Army Aviation

Survivability – Outlook for Today and Tomorrow

Aviation Survivability / By CW3 Paul Olson: The Aviation Survivability Development and Tactics (ASDAT) team occupies a unique position in U.S. Army Aviation. ASDAT, the Army component of the Joint Combat Assessment Team (JCAT) underneath the Joint Aircraft Survivability Program (JASP), started as a forensics-focused team that examined enemy tactics techniques and procedures (TTP) utilized to affect U.S. aircraft and provided the joint aviation community with counter TTPs against the threats posed to them. These efforts resulted in increased U.S. military aircraft effectiveness and survivability. The team’s mission has expanded tremendously since its inception, with two new pillars of training and survivability joining the existing forensics mission. This mission expansion uniquely positions ASDAT adjacent to Training and Doctrine (TRADOC), industry and government to positively affect and influence the Survivability community in U.S. Army Aviation.

Time-lapse view of a CH-47 Chinook pre-flight after dark at Jalalabad Airfield, Afghanistan./ PERSONAL PHOTO BY CW4 MARK CHAMBERLIN

At present, retrograde operations in Iraq and Afghanistan lessoning the counterinsurgency fight, enables the fleet to refocus on the near-peer fight and challenges to American dominance across the battlefield. This realignment of effort and priorities highlight the need to self-assess survivability as it relates to training, lessons learned, and the way ahead. Concerning survivability, ASDAT always maintains both a firm hand on current threats facing supported units downrange and investigating the threats the joint Aviation community will face tomorrow. An initiative that personifies this refined focus is USAACE’s execution of the Joint Aviation Multi-Ship Validation quick reaction test, which exposed ASDAT to several mission areas where historical institutional knowledge could be leveraged to make an immediate impact across the branch.

One issue that ASDAT identified was widespread lack of understanding among aircrews of how aircraft survivability equipment (ASE) functions in their airframe. Upon noticing this trend among aircrews, ASDAT submitted changes to each airframe’s ASE checklist and operator manual to address the widespread confusion and assist our aircrews in better understanding their airframe’s ASE. The submitted changes are awaiting final approval before dissemination and implementation. All crew members must have a confident understanding of ASE. The understanding of an aircraft’s systems strengths and weaknesses are critical in order to exploit these strengths and mitigate these weaknesses in mission planning prior to mission execution, therefore maximizing Aviation’s effectiveness in any threat environment.

Eliminating the Confusion

Given the sheer volume of Army aircraft, various models of each airframe, and the vast array of operational areas, an enormous strain is placed on operational flight programs, mission data sets/sequence, as well as unit Aviation Mission Survivability Officers (AMSO’s) themselves. This results in an environment of confusion that ASDAT aims to eliminate. An initiative which exists to reduce some of the confusion is the ASE Configuration Chart, a relatively new product, which streamlines ASE’s setting and software loads. This chart is found on the ASDAT’s Secret Internet Protocol Router network (SIPR) website. This clarification guide synthesizes information produced by the Army Reprogramming and Analysis Team (ARAT) and compiles it into an easy-to-read presentation for unit AMSO’s to acquire the necessary information required to program their ASE for each airframe. Taking the guesswork and confusion out of the process allows AMSO’s to dedicate more of their time to areas that need it.

At Fort Rucker, the Survivability Branch revamped the AMSO track to better equip AMSOs to deal with the current and emerging threat environments. One significant change is the elimination of the Personnel Recovery requirement. This modification allows AMSO’s to focus more on survivability and refocus on threats posed by peer and near peer threats, along with their proxies. The continuous challenge from those threats, coupled with some peer and near peer partnerships and their tremendous investment into their militaries now represent the greatest threat to American military dominance.

AMSO’s will have to focus their attention on new, emerging threats, as well as old threats modernized by new technology. Integrated Air Defense networks and legacy hardware lethality can be increased with only software upgrades that eliminate the need for hardware advancement. It is a challenging time for our Aviation community. Emerging weapons systems that leverage the electromagnetic spectrum as a battle domain, such as Directed Energy, GPS spoofing/denial, and Ultraviolet and Infrared has caused ASDAT to address these new threats and work to educate the force through unit training assistance visits, briefings for all levels of professional military education, weekly intelligence summaries and newsletters.

Training Opportunities

As we continue to educate aircrews on the current and emerging threats they face, it is also important to recognize the possible limitations our aircrews may have for training opportunities. Electronic warfare ranges where crews and units can work together to fly against actual threats are expensive, limited, and aging quickly. Outside of ranges, aviation will need to take advantage of simulation and virtual reality. These options have already taken root at Fort Rucker with flight students learning the basics of hovering prior to sitting in a cockpit. Units will need access to similar systems as an affordable option for crews to take advantage of and develop their TTPs. Although nothing can replace live training, investment in leveraging new technologies can have a profound impact by providing a cost-effective solution that allows crews to master their skill without the wear and tear on airframes. Although electronic warfare ranges can be difficult to attend, simulation can be present on the aircraft with emulators installed that will mimic enemy actions giving aircrews options to train while in flight. Army aviation is taking positive steps to address the threats that continue to emerge from our nation’s adversaries, but more must be done to equip our aviators with knowledge and skills in this trying time of fluctuating budgets and ever-evolving threats.

Addressing the changes necessary to meet the survivability challenges we face as a community requires a culture shift that impacts the way we problem solve across Army Aviation. Continued high operations tempo, perpetual personnel changeover and additional duty assignments outside of aviator positions all contribute to a culture of last minute planning and ad hoc decision-making, which neglects the larger problem. From top to bottom, across the entire community, aviation needs to address its readiness for the next fight. This will require hard study of emerging and future threats and the impacts to our current survivability, as well as pointed work to resolve any inadequacies. Without a doubt, training is the keystone to surviving in the emerging and future battlespace. With education serving as the foundation, we must know the current and forecasted threats, as well as our own ASE inside out. Knowledge of the threat and knowledge of our own systems work hand in hand. ASDAT will continue to leverage its unique position adjacent to TRADOC, industry and government to positively affect and influence the survivability community across the joint Aviation community with the goal of preserving our fleet and our aviators in today’s fight and in the future.

CW3 Paul E. Olson is an aviation combat forensics officer and CH-47F aviation mission survivability officer with the Aviation Survivability Development and Tactics (ASDAT) Team, headquartered at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, Fort Rucker, AL.