual signature for positive reinforcement of confidence in the system.
The MAST includes an adjudication capability emulating a more realistic probability of kill when CMWS is operational.
In the article titled Combat Imperatives Help 101st CAB Flightcrews Accomplish Mission found in the July-September 2013 issue of Aviation Digest, the authors discuss critical elements concerning combat losses.
The factors presented are, in part, due to lack of routine application of evasive maneuver techniques during training flights at home station.
If the unit trains at a three to five rotor disk separation on all flights at home station, never building in maneuver room for the combat scenario, the potential to relearn these hard lessons will continue.
As aircraft advance with digital cockpit displays, bussed systems, integrated computer technology and government owned threat emulation software the technology exists to place aircrews in a simulated threat environment. These embedded devices would emulate threat systems and ASE responses through multi-function displays (MFDs) without having actual ASE systems installed. This threat environment would not require expensive emitters or personnel.
This capability will provide emulated threat in the real world, creating the most realistic flight training scenarios during every training flight.
This will provide commanders the ability to train against active threats programmed into the aircraft by the AMS officers.
Aircrew interaction with ASE during these events will emulate the real-world systems. Integration of this capability into the aerial gunnery program will provide realistic ASE declaration associated with the target assignments.
This survivability-lethality integration will enable crews to train with all systems providing accurate indications associated with target engagement scenarios.
Prior to the bussed aircraft solutions, this integrated training capability with currently available government owned material and software solutions was not possible on Army platforms.
Albert Einstein stated: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Army Aviation’s approach to resolving survivability requirements on tomorrow’s battlefields falls within this description.
Shifting from the Aviation Tactical Operations Officer to the Aviation Mission Survivability program managed by the AMS Officer is the beginning of a complete solution.
In the 1992 after action review for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Army Aviation identified units that did not begin training for the threat in earnest until after they were deployed. A little over two decades after Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, MAJ Jamie LaValley provided an article to the July-September 2013 Aviation Digest titled “A Hard Lesson Learned” where he discusses the requirement for additional threat based tactical flight training throughout the aviator’s career. He later discusses weapons and tactics training, certification and instructor requirements.
A comprehensive tactics and threat training program established within each aviation unit will provide the environment necessary to inculcate aircrews with the instinctive skills to survive combat environments.
Establishing senior survivability officers as tactics evaluators through a training and certification process is essential to a long term solution.
Clear measurement of crew and unit capabilities to engage in aviation operations in simulated combat environments will provide commanders a better gauge of their unit’s combat effectiveness.
The preservation of aviation combat power is the focus of the aviation mission survivability program
CW5 Michael S. Kelley is the Branch Aviation Mission Survivability Officer, assigned to the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, Fort Rucker, AL.