The mission of Army Aviation is to find, fix, and destroy the enemy through fire and maneuver; and to provide combat, combat service and combat service support in coordinated operations as an integral member of the combined arms team.
Following the establishment of the U.S. Air Force as a separate service in 1947, the Army began to develop further its own aviation assets (light planes and rotary wing aircraft) in support of ground operations. The Korean War gave this drive impetus, and the war in Vietnam saw its fruition, as Army aviation units performed a variety of missions, including reconnaissance, transport, and fire support. After the war in Vietnam, the role of armed helicopters as tank destroyers received new emphasis. In recognition of the growing importance of aviation in Army doctrine and operations, Aviation became a separate branch on April 12, 1983, and a full member of the Army's combined arms team. Almost all aviation units are set up the same way, regardless of the aircraft type. Chinook units are set up differently. A Lieutenant will serve as a platoon leader for 12-18 months, with the remainder of a 3-year tour being on the battalion staff. Typical staff assignments are Assistant Operations Officer (Asst. S3), 3/5 Platoon Leader (refuel/weapons platoon leader), or the Unit Movements Officer. Primary staff jobs are sometimes assigned to squared-away LT's, earnin the right to be the Battalion S1 (Personnel) or Battalion S4 (Supply Officer).
The platoon generally consists of 4 aircraft and 15-18 soldiers. Half of the soldiers are warrant officers and half are enlisted soldiers. A warrant officer's rank falls between that of a commissioned officer and the enlisted. Warrant officers focus on the technical pilot skills in the aircraft and the tactics needed to accomplish the unit's mission. They are the technical experts, whose primary focus is on becoming expert pilots and executing the unit's mission in the air. The enlisted soldiers focus on maintaining and repairing the aircraft. They are the crew chief mechanics whose job consists of the daily maintenance required to keep the aircraft in a flyable condition.
Army Aviators are REQUIRED to fly a certain number of hours; this is mandated by Army Regulations and the FAA. As a general rule, platoon leaders wind up flying 2-3 times per week, with a significant increase during the frequent deployments, gunneries, and field exercises that your unit will be involved in. Simulators are valuable training tools, but they can never replace what being in the aircraft is like. Only a small portion of the flight hours required to fly can be executed in the simulator.
Attack Aviation units have the mission to destroy enemy units using fire and maneuver. The tasks of an attack unit are to conduct deliberate and hasty attacks, air assault security operations, air combat operations, and rear security ops. While being agile and lethal enough to provide close air support for the ground forces, they are designed to strike deep behind enemy lines to destroy large masses of enemy armor. The primary aircraft used for the attack mission is the AH64 Apache.
The mission of the Cavalry is to conduct reconnaissance, counter-reconnaissance, and screening operations to provide battlefield situational awareness to the commander. In short, the CAV is "the eyes and ears of the commander." This mission is accomplished through area, zone, and route recons, counter recons (eliminating the enemy's CAV units, rendering their commanders blind) and air assault security.
Air Assault operations are those in which assault forces, using the firepower, mobility, and total integration of helicopter assets, maneuver on the batlefield to engage and destroy enemy forces or to seize and hold key terrain. They are often used to insert friendly forces in hostile territory, making them an powerful offensive weapon for the ground commander. Additional missions are Command, Control, and Communication (C3I) and limited sling load operations.
The mission of the Medium Lift unit is to conduct Air Movement and Air Assault Operations in Maneuver and Combat Support. They do this through air movement operations, air assault operations, tactical movements and aerial battlefield recovery. They can be used to conduct tactical air assaults inserting large amounts of infantry and artillery into hostile territory or they can move massive amounts of equipment and personnel throughout the friendly Area of Operation.
The birth of rotary winged flight is credited to Igor Sikorsky who in 1941 flew the first contraption that remotely resembled that which we know today as the helicopter. Army Aviation was born on 6 June 1942 when the War Department assigned it as an adjunct to the Field Artillery. It was in that same year that aircrew training commenced at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Like Air Defense Artillery, Army Aviation originated from within the Field Artillery.
