3rd Battalion, 160th Aviation Regiment (Special Operations) (Airborne)
The The 3rd Battalion, 160th Aviation Regiment (Special Operations) (Airborne), better known as 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) is based at Hunter Army Air Field near Savannah, Georgia.
The 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment was first constituted on 1 April 1982 in the Regular Army as Company C, 160th Aviation Battalion, and activated at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, as an element of the 101st Airborne Division. The 160th Aviation Battalion was relieved on 16 October 1986 from assignment to the 101st Airborne Division.
Around the same time, on 3 October 1986, a ceremony had been held at Hunter Army Airfield to mark the activation of the 129th Special Operations Aviation Company, a separate MTOE company. The genesis of the 129th Special Operations Aviation Company was the 17th of a series of initiatives undertaken by the chiefs of staff of the Army and the US Air Force. Initiative 17 was prompted by a desire to align all rotary-wing support for special operations forces under the Army and to align all fixed-wing support under the US Air Force. The initiative attempted to address the Army's lack of tactical helicopter support for the 4 Special Forces groups and for the 75th Ranger Regiment. At the time, those 5 organizations, colloquially known as "white special operations forces," were not supported by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Group, which was dedicated to supporting national special mission ("black special operations forces") units.
In early 1987, the shifting of resources from the 129th Special Operations Aviation Company to the 617th Special Operations Aviation Detachment in Panama, lowered that Company's strength to 10 MH-60s and approximately 125 personnel. The restructuring was prompted by the US Air Force drawing down 5 UH-1N Hueys based at Howard Air Force Base, Panama as part of Initiative 17.
The reduction in strength of the 129th Special Operations Aviation Company became part of a planned expansion of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Group to handle the additional requirements placed upon Army special operations aviation. The 160th Aviation Battalion was reorganized and redesignated on 16 January 1988 as the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, a parent regiment under the United States Army Regimental System. Company C, 160th Special Operations Aviation Battalion was reorganized and redesignated at that time as Company C, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
In late 1988 the Army reflagged the 129th Special Operations Aviation Company as Company A, 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Then, in early 1989, the Army began assembling a cadre to activate the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment's 3rd Battalion. The 3rd Battalion was to be a composite battalion flying Chinooks and Blackhawks, and would provide exclusive support to white special operations forces.
Company C, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment was consolidated on 16 May 1990 with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 160th Aviation which had already been constituted on 16 September 1989 in the Regular Army and activated at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia. The consolidated unit was designated as Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. The Battalion's organic elements had already been constituted and activated between 16 January 1988 and 16 September 1989 as well. The unit was equipped with some 20 MH-60L aircraft (including DAP aircraft) and 8 MH-47D aircraft.
On 28 June 1990, the 160th Special Operations Regiment was consolidated with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 160th Aviation Group (first constituted 16 October 1986 in the Regular Army and activated at Fort Campbell, Kentucky), and the consolidated unit designated as the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment were alerted for deployment to the US Central Command's (CENTCOM) area of responsibility. The 2nd Battalion was unable to meet the requirements for 8 MH-60 and 4 MH-47 aircraft and still meet its existing requirements, while the 3rd Battalion, still in force generation, was unable to meet the requirements at all. The decision was made to form Task Force 3-160th Aviation, which would deploy with augmentation from the 2nd Battalion's Company B, consisting of 2 Chinooks with aircrews, as well as support personnel, equipment, repair parts and tools.
By the beginning of September 1990, Task Force 3-160th Aviation had arrived at the King Fahd International Airport (KFIA) in Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Shield. CENTCOM positioned combat units throughout the area of responsibility, essentially placing them wherever their minimum base support needs could be met. The conditions at KFIA were spartan to say the least. The leadership of Task Force 3-160th Aviation, along with that of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), also at KFIA, convined the CENTCOM leadership that it would be better to relocate both units to King Kahlid Military City (KKMC), about 250 miles from KFIA, but less than 70 miles south of the Iraqi border. One of the selling points for the move was that from that location, the Task Force aircraft could fly well into Iraq, and return, on one load of fuel. Once at KMMC, the Task Force began a rigorous schedule to get the unit full prepared for operations.
Task Force 3-160th Aviation was notified only 12 hours in advance of the beginning of Operation Desert Storm. At the beginning of the air war, the unit's primary mission was Combat Search Air Resuce (CSAR). TF 3-160th Aviation was to operate from a small commercial airfield at Rafha, just south of the Iraqi border in north-central Saudi Arabia. From that location, its helicopters, without refueling, could cover a radius that included most of southern Iraq, as far as Baghdad. The entire CSAR package moved out quickly and arrived in Rafha by 2 AM on 17 January 1991, just before coalition jets penetrated Iraqi airspace.
The movement to Rafha was not uneventful. One of Task Force 3-160th Aviation's Chinooks reported the launching of a surface-to-air missile. While executing an evasive maneuver, the helicopter struck the ground, shearing off its left-front and right-rear landing gear. When the Chinook arrived at Rafha, maintenance crews worked feverishly to place mattresses and tires under the fuselage in an attempt to keep the aircraft upright during shutdown. That proved to be the night's only excitement.
Despite a general neutralization of enemy air defenses, Task Force 3-160th Aviation pulled its CSAR assets back to KKMC and positioned small CSAR detachments in several forward operating locations. Each detachment consisted of 2 aircraft and their aircrews, communications personnel, an intel analyst, operations and maintenance personnel, and a fuel truck. The detachments' operational intelligence picture was continually updated from KKMC. During the air war, Task Force 3-160th Aviation won the distinction of having performed the first ever Night Vision Goggle-aided rescue of a downed pilot.
As the war continued, Task Force 3-160 Aviation's focus shifted toward the infiltration of Special Forces teams. The teams' intelligence reporting on the main lines of communication and on the road networks in southern Iraq was critical to coalition efforts.
After Desert Storm, the Battalion continued to provide worldwide aviation support to Army Special Forces, Army Rangers and Navy SEALs. The Battalion was officially redesignated on 1 October 2005 as the 3rd Battalion, 160th Aviation Regiment. Prior to that date, the official designation had been 3rd Battalion, 160th Aviation.
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