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Air Assault Units

During World War II glider-delivered troops did not require parachute jump training and gliders could carry heavier equipment, like jeeps and anti-tank guns, than aircrews could shove out of aircraft in flight or land with a parachute. Also, because gliders could be released far from their destinations, the tow planes' motors did not alert defenders, whereas the parachutists' air transports were audible to them. Both parachutists and gliders were very vulnerable to ground fire and required open fields for landings. Because of their tactical advantages, many force planners thought glider troops would supplant paratroopers in airborne assaults.

Allied and Axis planners hedged; their armies built both airborne and glider forces. American airborne division structuring during World War II had been originally based upon the doctrine of using parachute troops only as an "arrowhead' to prepare the way for glider- or airplane landings, hence the original divisional organization called for one parachute regiment to two glider regiments.

The advantage of parachute troops over gliders in getting the maximum number of men on the ground in a minimum of time, as well as the smaller number of aircraft and the shorter troop carrier columns needed for parachute troops, had impressed airborne planners. Consequently, for both the Normandy and Holland operations the 82d and the 101st Airborne Divisions had a ratio of three parachute regiments to one glider, with an aggregate division strength of 12,979 officers and men. Recommendations for permanent reorganizations along these lines were made after each operation, but the War Department did not authorize a permanent change for the divisions in the European Theater until December 1944. Then it adopted a structure of two parachute regiments to one glider regiment. The divisions in Europe were finally reorganized in the spring of 1945.

The days of the glider were numbered, for American experience with glider troops in World War II had proven so disappointing that Army Ground Forces concluded that in the postwar Army gliders should be used only for the transportation of cargo. This represented an important change from the Army's earlier concept that the greater portion of an airborne division should be glider-borne.

It turned out the glider had a short life in combat, from 1940 to 1945. Casualties among gliders, glider pilots, troops, and cargos were high and for the most part they consumed material and manpower resources that could have been better allocated elsewhere, e.g., a pilot with the skill to land an unpowered aircraft on an unfamiliar, unimproved field at night might be better employed flying as his or her primary duty. A glider pilot without that skill was a hazard.

Army aviation and infantry units can be fully integrated with other members of the combined arms team to form powerful and flexible air assault task forces that can project combat power throughout the entire depth, width, and breadth of the modern battlefield with little regard for terrain barriers. The unique versatility and strength of an air assault task force is achieved by combining the capabilities of modern rotary-wing aircraft - speed, agility, and firepower - with those of the infantry and other combat arms to form tactically tailored air assault task forces that can be employed in low-, mid-, and high-intensity environments.

Air assault operations are those in which assault forces (combat, combat support, and combat service support), using the firepower, mobility, and total integration of helicopter assets, maneuver on the battlefield under the control of the ground or air maneuver commander to engage and destroy enemy forces or to seize and hold key terrain. Air assault operations are not merely movements of soldiers, weapons, and materiel by Army aviation units and must not be construed as such. They are deliberate, precisely planned, and vigorously executed combat operations designed to allow friendly forces to strike over extended distances and terrain barriers to attack the enemy when and where he is most vulnerable.

Air movement operations are those operations involving the use of Army airlift assets for other than air assaults. These operations are used to move troops and equipment, to emplace artillery pieces and air defense artillery (ADA) systems, and to transport amrnunition, fuel, and supplies. The same general plans used for air assault operations may need to be prepared for large-scale air movement operations. In these operations, aviation is not task-organized with other members of the combined arms team to engage enemy forces. When an airlift is completed, the air movement operation is terminated and, unless otherwise specified in the order, aviation units are released to return to their parent units.

Although air assault, airborne, ranger, and light infantry units are much more suited to the role than are other types of infantry, all infantrymen and their supporting arms counterparts must be prepared to execute air assault operations when the situation dictates. Mechanized infantry units of the heavy division can exploit the mobility and speed of organic or supporting helicopters to secure a deep objective in the offense, reinforce a threatened sector in the defense, or to place combat power at a decisive point on the battlefield. For this reason, they must be proficient in the conduct of air assault operations.

Air assault operations are accomplished by employing an air assault task force (AATF). The AATF is a group of integrated forces tailored to the specific mission and under the command of a single headquarters. It may include some or all elements of the combined arms team. The ground or air maneuver commander, designated as the air assault task force commander (AATFC), commands the AATF. The AATFC may combine infantry companies with aviation assets that can be employed singly or in multiples.

Air mobility assets allowed United States and South Vietnam a significant maneuver advantages over enemy ground forces. Significant increases in performance and reliability were also critical to expanding the mission of the helicopter. An example of their expanded mission was development of the armed helicopter used to escort helicopter assault missions moving ground troops. The Department of Defense, unhappy that the Army was not moving rapidly enough to capitalize on the advances in aviation technology, especially in the helicopter field, issued a memorandum to the Secretary of the Army. It wanted a bold "new look" at land warfare mobility and firepower. The Department of Defense directed that the Army examine how to substitute air mobile systems for traditional ground systems. That gave rise to General Howze forming the famous "Howze Board". It tested helicopters in nuclear situations, in "sky cavalry- roles for land warfare, and in counterinsurgency operations.

General Howze recommended that the Army form five air assault divisions, three air cavalry combat brigades, and five air transport brigades. This was an unpopular idea in the Pentagon because the people around the chief of staff of the Army were, for the most part, armor officers. They felt that every helicopter introduced into concept. the Army would mean one less tank. As a result, they opposed the proposal.

The 11th Airborne Division was recalled to active duty on February 15, 1963, and redesignated the 11th Air Assault Division. From early 1963 onward the Army began a step-by-step build-up and testing program for an Air Assault Division. On 16 June 1963, Mr. McNamara announced the formation of an air mobile division. The Secretary of Defense had instructed the chief of staff of the Army to form this unit so it could carry on experiments which had been conducted by the Howze Board. The number of helicopters grew as time went on. Whereas the standard Army division had about 100 helicopters, the 1lth Air Assault Division wound up with about 430.

On June 11, 1965, Secretary McNamara announced at a nationally televised press conference that the 11th Air Assault Division would be redesignated an air mobile division and deployed to Vietnam. It would become the 1st Air Cavalry Division, carrying the colors of the 1st Cavalry then in Korea. The 1st Cavalry Division (Air Mobile) arrived in Vietnam in October 1965 and conducted a textbook campaign against the North Vietnamese. With the fielding of this division, air mobility had become a integral part of land combat operations, completing the evolutionary process.

Upon the activation of the 101st Airborne Division on 16 August 1942 at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, its first commander, Major General William C. Lee, observed that "The 101st has no history, but it has a rendezvous with destiny." On D-Day, 6 June 1944, its pathfinders parachuting into France became the first Americans to set foot in Nazi occupied France. The Screaming Eagles paratroops cleared the way for the 1st and 4th Infantry Divisions at Omaha and Utah Beaches. On 4 October 1974, the 101st Airborne Division (Air Mobile) became the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).



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