Tactical-Aviation Mobility (RCAF Journal - FALL 2015 - Volume 4, Issue 4)

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By Lieutenant-Colonel Jeannot Boucher, MSM, CD, MA

Introduction

The end of every conflict initiates a reflection among militaries as to how to best prepare for the following one. While it is impossible to achieve full consensus, there is a general acknowledgement that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) must refocus on conventional-style operations oriented towards a near-peer enemy and relearn some of the basic skills that have eroded significantly over the last decade. This has created an interesting situation where the majority of the people who are familiar, and at ease, with conventional warfare doctrine were not intimately involved in Operation (Op) ATHENA and where only the oldest among those who participated in the operation have a basic knowledge and understanding of that doctrine. This creates a gap in the integration of doctrine and knowledge into operations.

The current challenge is for CAF to adapt the mature and still very relevant conventional warfare doctrine from the post–World War II era, along with the proven principles of war and tenets of air power, to the realities of the 21st century. This means adapting to the new constraints and limitations such as civilian long-term in-service support contracts associated with the purchase of new capabilities (i.e., the CH147F Chinook) as well as the significant information-technology requirements that have become the foundation of our command and control (C2) and are directly linked to our ability to coordinate complex and dynamic operations to maintain momentum. It also means taking advantage of both the new opportunities provided by unmanned aircraft (UA) as well as those that are stemming from a significant evolution in technology. One aspect that is particularly affected by these new realities is tactical mobility, as much within the Army as within Aviation. The purpose of this article is to initiate a dialogue on the criteria and factors surrounding tactical-aviation mobility in the 21st century within the context of the Canadian Army (CA) preparing for advanced dispersed operations (ADO) supported by tactical aviation, which is composed of the CH146 Griffon and the CH147F Chinook.

Assumptions

Following Exercise MAPLE RESOLVE 1501 (MR 1501), which was the culmination point on the first Road to High Readiness (RTHR) where 5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (5 CMBG) was supported by integral CH146 and CH147 assets, the ongoing dialogue has reached a level of maturity that enables us to reach certain conclusions. As an institution, we are coming to grips with some of the key elements of this hybrid form of conventional warfare, and this will enable us to frame the discussion on tactical mobility.

The first key assumption is that the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF’s) Aviation assets are modular and are composed of a flight of 6–8 CH146, a flight of 3–4 CH147, a headquarters, a maintenance flight composed of a CH147 and CH146 element, and a logistics flight. All of these assets come from 1 Wing squadrons and are often presented as a cohesive Aviation battalion (avn bn) in support of a task force. The second assumption is that the Army intends to use the brigade as the unit of manoeuvre for integrating Aviation as an enabler and that the avn bn or parts of it can be placed under operational control (OPCON) of the brigade; furthermore, the avn bn will maintain its operational-command relationship to the RCAF through an air task force (ATF). Finally, the approach utilized to discuss tactical mobility must not be prescriptive, but rather, it will be based on descriptive and flexible criteria, thus enabling the RCAF to deploy tactical-aviation assets independently or as part of a joint task force in support of the various concept of operations (CONOPs).

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Key limitations

A reality that must not be underestimated as a Canadian version of tactical mobility is developed is the fact that the CH147 is historically a divisional asset that comes with a significant logistics tail, which creates some real restraints. Most importantly is the maintenance requirement associated with the CH147, which comes with three different maintenance packages: a flyaway kit that supports a short (72-hour [hr]) deployment; a contingency response kit (CRK) that is intended for a short domestic deployment of 15–30 days and, finally, the pack up kit (PUK) that is intended for an extended international deployment of 6–8 months. While the amount of equipment in itself does not constitute a limitation, it is a consideration, since separating the kits increases the number of personnel required to conduct maintenance in two locations and would have second-order effects on 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron force generation and longer-term force-employment capability.

