30 January 2010

Aviators and COIN: Thread of the day at the Small Wars Council

A lieutenant in the military intelligence field in Afghanistan beseeched the Small Wars Council for help recently:

I've been tasked with putting together a "COIN Academy" for our soldiers and aircrews [in an Army Aviation Task Force presumably in Afghanistan]. I already know the biggest obstacle will be overcoming the "WTF?" reaction from crews who have been trained in kinetic action since the dawn of their profession.

What I am struggling with right now -- after consulting FM 3-24, among other sources -- is finding (or developing, if I must) a template for the exponential use of aviation assets in a COIN environment. FM 3-24 focuses on the application of combat power via air assets, but that really isn't a relevant role for us in our current battlespace.

We know we can be more than air taxis and sling-loaders. We're already having some success by shifting the role of the AHs, to the profound consternation of the crews who don't yet understand that by "failing" in an operational sense, specific to that airframe, they are in fact "winning" the strategic fight.

Do you all have any thoughts on how aviation can evolve to be a relevant actor in a COIN environment?

A few thoughts, and a few misconceptions.

1.) First of all, a COIN academy with Army Aviators will have to be relegated to the basics, and just that. Start talking about economic development, David Galula, or anything along those lines, and I guarantee that someone will raise their hand and ask, "All I want to know is whether or not these guys have MANPADS [MAN Portable Air Defense Systems]." Out lieutenant here will need to show how Army Aviation affects the counterinsurgency fight--which it does, despite the naysayers (see the thread).

2.) Air logistics--since when did providing logistical and combat service support from the air become a bad thing? Last I checked, the General Support Aviation Battalions (GSABs) were designed to accomplish many of those functions. Well, maybe not by design--GSABs appear to be a bizarre combination of all the leftover corps-level aviation assets that the Army had prior to transformation--but they serve that purpose nonetheless. Medical evacuation, command and control, heavy lift and tactical VIP transport will always be an important part of any low-intensity fight.

3.) Attack and reconaissance assets are also important. While I believe that counterinsurgency is largely won by building an effective government, and improving civil services, I also take a pragmatic outlook on things and acknowledge that, yes, American troops will find themselves under fire. Many of the respondents in the thread actually believe that attack helicopters (such as the AH-64 Apache and AH-1 Cobra) and armed reconaissance helicopters (such as the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior) have little place in the counterinsurgency fight. I would suspect that the beseiged Soldiers at Wanat and at Combat Outpost Keating would disagree.

4.) Just ask any infantryman who served in Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam if he felt that Army Aviation was irrelevant in the counterinsurgency fight. Clearly, this is not the case.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Everytime I see MANPADS, I think of a buddy that the recruiter convinced to enlist as a MANPADS crewman. Crewman... that means you get to be part of a crew, right? Pretty easy?

Then, after the ink was dry, he found out about the two man crew thing and after jumping with the whole system and their personal gear, they get to hump it too.