U.S. Army Aviation is fielding the first units under a plan to transform combat elements into highly flexible, self-supporting modular combat brigades designed to move into any arena fast and hit the ground fighting.
At the turn of this century, the U.S. Army's chief of staff, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, laid out a directive to create "strategic dominance across the entire spectrum of operations." The seven primary goals of his "Army Vision" were to make the service more responsive, deployable, agile, versatile, lethal, survivable and sustainable.
That vision has been adopted by the current chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, as the U.S. Army Transformation. Under that plan, 32 combat brigades will be formed, able to operate at the division level or as modular units and be transported anywhere in the world within 96 hr. The brigades are then to immediately begin operations without outside support for three days, relying only on the supplies and fuel it carries with it.
The transformation plan calls for fulfilling strategic commitments with a pool of units more adaptable to the mission requirements. To do this, the Army is creating brigade-sized "units of action" containing "enablers" such as self-sustaining maintenance elements to make them more modular and self-sufficient than today's organization, according to the transformation plan.
Service officials already have begun transforming Army Aviation into interim units called multi-functional aviation brigades, or MFABs. There are to be 11 of these in the Army's active component and eight in the Reserve and National Guard. They are to be formed using both organic division brigade aircraft and by pulling aviation assets down from corps-level commands, according to Col. Gregory P. Gass, deputy director, G-3 (Operations) Aviation.
"We had a lot of attack aircraft and Chinooks at corps level, he said, citing as examples the 229th Aviation Regiment assigned as XVIII Airborne Corps' aviation attack regiment and the 6th Cavalry in III Corps in South Korea. "We had several units like that. We took those corps assets and pushed them down to division" and unit of execution level as part of the transformation."
Of the eight new aviation brigades that are to be formed within the Reserve and National Guard, six will be totally within the National Guard. The other two will be combined Guard/Reserve units headquartered within the Guard.
Once the transformation of aviation assets within a division, or unit of execution, is completed, there will be no other aviation assets organic to that command.
Synonymous with "division," a "unit of execution" indicates any division-sized main force actively involved in combat and needing aviation assets. While aviation brigades will be assigned to individual Divisions, the transformation plan assumes individual brigades (or battalions within them) could be reassigned to any unit of execution depending on the requirements of the combat situation.
Transformation of the 3rd Infantry Div. and the 101st Airborne Div. (Air Assault) was completed last year. The 3rd Infantry, with its new transformed combat brigade structure, was sent back to Iraq earlier this year. It served in Iraq two years ago, under the Army's traditional brigade structure, and led the assault on Baghdad in March 2003. The 101st Airborne Div., which was also in Iraq in 2003, will be redeployed to Iraq with its newly transformed combat brigades later this year. The 1st Cavalry Div. and 10th Mountain Div. have also been re-formed under the new brigade concept.
The aircraft assets necessary to outfit these multi-functional aviation brigades would not have been available had they not been pushed down from corps level, Gass said. Now the unit-of-execution commander, "who is the war fighter, has those assets at his disposal to maneuver as he sees fit," he said. That commander will be able to provide priority and guidance to the aviation brigade commander to support whichever brigade combat team has the main effort on the ground. That ground maneuver commander would be given operational command of the aviation brigade.
The significance of the aviation brigades is that every one of the 19--active, Reserve and Guard--are to be identical. Depending on unit rotations and the particular scenario, if the commander of the 1st Cavalry has a mission that requires another multi-functional aviation brigades, the commander of another division--say the 10th Mountain Div.--could be told to transfer operational command of his aviation brigade to the 1st Cavalry commander, Gass said.
"What the 1st Cavalry commander can expect to receive [in that case] is the same type of structure and organization that he already has," Gass added, "so he knows what that organization looks like and what kind of footprint it has. He knows what to expect." Previously, if he was given operational command of another aviation battalion, such as an AH-64 Apache battalion, "he could have either 18 ships, 21 ships or 24 ships, depending on where it was. What we've done now is standardize them across the board so they come with the same support package throughout the Army."
This "plug and play" concept would allow, for instance, the commander of the 1st Cavalry to pull his aviation brigade out of a combat zone, send them home and replace them with an aviation brigade from the 10th Mountain Div. or 3rd Infantry Div. That new unit should come in and operate exactly like the one pulling out.
Each of the aviation brigades will consist of five battalions.
A General Support Aviation Battalion would consist of 12 HH-60 medevac Black Hawks, 12 CH-47 Chinooks and eight command-and-control UH-60s.
An Aviation Assault Battalion would have three companies of UH-60s.
An Aviation Support Battalion would provide maintenance and logistics.
The remaining two battalions would be attack/reconnaissance units.
The brigades would be classified as heavy, medium or light, depending on the make-up of its attack/reconnaissance units. A heavy brigade would have two AH-64 Apache battalions of 24 aircraft each. A medium one would have one 24-aircraft Apache battalion and one OH-58D Kiowa Warrior squadron of 30 aircraft. The light brigade would have two 30-aircraft OH-58D squadrons.
The OH-58Ds are to be replaced with new Bell Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters (ARH) as they come on line. The UH-60As and Ls are being replaced with UH-60Ms, which have a glass cockpit, a more powerful T-700-GE-701D engine and wider chord main rotor blades, as they come down the pipeline beginning in 2007.
These attack/reconnaissance units are designed to modular in that they can be pulled individually or collectively from one aviation brigade and inserted into another to give that unit's commander additional firepower or scouting capability as required.
"I can pull an ARH squadron from the light or medium MFAB and send it to fight with a heavy MFAB that doesn't have any recon aircraft if the mission deems necessary," Gass said. "That's the beauty of this--the flexibility and modularity of it."
Also key to the concept is that the aviation support battalion is designed so elements of it can be pulled out to provide support to other units as well. Gass said the new brigades are more robust than previous aviation brigades because they can support themselves with these battalions. Today, aviation units are tied to their aviation intermediate maintenance support. Under transformation, that support will go with the unit. "We're transitioning into a two-level maintenance concept: unit level or depot level."