Academic journal article Military Review

The Glass Balls of the Brigade Aviation Element: The Brigate Aviation Officer in Combat

Academic journal article Military Review

The Glass Balls of the Brigade Aviation Element: The Brigate Aviation Officer in Combat

Article excerpt

BATTALION AVIATION OFFICERS continue to distinguish themselves as valuable members of the ground brigade combat team (BCT) and are leading the way in the integration of Army Aviation and unmanned aerial vehicles in wartime operations. In military parlance, "juggling glass balls" is a common metaphor for having to accomplish multiple critical tasks simultaneously. Three "glass balls" have emerged that define the brigade aviation element's (BAE) success in support of ground units during combat: air-ground integration, unmanned aerial vehicle integration, and airspace management and Army airspace command and control. The following narrative of the combat experience of an aviation brigade in the Multi-National Division-Baghdad area of operations from 2005 to 2006 provides insight into those enduring issues that affect the BAE 's operations across the Army.

Glass Ball Number 1: Air-Ground Integration

The obvious "glass ball" of the brigade aviation element is air-ground integration. Army aviation is unique in that it traverses all aspects of military operations from kinetic combat operations to combat service support logistics missions. Thus, brigade aviation officers must dabble in every aspect of BCT operations and support operations to integrate aviation to its full potential.

Training and integrating. With accelerated deployment timelines and limited garrison training opportunities, brigade aviation elements must conduct air-ground integration (AGI) training at every possible turn, and help the BCT commander identify key AGI skills that the unit wishes to hone prior to deployment. A simple convoy delivering trucks to the rail yard can quickly turn into an integrated training opportunity with attack or reconnaissance aircraft providing route security while reporting to the convoy commander and the parent unit tactical operations center through multiple communication networks. The more opportunities our junior ground leaders have to integrate and communicate with aviation assets, the more effective their communication will be in combat. If a football coach has a star receiver he never uses at practice, he cannot be upset when the receiver does not know the plays on game day. Similarly, if aviation assets are never integrated into ground unit training until the execution of a combat training center rotation, or even real combat operations, the unit cannot expect aviation performance to be at its best. Granted, these integration challenges can be overcome ad hoc, but the preferred method is to integrate aviation into combined arms training from the outset.

The relationship of the brigade aviation element with its supporting aviation unit is critical to successful air-ground integration. Strong professional relationships with the corps staff training officer, combat aviation brigade staff training officer, and the subordinate aviation battalion training officers streamline the coordination process and improve integration. If fully informed about the challenges facing the employment of aviation assets from the combat aviation brigade point of view, the battalion aviation officer can communicate those issues and explain their effects on BCT operations.

For example, if an aviation unit surges air crews to support a large scale operation, then the brigade aviation officer can address the subsequent loss of those aviation assets during the operation or immediately afterwards, while crews recycle themselves to their steady-state battle rhymms or play maintenance catch up, therefore squashing any angst. At the beginning of mission planning, the brigade aviation officer can provide the cost or benefit analysis of such a surge. For this to be effective, the element must open and maintain clear lines of communication with corps and division training and air operations, combat aviation brigade staff, and the commander himself. Brigade aviation elements must also be careful not to delve too deeply into the maintenance status of individual airframes or the fighter management cycles of individual crews. …

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