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Army aviation and infantry units can be fully integrated with other members of the combined arms team to form an AATF that is powerful, flexible, and responsive. These task forces project combat power throughout the entire framework of the battlefield. Air assaults provide the force commander with a decisive combat capability. Massing a unit's combat power at the decisive time and place on the battlefield will have a devastating effect on the enemy. It also requires detailed planning and precise synchronization of all elements of the combined arms team. This chapter focuses on air assault operations and discusses air assault planning for the AHB. FM 90-4 discusses the planning for the AATF. This chapter's focus is on planning the aviation portion of the air assault. It is not intended for this chapter to replace FM 90-4. It is designed to complement FM 90-4 and discuss planning considerations that are unique to the aviation units conducting the air assault operation.


    a. Definition. Air assaults are those operations in which assault forces (combat, CS, and CSS), using the firepower, mobility, and total integration of helicopter assets, maneuver on the battlefield under the control of the AATFC to engage and destroy enemy forces or seize and hold key terrain. The number of aircraft involved in the operation does not define the air assault. For example, an assault helicopter battalion will conduct an air assault when it transports an infantry battalion to seize an objective. However, a single UH-60 transporting a LRSD team is also considered an air assault, and, thus, requires the same in-depth planning as a large assault. All air assault operations, regardless of the number of assets involved, must be planned and executed as combined arms operations. Time required for planning may vary depending on METT-T, but planning considerations should be the same.

    b. Close Operations.

      (1) An air assault operation may be conducted at any time during a ground maneuver force's close operations. The commander may request helicopter assets when he needs speed and mobility to mass his forces where they are most needed. Air assault operations allow the commander to take the battle to the enemy. Rapid movement of forces during the close battle allows friendly forces to maintain momentum and force the enemy to fight in a changing situation. An air assault operation planned in support of the close fight can be executed rapidly when the force commander orders it to be executed.

      (2) Air assaults that may be flown in support of close operations include reinforcement of committed forces, assaults to seize key terrain, assaults to set up blocking positions, and air assaults to prevent a penetration.

    c. Deep Operations.

      (1) Deep operations are activities directed against enemy forces that are not currently engaged but could influence division or corps close operations in the future (approximately 24 to 72 hours). Deep air assaults will normally be conducted during offensive operations. Deep operations are planned by the force commander to influence the close fight. Air assaults executed in the deep fight should be planned with a purpose of having some effect on the commander's close battle. Deep operations are high risk, high payoff operations that require precise planning.

      (2) Planning deep operations creates unique challenges for the AATFC. In deep operations, the AATF will most often be assaulted behind the enemy FLOT. In this operation, the assault helicopter commander must be prepared to provide support to the task force, even after the air assault is complete. Resupply, CASEVAC, and extraction operations during deep operations most likely will not be able to be accomplished by ground. It may be necessary to use CH-47Ds to reposition artillery forward to support the air assault. The assault helicopter commander must plan carefully for these operations to prevent the AATF from becoming cut off from friendly forces. The DOCC at division or corps level will be very active in planning the deep air assault. The AATF and aviation staff must work closely with the DOCC to coordinate and synchronize the deep air assault.

      (3) Air assaults that may be flown in support of deep operations include raids to destroy high payoff targets (ammunition storage areas, C2 nodes), assaults to cut off retreating enemy forces (pursuits), assaults to set up blocking positions and shape the battlefield, and air assaults to seize and hold key terrain.

    d. Rear Operations.

      (1) Rear operations are conducted to ensure freedom of maneuver and continuity of operations from the corps rear boundary forward to the rear boundaries of committed battalions. Rear area air assault operations will most likely consist of a TCF designated by the maneuver commander designed to counter a rear area attack.

      (2) Rear area operations offer a unique challenge to the AATF in that the location of the air assault will be determined by the enemy. The AATF must, during the planning process, identify the most likely infiltration routes and targets that enemy air assault, airborne, and special operations units will attack. This will allow the AATF to identify potential PZs and LZs, flight routes, and fire support targets. The AATF then develops a plan to monitor these targets for any indications of an attack. A precise observer plan for likely rear area targets, developed by the AATF staff, will allow the air assault to be executed rapidly in the event the rear area is threatened.

      (3) Rear area operations are coordinated with designated military police, civil affairs units, and host nation authorities, if required.