Secondly, a hard restraint is the time required to conduct the 100-hr, 200-hr and 400-hr inspections on the CH147. A 100-hr inspection takes four days; a 200-hr inspection takes approximately three weeks; and a 400-hr inspection takes approximately five weeks to conduct and includes significant disassembly of the aircraft. It should be noted that the PUK is currently built around conducting up to 200-hr inspections only, with the option of adding significant tooling, parts and aircraft maintenance support equipment (AMSE) to conduct 400-hr inspections when deployed. The criteria affecting tactical mobility is that the main location where 200-hr inspections are conducted cannot move in less than three weeks once a CH147 is opened.

Another limitation is the amount of equipment associated with the deployment of the CH147. The best way to describe the full CH147 capability is transportable but not mobile. This means that the CH147 capability will not have integral to itself all the vehicles required to move its maintenance equipment, as it is transported more efficiently and effectively with vehicles from one location to another. The CH146 capability is able to integrate with a brigade as it bounds forward to an unprepared area, but the CH147 flight and its maintenance would move in a more staged, or administrative, manner.

Logical conclusions from the factors discussed above are that the avn bn in its entirety is most likely to be moved/transported in a more administrative way to a forward location from a seaport or airport of disembarkation (SPOD/APOD) or divisional support area (DSA) and that it is unlikely to move in its entirety at a frequency greater than once every three weeks. Nonetheless, given its modularity, the option to have the CH146 capability bound forward of the SPOD/APOD or DSA exists. This would imply that the CH147 capability would remain behind as a cohesive detachment, where it could still support forward given its endurance and be in a safe area to conduct 100-hr, 200-hr and 400-hr inspections.

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Tactical mobility

The ideal situation sees a cohesive avn bn where the tenet of centralized control and decentralized execution is maximized. Nonetheless, due to time and space in a linear battlefield, there is a point where the CH146 is forced to bound forward, often at the same time as the brigade support area (BSA), because of its limited endurance. With more than twice the endurance of the CH146, the CH147 is able to move only with the DSA while continuously supporting the brigade. The real tactical mobility of Aviation resides in its ability to project its fighting echelon, through the deployment forward of subunits. For example, the CH146 capability can be deployed forward independently with scalable operations, logistics and maintenance capacities.

The same is true of the CH147, as long as the restraints mentioned above are respected. In the event that an aircraft requires maintenance, it is essential that Aviation have forward arming and refuelling points (FARPs) as well as mobile repair parties (MRPs); both the FARPs and MRPs must be able to deploy forward and support both the CH146 and CH147. The final essential element is the capability to conduct tactical delivery points (DPs) with the brigade service battalion when elements of Aviation are OPCON to the brigade. The CH147 makes it possible for a FARP, an MRP, a flight tactical operations centre (TOC) and some logistics to be moved forward by air if a lighter, shorter-duration footprint is required. As proven during MR 1501, operating in several locations simultaneously for 24/7 implies either a greater demand in personnel or a reduced operational capability.

The introduction of the CH147F allows for the Aviation unit to “self-serve” a complementary light-mobility concept that would see the tactically mobile portions of the unit (MRP, FARP and flight TOC) lifted and pushed forward using the CH147F. The procurement of at least one extended range fuel system (ERFS) coupled with the procurement of the forward area refuelling equipment (FARE) kit (a pump and hose assembly) would allow for the CH147F to conduct forward “FAT COW” operations and provide a FARP capability from the Chinook itself (while running), able to refuel up to eight CH146s with a total of 6,804 kilograms (kg) or 15,000 pounds (lb) of fuel at the very far reaches of the 200-square-kilometre area of operations (AO). This relatively cheap capability—which consists of three 2,268 kg (5,000 lb) internal crash-worthy and ballistic self-sealing fuel tanks—would have the effect of removing the necessity of pushing vulnerable ground convoys forward in the BSA to support sustained forward flying operations for the CH146 in support of brigade combat operations.

