August 1, 2007  

Flying lessons

As an Army aviator and avid reader of AFJ, I was excited to see your cover story dedicated to the employment of emerging tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) used to counter the threat to Army aviation assets in Operation Iraqi Freedom [“Flying high,” June]. I was, however, disappointed to see that the author, an Air Force helicopter pilot, missed the mark on both the threat present in Iraq and the driving force why Army helicopters remain at nap of the earth (NOE) altitudes.

Although Col. Jim Slife brings up many salient points and concepts in the article, his experiences and doctrine are irrelevant in the current operating environment of both OIF and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. First, the altitudes and terrain in Afghanistan render the proposed TTPs not feasible or suitable for the mission. Second, his categorization of the threats in Iraq excludes anti-aircraft artillery and the claim that it is “noticeably absent” in theater is totally incorrect. There is solid proof that vehicle-mounted heavy machine-gun fire has played a significant role in the enemy’s emerging tactics against coalition rotary-wing assets and has significantly impacted the TTP of aviators planning and flying missions in that area of operations.

The author also states that it would be possible to fly close-air support from 3,000 feet. If that TTP is applied, the threat could be mitigated, but the employment of machine guns and 2.75-inch rockets at those altitudes against small teams of insurgents in an urban in environment is extremely challenging and carries the increased the risk of collateral damage and fratricide. Risk because of weather and employment of night-vision goggles would also be increased at those altitudes.

The bottom line is that the TTP Col. Slife proposes would adversely affect the mission effectiveness of Army aviation’s support to the ground force commander.

Finally, a joint solution pays no real dividend since only the Army and Marines are similar in their employment of rotary-wing assets in support of ground forces. The Navy and Air Force have significantly different missions.

Missed by the author is the fact that the Army has done significant work to improve its TTPs to counter the threat in both Iraq and Afghanistan to ensure its dominance as the premier helicopter force in the world. Early in 2004, at the direction of the Army’s vice chief of staff, Gen. Richard Cody, then the Army G-3, the Army Aviation Warfighting Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., stood up an Aviation Shoot Down Assessment Team with the mission of studying forensic evidence and after-action review of each shootdown to quickly recommend to the field commanders how to best counter the ever changing threats.

From these first steps, Army aviation made quantum leaps in doctrine, equipment and training to better its mission support and counter the threat. The Common Missile Warning System , the creation of combat maneuvering flight tasks in the Aircrew Training Manuals and the refinement of the employment of both Kiowa Warriors and Apaches in the close combat attack role are just a few of the examples of how far we have come since the early and hard lessons of Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan.

Maj. Thomas von Eschenbach, Army

U.S. Army Human Resources Command

Alexandria, Va.