The U.S. Army is expanding its capabilities to protect the Persian Gulf region through joint training exercises with the U.S. Navy and friendly Middle East countries. Particular emphasis is being placed on working with the Navy to develop tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) for littoral (close to shore) operations in the region, to include over-water survival training and shipboard landings.
The Texas Army National Guard’s 36th Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) is currently fulfilling this role. The unit was deployed to the region in April and includes the 4-227th Attack-Reconnaissance Battalion (Boeing AH-64D Apaches), the 1-189th General Support Aviation Battalion (Sikorsky UH-60L Black Hawks), the 449th Aviation Support Battalion and a detachment of fixed-wing aircraft. It has headquarters at Camp Buehring in Kuwait, with responsibility for the Army Aviation operations across the Central Command Area of Responsibility.
UH-60 landing on a U.S. Navy ship. Photos by Sgt. Mark Scovell of the 36th CAB public affairs office
While TTP development is a major element in the Army’s planning, the primary mission of the unit is to provide security for the region, and particularly the defense of Kuwait, according to Maj. Randy Stillinger, public affairs officer for the 36th CAB. It is also tasked with building stronger ties with multi-national partners in the region through joint training exercises.
The first of these was Operation Desert Talon, conducted with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with the primary goal being “to further the development of AH-64D Apache TTPs and assess the aircraft’s efficacy against small watercraft that potential adversaries could employ against coalition forces,” Stillinger said.
The unit employed both moving and stationary targets to represent watercraft profiles, and culminated with a live fire exercise over the Gulf.
Stillinger also noted that the deployment required the Army helicopter pilots to receive deck-landing qualification (DLQ) before conducting operations off U.S. Navy ships. Ground school classes taught by a qualified instructor pilot are followed by five deck landing patterns on land or in an approved simulator.
Five landings on a ship are then required for qualification. These qualifications are maintained and integrated regularly into exercises in the Gulf.
“While there are some aspects of DLQ that we can control, gaining and maintaining currency is dependent upon the availability of U.S. Navy ships in the Northern Arabian Gulf [as well as] changing conditions in desert weather, which can affect training for several days at a time due to high winds and blowing sand or dust,” he said.
AH-64Ds from the 4-227th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion.
In a recent article by Meghann Myers in the Navy Times, Maj. Scott Nicholas, the 36th CAB future operations chief, said that “We’re trying to develop tactics, techniques and procedures for the littoral fight, specifically for countering fast-attack craft and fast-inshore-attack craft, or small boats that might approach a larger Navy ship along a coastline.” The free flow of maritime traffic throughout the Gulf and through the Strait of Hormuz – the narrow strip of water between Iran and the Arabian Peninsular leading from the Indian Ocean into the Gulf – is crucial to the export of oil to the rest of the world, he said.
LTC Jim Nugent, operations officer for the 36th CAB “Mustangs” noted that the unit continues to expand its capabilities during its current deployment to Kuwait.
“This mission provides us with a high volume of opportunities to engage with joint and multinational partners across multiple lines of effort. In particular, we’ve been fortunate to work frequently with our Navy and Marine counterparts in the region, building our capacity to support the CENTCOM Commander in the littoral and maritime realm,” he said.
“The Apache gives the naval commander a direct-fire weapons system that’s highly maneuverable and extremely lethal, that can respond in a very powerful way to augment his onboard organic systems as part of a joint effort,” he said.
The 36th CAB pilots are fully committed “to furthering tactics, techniques and procedures that support synchronized maritime maneuver” and taking advantage of the chance to team with their counterparts in the Navy, Marines and Air Force.
“I think we’re going to see much more of this in the future,” he said.
Col. Rick Adams, commander of the 36th CAB, said that as the U.S. Military moves into the future, the unit “is on the tip of the spear with regard to Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental and Multinational (JIIM) operations. We’re privileged to be in a time and location where these elements merge and offer opportunity to advance our skills geometrically.”
While the Apache gunships were obviously providing the firepower for the training operations, the Black Hawks were conducing missions involving combat search and rescue (C-SAR), medical evacuation, logistics support and personnel transfer.
Although the 36th CAB is part of the Texas Army National Guard’s 36th Infantry Division that gained fame in both World War I and II, the element now operating in the Gulf is comprised of National Guard units from Texas, Alaska, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota and Montana, as well as active duty units from Fort Hood, Texas and Germany. The 36th CAB will serve in the Gulf region until this winter, when it will return to its home base in Austin, Texas.
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