Further, the Medium-to-Heavy-Lift Helicopter (MHLH) Project has purchased a total of 49 transportable shelter units for a variety of roles and shops for the CH147F, 18 of which are included within each CH147F tactically sufficient unit (TSU) in its transportable role. The command post (CP) variant of these units can all be underslung and pushed forward to provide the forward flight CP/C2 node. The shelter units are self-sustaining, in that they contain internal-power-generation, lighting as well as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) capabilities that only require regular resupply of diesel fuel to remain forward. Additionally, due to the CH147F’s modularity, the PUK, tools, parts and AMSE are easily loaded on and off the CH147F to support the flyaway MRP function for either fleet within the entire BSA. This could include the forward movement of shelter-unit workshops to assist/facilitate more in-depth repairs if required. Lastly, the CH147F can easily conduct the underslung load of a damaged CH146 back to the BSA or Aviation unit echelon if forward repairs are deemed too risky or difficult.

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Several basic but important lessons were identified during the RTHR that culminated with MR 1501. The camps that Aviation units have become accustomed to building over the last decade reflect the ideal solution—based on Op ATHENA experience—in terms of workspace and comfort. There is a trend that more personnel are required. Aviation must return to a one-soldier, one-kit mentality and an approach focused on building only what is essential to support operations. This increases mobility and security and reduces the requirement for logistical support, which quickly becomes a limiting factor on a linear battlefield. These factors must be considered based on the length and location of a deployment and must be based not prescriptively but, rather, on a sound mission analysis.

Requirements essential for Aviation support to the Army

The RTHR has confirmed that there are a few elements that are essential to enable tactical mobility while maintaining effectiveness in operations. First and most important is a common information system (the CA currently uses the Land Command Support System [LCSS]) in order to be able to maintain full situational awareness (SA) on brigade operations. Maximum effectiveness will only be achieved if Aviation operations and elements deployed forward have an equivalent SA to those they are supporting. There is technology that enables this, and it is critical for Aviation to procure this capability in order to maximize its force-multiplying effect on the battlefield.

The second essential requirement is enhanced communications. In order to return to conventional operations and have the ability to deploy several Aviation elements forward in various locations to ensure concealment and a reduced footprint, Aviation requires a main command post (CP 0) as well as an alternate one for each of the following: CH146, CH147, maintenance flight and logistics flight (CPs 1, 2, 5 and 8). This means a minimum of five CPs with a minimum number of radios in order to be able to maintain SA and enable effective battlespace management. The CA has made it clear that it foresees the brigade AO in ADO to be an area not exceeding 200 kilometres (km) x 200 km in size. With this in mind, reliance on line-of-sight communications in this context is doomed to failure and will result in crippling limitations in providing timely Aviation effects across the operational environment to enable brigade combat operations. It, thus, necessitates the procurement and integration of robust, secure beyond-line-of-sight communications options for the Griffon, Chinook and C2 nodes dispersed within this AO; wideband, ultra-high frequency (UHF), tactical satellite communications (TACSATCOM) are the proven option to achieve this effect.

The third essential requirement is security. Aviation moving tactically implies that it either is in a location where security is provided or provides its own security. Within the current construct, integral assets to ensure force protection are not accounted for. The assets required for this need to be provided either to the Aviation unit or by the brigade or ATF. Additionally, when the Aviation unit is in support of a brigade spread out over the AO, there is a significant requirement for liaison and security for the MRPs, FARPs and DP convoys. The brigade has a limited capability, and given the reduced threat in the rear area, Aviation units require, as a minimum, G-Wagons with turrets or other medium-support vehicles with crew-served weapons to be able to provide a minimum amount of security for its own resupply and liaison convoys.

Finally, MR 1501 confirmed the continued relevance of tactical aviation’s three doctrinal roles of providing reconnaissance, firepower and tactical mobility. The CH147 provided in just over two weeks the movement of over 1,600 personnel and over 124,738 kg (275,000 lbs) of equipment. The CH146, for its part, provided tactical mobility in the form of small-team inserts (sniper/recce), extensive command and liaison as well as standby casualty evacuation. The reconnaissance provided by the MX-15 sensor package became the biggest enabler that Aviation provided, as it was able to define the operational environment for brigade reconnaissance and, as the brigade advanced, complemented the brigade intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) plan. MR 1501 highlighted that the MX-15 with downlink would be a huge enabler. Finally, the CH146 proved relevant in the brigade rear area with its firepower (C‑6 and GAU 21), and its antiarmour capability proved that it could greatly enhance the safety of the brigade elements it supports. On numerous instances, the CH146 was observing enemy armoured vehicles from a distance, as the CH146 was unable to affect the vehicle, they had to rely on very limited close-air-support assets or friendly artillery. This unnecessarily increased the risk to friendly troops and friendly Aviation assets during the conduct of air-mobile and air-assault operations when the CH146 ensured landing-zone security.