Army Aviation first tasted combat on 9 Nov 42 in the North African campaign of WWII. Small, light, fixed wing L-4s launched off of the carrier USS Ranger in the Mediterranean and acted as Artillery spotters, aerial cargo resuppliers, air ambulances and command and control aircraft.
The first test of the helicopter in combat came during the Korean War. The star attraction was the H-13 Sioux, commonly known as the MASH helicopter for its brief introduction during the opening minute of every episode of the famous TV series. Although the Army employed both fixed and rotary wing aircraft in Korea, the helicopter was best suited to give direct support to isolated soldiers in the field, due to mountainous terrain and lack of fixed facilities and runways. It was in Korea that the helicopter truly "earned its wings".
The jungles of Vietnam and guerrilla warfare proved to be the true test of Army Aviation and the concept of organic tactical mobility. In Vietnam the helicopter was employed for various missions, including: attack, air assault, aerial resupply, medical evacuation, aerial reconnaissance, and command and control. The UH-1H was the backbone of most operations in Southeast Asia. It was the Huey, converted into a gunship, that was the first helicopter to deliver ordinance in combat; giving birth to the attack helicopter concept. The 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) formed and was deployed to Vietnam in July of 1965 and was engaged in bitter combat 90 days later in several intense battles including Plei Khu and the battle of Ia Drang Valley.
In 1967, it was the Second Airmobile Division, 101st Airborne from Fort Campbell, KY that deployed to Southeast Asia. Merging with its predecessor sister unit, the 1st Aviation Brigade, eventually formed one of the largest (approximately 4,000 aircraft) brigades in Vietnam. 1967 held another first for Aviation in Vietnam -- the AH-1 Cobra gunship was introduced. The Cobra was a highly maneuverable and lethal weapons platform; a helicopter designed specifically for the ground attack missions. By 1968-69, the Cobra was fully integrated into Army Aviation units, fighting alongside the Infantry, and giving new meaning to "close air support."
Army Aviation received extremely high marks for three very important and distinct operations during the latter parts of the war. These included the Tet offensive of Jan-Feb 1968, the relief of Khe Sahn by the 1st CAV in 1968, and LAMSON 719 in February 1971, which supported South Vietnamese troops in Laos. All of these operations were unique in their own way but similar in that they all employed helicopter gunships.
Notwithstanding Aviation's other contributions, the mission that made it such a part of every soldier's vocabulary during the war was medical evacuation, more commonly referred to as "Dustoff". In Vietnam, Army Aviation was instrumental in saving over 320,000 U.S. soldiers' lives by helicopter medical evacuation. MEDEVAC now belongs to the Medical Service Corps, no longer falling under Aviation Branch.
The 1973 Mideast War did much to influence U.S. war fighting doctrine. The mid to high intensity of the Yom Kippur War, with high tech lethal weapons, reshaped the way the entire world prepared for future battles. Surface to air missiles (SAMs) with sophisticated acquisition systems changed how Army Aviation supports combat operations.
The Secretary of the Army made Army Aviation a branch by the Secretary on 12 April 1983. Branch implementation began on 6 June 1983, the 41st anniversary of organic Army Aviation.
Operation Desert Storm showcased the tremendous firepower and shock effect that Army Aviation brings to the modern battlefield. The Air War was kicked off by a company of AH64 Apaches on a nighttime attack on Iraq's Air Defense Artillery Command and Control Posts. This opened the air corridor to that allowed the Air Force to strike in preparation for the ground offensive. The ground offensive, often referred to as "the 100-hour war" had Army Aviation as a critical piece in the operation. Attack missions flown by AH64 aircraft, reconnaissance by OH58D's, and the massive air assaults by UH60's and CH47's were critical in the overwhelming success that the ground units had in one of the most decisive and devastating attacks in history.
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