      (4) The AATF in rear area operations may be given missions that include destruction of enemy forces in the rear area, assault to secure key locations (such as ammunition supply points, and C2 nodes), and assaults to fix the enemy until a larger force can move in to destroy the enemy force.


    a. Capabilities. An AATF provides commanders with unique capabilities. They can extend the battlefield, move and rapidly concentrate large amounts of combat power, and take the battle to the enemy. An AATF can--

  • Attack enemy positions from any direction.
  • Delay a much larger force without becoming decisively engaged.
  • Bypass obstacles and strike objectives in otherwise inaccessible areas.
  • Conduct deep operations beyond the FLOT.
  • React rapidly to tactical opportunities.
  • Exploit success to complete the destruction of the enemy.
  • React to rear area threats.
  • Rapidly secure and defend key terrain.
  • Achieve surprise.
  • Conduct operations at night.
  • Rapidly reinforce committed units.

    b. Limitations. The AATF has limitations that the commander must consider. These limitations include--

  • Adverse weather (heat, dust, snow, visibility) can hinder helicopter operations.
  • Reliance of the AATF on air lines of communications.
  • Reduced ground mobility once inserted.
  • Availability of suitable landing zones and pickup zones.
  • Battlefield obscuration can hinder helicopter operations.
  • Significant fuel requirements.
  • Requirements for detailed planning.


    a. Utility Helicopters. The primary mission of the utility helicopter in the air assault is to move troops. With the seats installed, the ACL for the UH-60 is 11 combat-loaded soldiers. If the seats are removed, the ACL increases. Without seats, the UH-60 ACL is dependent on the type of equipment being carried by the troops. For planning purposes, a UH-60 is capable of transporting approximately 16 combat-loaded troops and 20 without full combat loads. The combat loads of the soldiers being lifted will determine the actual ACL for the aircraft. Commanders must consider the risk involved versus mission necessity when deciding whether to operate with or without seats. A secondary mission for the UH-60 is to transport equipment and supplies. The UH-60s can expect to move external loads in support of the assault force. UH-60s may also assist cargo helicopters in conducting an artillery raid by moving artillery or ammunition forward.

    b. Cargo Helicopters. The CH-47D helicopter provides the AATFC with a tremendous capability. It can be used to move troops and equipment in support of the air assault. In a troop carrying mode the CH-47D can transport up to 31 combat-loaded troops. The CH-47D provides the AATFC the ability to move large amounts of equipment. Missions for the cargo helicopters include artillery raids designed to reposition artillery in support of the air assault, assaulting TOW mounted HMMWVs into designated LZs to support the ground tactical plan, and conducting resupply operations in support of the air assault. Equipment can often be transported as internal or external cargo.


    a. Air Assault Task Force Commander. The AATFC is normally the infantry brigade or battalion commander whose units form the predominance of forces in the AATF. Under certain instances, the force commander may designate the aviation battalion commander as the AATFC. This would most likely occur during rear area air assaults or in SASO. In this instance the ground maneuver unit, the supporting artillery, and attack/cavalry helicopter assets will be placed under the OPCON of the aviation battalion commander. The AATFC commands the air assault and is overall responsible for its planning and execution. Since an air assault requires detailed planning, the AATFC should be the commander of the unit one level above that conducting the mission. For example, for a battalion sized air assault, the brigade commander should be the AATFC, and the battalion commander would be the AATFC for a company sized air assault.

    b. Air Assault Task Force Staff. The staff of the AATFC is responsible for planning the air assault operation. The AATF staff has the responsibility for developing the air assault in conjunction with the infantry unit being assaulted and the assault helicopter unit. The AATF staff works closely with the assaulting force headquarters to develop the air assault to support the assault force commander's intent and scheme of maneuver. The AATF staff has the responsibility for synchronizing all elements of the combined arms team and providing the resources to the air assault force to successfully conduct the operation.

    c. Air Mission Commander. The supporting helicopter unit provides an AMC. For air assaults involving all, or most, of the battalion assets, the battalion commander should be the AMC. For air assaults conducted by a company within the aviation battalion, the battalion commander may designate a company commander or platoon leader to be the AMC. Figure 3-1 outlines selection criteria for the AATFC and the AMC. The AMC--

  • Receives and executes the AATFC's guidance and intent.
  • Ensures that all aviation units (assault, cargo, attack, cavalry) conduct air operations according to the AMB.
  • Coordinates actions during the mission and synchronizes cavalry, attack, quickfix, and artillery assets as required.
  • Advises the AATFC on any situation that might require him to adjust the air assault scheme of maneuver and recommends changes as required to take advantage of aircraft capabilities.
  • Designates a flight lead, serial commanders (if required), an LNO (if not already designated), and a planning cell (if necessary) to the AATF headquarters.