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Key criteria

A final aspect that deserves discussion with reference to tactical mobility is the criteria used to decide when to move the Aviation assets. As discussed earlier, there are specific factors associated with the CH147 that influence tactical mobility. During RTHR exercises, the criteria used to deploy forward were time and space in order to be able to effectively support the brigade. The 1 Wing Unit Standing Operating Procedures are proven and were used extensively and effectively to prepare for the deployment forward. In a similar vein, Aviation doctrine talks about 50 km forward for the establishment of a FARP. An educated guess would be that Aviation should remain no further than 100 km from the forward line of own troops (FLOT) or the forward edge of the battlefield (FEBA) for the CH46 to remain effective. Once the distance surpasses 100 km, an analysis must be conducted to see if the Aviation assets must bound forward based on the factors discussed this far. It should be noted that this doctrine, as it applies to the effectiveness of the CH147F, is stale, as the CH147F has a 5.3-hour endurance / 1,000-km range and could provide sustained effects at 200 kms forward from the Aviation TOC; this would, however, sacrifice CH146 protection to do so if a FARP were not available to assure CH146 sustainment.

The key criteria that have to be used to assess if the forward deployment of Aviation is required are security and the operational advantage that is gained. The most dangerous criteria are range of enemy indirect fire and its targeting cycle. On these criteria, current doctrine is very well written and remains relevant. The CH146 detachment, with its reduced footprint and ability to move rapidly to an alternate location, may allow the commander to accept greater risk, but the operational advantage gained must be very significant. It is essential that heightened air threat is taken into account. Finally, the general enemy threat must be seriously considered, as Aviation is a high-value target and the appropriate level of force protection must be available when Aviation assets are present. Once again, sound mission analysis will dictate the best location that balances security with the operational advantage gained by the proximity of Aviation to land forces.

Conclusion

How does one prepare for the next war? The best a military can do is train to a standard that will allow it to adapt to the next challenge it will have to face. CAF has historically done well at training professional, effective and flexible forces. Proven tools (such as mission analysis) as well as the principles of war and tenets of air power should also guide us. Aviation must train in order to be mobile in support of land operations to remain relevant and be in the best position possible when the time comes to deploy CAF anywhere in the world. The RCAF should embrace the realities of the 21st century operational environment as they relate to tactical-aviation mobility.


Lieutenant-Colonel Jeannot Boucher joined the Canadian Forces in 1992 and is currently the Executive Assistant to the Commander of the RCAF. He was the Commanding Officer of 430 Tactical Helicopter Squadron in Valcartier, Quebec, from 2013 to 2015. He holds both a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and Economics as well as a Master of Warfare Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada and a Master in Operational Art and Science from Air Command and Staff College in Montgomery, Alabama, where he also attended the Air War College.

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Abbreviations

ADO―advanced dispersed operations
AMSE―aircraft maintenance support equipment
AO―area of operations
APOD―airport of disembarkation
ATF―air task force
avn―Aviation
bn―battalion
BSA―brigade support area
C2―command and control
CA―Canadian Army
CAF―Canadian Armed Forces
CP―command post
DP―delivery point
DSA―divisional support area
FARP―forward arming and refuelling point
hr―hour
kg―kilogram
km―kilometre
lb―pound
MR―Exercise MAPLE RESOLVE
MRP―mobile repair party
Op―Operation
OPCON―operational control
PUK―pack up kit
RCAF―Royal Canadian Air Force
RTHR―Road to High Readiness
SA―situational awareness
SPOD―seaport of disembarkation
TOC―tactical operations centre

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