Figure 3-1. AMC selection guidelines

    d. The Aviation Liaison Officer . The LNO is the AMC's representative to the AATFC. His role is to locate with the AATF headquarters and advise the AATFC on all matters relating to aviation's mission in the air assault. The LNO should assist the AMC and AATF staff in developing the air movement table, selecting PZs, LZs, and primary/alternate flight routes, coordinating airspace, developing a fire support plan, and executing PZ operations. The LNO does not replace the AMC during the planning phase of the air assault. The AMC must interact with the AATFC directly on all matters relating to the air assault. In absence of the AMC, the LNO acts according to the AMC's guidance. See Appendix D for suggested formats for an LNO checklist and an LNO briefing. Air assault LNO considerations are as follows:

      (1) Deploy early. When the aviation unit is given a WARNORD to conduct an air assault, the commander must delegate an LNO and send him to the AATF headquarters.

      (2) Air mission commander's intent. The LNO must understand the intent of the AMC for using helicopters to support the air assault. The LNO must constantly contact the AMC and keep him updated on air assault planning status and receive guidance from the AMC.

      (3) Keep the air mission commander informed. The LNO must advise the AMC on all changes and adjustments to the air assault made by the AATFC.

      (4) Decision making. The LNO should not make decisions for the AMC unless the AMC has delegated that authority to him. The LNO should take all issues requiring a decision to the AMC, who should coordinate directly with the AATFC for resolution.

      (5) Equipment. The LNO must be equipped for success. He should not become a permanent part of the AATF headquarters. The LNO must have the ability to move and communicate. As a minimum, the LNO should have transportation available to provide the aviation unit with products (overlays, INTSUMs, air movement tables) as they are developed by the AATFC and communications from the AATF headquarters to the aviation unit (MSE, FM). Appendix D gives a suggested format for an air assault LNO checklist.

    e. Flight Lead. The flight lead is responsible for assisting the AMC on selecting flight routes (primary and alternate), developing timing for the routes, submitting route card data to the aviation staff for production of route navigation cards, navigating the flight routes, and ensuring the air assault times are met according to the air movement table.

    f. Pickup Zone Control Officer. A PZCO is designated for each pickup zone. If there is more than one PZ for the air assault, the AATFC selects a PZCO for each PZ. He organizes, controls, and coordinates PZ operations and pushes the lifted unit out of the PZ. He operates on the designated PZ control frequency and executes mission changes according to the AATFC's orders and aircraft availability. The PZCO executes the bump plan if necessary, and keeps the AATFC informed of any PZ situation that may require adjustment of the air assault scheme of maneuver. The PZCO ensures the PZ is clear of obstacles, marks the PZ, plans PZ security, plans fire support for the PZ, and communicates to the aircraft on the PZ control net. Although the PZCO will be designated from the assault force, the AMC should designate someone from the aviation unit to be present during PZ setup and mission execution to offer aviation expertise and to recommend changes to the PZCO should conditions change, such as changes in wind direction could require changing PZ landing direction. The LNO should be the AMC's choice to be at the PZ during mission execution. The LNO knows the assault force and how they operate. He must collocate with the PZCO and be prepared to offer guidance on PZ operations to ensure that the PZ is setup to ensure mission success. It may be necessary for the AMC to designate more than one person to be at the PZ. If the air assault is planned using multiple PZs, an aviation unit representative should be at each PZ to assist in PZ setup and execution.

    g. Aviation Unit Staff. The staff of the aviation battalion conducting the air assault has a significant responsibility during the planning and execution of the air assault operations. Although not being in a direct planning role as the actual AATF headquarters, the aviation staff must interact continuously with the AATF staff to ensure that the aviation assets are used to their maximum capabilities. During the IPC, the battalion S2 and S3 should conduct face-to-face coordination with the AATF staff. The S3 assists the AMC and LNO in the development of the aviation scheme of maneuver and prepares the aviation plans and orders for the commander. The S3 also coordinates airspace and passage of lines and develops a fire support plan to support the aviation task force. The aviation S2 must coordinate with the AATF S2 to develop the threat to the helicopters. In coordination with the AATF S2, the aviation S2 analyzes the threat to the aviation unit and coordinates with the AATF S2 to develop an observation plan to assist in locating actual threats on the battlefield. The aviation S2 also coordinates with the aviation S3 and AATF S3 to develop a fire support plan to support the ingressing helicopters. The aviation staff produces an OPORD for the aviation elements participating in the air assault.

    h. Air Cavalry/Attack Helicopter Commander. Air cavalry and/or attack helicopters will be a part of the AATF. The air cavalry troops and attack helicopter companies must be prepared to provide both reconnaissance and security for the AATF. The size of the support provided will depend on the size of the air assault and may range from a team (2-4 aircraft) to a company/troop (8 aircraft) or more.

      (1) Air cavalry commander. During all phases of the air assault, the air cavalry unit is positioned to provide security for the AATF. The air cavalry unit usually precedes the flight and provides reconnaissance for the flight routes, landing zones, and objective areas. The air cavalry unit calls for fire according to the fire support plan developed by the AATF staff. The air cavalry unit may be responsible for initiating SEAD fire missions or preparatory fires around the LZ. During the air assault, the air cavalry unit will be maneuvered by the air cavalry commander under the control of the AMC. The scheme of maneuver for the air cavalry unit will be developed by the air cavalry commander, working with the AATFC and AATF S3. The scheme of maneuver for the air cavalry must support the AATFC's intent and must be briefed to and approved by the AATFC at the air mission brief. Upon completion of the air assault, the cavalry may continue to maneuver in support of the AATF, providing reconnaissance and security during the ground tactical phase.

      (2) Attack helicopter commander. The attack helicopter unit's primary mission during the air assault is to protect the AATF. In the absence of air cavalry the attack commander must also provide reconnaissance and security for the AATF. The attack commander maneuvers his assets according to the AATFC's plan, under the control of the AMC. He may provide suppressive fires around the PZ and LZ, attack enemy positions encountered in route to the LZ, or attack repositioning enemy forces. The attack helicopter unit may also serve as the AATF reserve when assaulting against a mechanized or armored threat. The scheme of maneuver for the attack helicopters will be developed by the attack helicopter company commander, working with the AATFC and the AATF S3. The scheme developed will support the AATFC's intent for air assault security. The scheme of maneuver for the attack helicopters will be briefed to and approved by the AATFC during the AMB.


The AATFC must address C2 requirements early in the planning phase of an air assault. He must establish an effective C2 system that allows him to control diverse, widely dispersed air and ground elements between the PZ and the LZ. C2 of an air assault operation must be planned in detail. It must address the location of key air assault leaders, the location and composition of C2 nodes, and the radio nets that will be used during the air assault operation. The key to successful air assault C2 lies in precise, centralized planning and aggressive, decentralized execution.

    a. Command Posts. The AATFC designates a CP for the execution of the air assault operation. The AATF CP may be a ground C2 node of the AATFC's headquarters, or it may be an airborne C2 aircraft. If the AATF CP is on the ground, the aviation unit should collocate a TAC CP with the AATF CP. This will allow the AMC or S3 to interface with the AATFC, maintain communications on the air assault nets through the AATF CP, and maintain communications with the aviation CPs through the aviation unit FM nets. If the AATFC decides to use an airborne CP, the personnel accompanying the AATFC may be limited by the aircraft ACL, but should include, as a minimum, the AATFC, AATF S2, AATF FSO, AMC (or aviation S3), and ALO (if CAS is part of the AATF). The AATF CP should be staffed with the following key personnel:

      (1) AATFC.

      (2) AATF S2.

      (3) AATF FSO.

      (4) AATF S3.

      (5) AMC. (The AMC may be a part of the mission as a crew member. If the AMC is flying on the mission, the aviation S3 should collocate with the AATFC as the AMC's representative.)

      (6) Assault force LNO.

      (7) AATF ALO, if CAS is planned or available for the air assault operation.

    b. Radio Nets. A mix of air-to-air, air-to-ground, and ground-to-ground radio nets is established to provide the necessary C2 for the air assault operation. Air assault operations will most likely occur at night, so C2 becomes imperative to reduce confusion. The radio nets established by the AATF will make C2 easier and contribute to the success of the operation. Often, there are requirements to monitor more radio nets than are available in the aircraft. Usually, no single aircraft can monitor all of the radio nets needed for an air assault. In this case, the AMC and serial commanders will delegate responsibility for monitoring and reporting on the different nets to other aircraft within the air assault. Figure 3-2 shows the air assault radio nets. Radio nets that will be established for the air assault will be--

      (1) Air assault task force command net. This net is an FM net (normally the command net of the lifted force or the command net of the AATF headquarters) that is used for ground-to-ground communications during an air assault. It is used by the AATFC to communicate with subordinate unit commanders.

      (2) Combat aviation net. This is an FM radio net dedicated to air-to-ground communications between the AMC, the AATFC, the PZCO, and the assault force commander. All aviation elements should monitor this net. This net must be dedicated to communications between the lifted unit and the assault helicopter unit. It is used to pass situation reports and mission changes between the assault force and the assault helicopters. It is also used for communications between the AMC/flight leads and the PZCO. The PZCO will communicate with the assault helicopters on this net, providing information on PZ security status, PZ hazards, and changes to PZ operations.

      (3) Air battle net. The air battle net is normally a UHF frequency for air-to-air communications. All aviation elements (assault helicopters, air cavalry, attack) will monitor this net. The purpose of the ABN is for the AMC to communicate with the commanders of the aviation assets involved in the air assault.

      (4) Fire support net. This is an FM net operated by the AATF FSO. All aviation elements must have access to this frequency to call for fire support. The fire support net becomes a very busy net during the air assault operation. All of the aviation elements do not need to monitor this net, only those responsible for initiating fire. However, all aircrews must have the frequency and call signs in case they pick up responsibility for calling fire due to losing aircraft.

      (5) Aviation internal nets. These nets are usually VHF nets and are used for internal flight communications between serials or lifts. Use of a VHF net provides the flight or serial commanders with a dedicated frequency with which to direct and control individual aircraft, platoons, or teams.

      (6) PZ control net. This is an FM net established by the PZCO used to control the flow of personnel and vehicles in and around the PZ. The PZCO uses this net to communicate with the PZ control elements (security, chalks, PZ control group). This ensures that chalks are lined up in the appropriate area, external loads are ready, the bump plan is activated if necessary, and vehicles and personnel are kept clear of PZ operations.

      (7) Assault battalion command net. This FM net will be used by the AMC or the battalion S3 to communicate back to the aviation TOC (located in the AA). Communications on this net will be used to keep the TOC informed of the status of the air assault and to alert the TOC of the need for support from the aviation battalion (maintenance, fuel, back-up aircraft, CSAR).

Figure 3-2. Air assault radio nets


The successful execution of an air assault is based upon a careful analysis of the factors of METT-T and a detailed, precise reverse planning sequence. The five basic plans that comprise an air assault operation are the ground tactical plan, the landing plan, the air movement plan, the loading plan, and the staging plan. Air assaults are planned in reverse order, beginning with the ground tactical plan and working backwards to the staging plan. Reverse planning is imperative, as each successive planning step has an impact on the step that precedes it. The landing plan, for example, helps the air assault planners to determine the sequence and composition of lifts during the air movement phase. Figure 3-3 shows the reverse planning sequence.

LEGEND: See the glossary for acronyms and abbreviations.

Figure 3-3. Reverse planning sequence

    a. Ground Tactical Plan. The foundation of a successful air assault is the ground tactical plan. All other air assault planning stages are based on the ground tactical plan. The ground tactical plan specifies actions in the objective area that will lead to accomplishment of the mission. The ground tactical plan addresses the following areas:

      (1) Organization for combat. The mission, enemy situation, terrain, maneuver forces, and fire support assets all help air assault planners determine the task force organization for combat. Emphasis is placed on--

    • Maximizing combat power in the assault to heighten surprise and shock effect. This is especially important if the AATF plans to land on or near the objective.
    • Ensuring that the task force inserts enough force to accomplish initial objectives quickly. AATFs must be massed in the LZ and build up a significant combat power capability early to prevent being defeated by repositioning mobile enemy forces.
    • Ensuring the AATFC properly allocates his CS and CSS assets to sustain the task force until follow on forces arrive.

      (2) Fire support. The AATFC must consider relocating artillery if the LZ is out of range of the supporting artillery. Utility and cargo helicopters may be required to move the artillery. The amount of artillery available to support the air assault and the location of supporting artillery units are critical factors in determining the ground tactical plan and the subsequent plans of the air assault.

      (3) Scheme of maneuver. The AATFC develops a scheme of maneuver to accomplish his mission and seize assigned objectives. Development of the scheme of maneuver must be done prior to development of the air assault. Occasionally the scheme of maneuver will be developed concurrently with the air assault. An example of this is when there are limited LZs. In this case it may be necessary to plan the scheme of maneuver around the landing plan. Scheme of maneuver development by the AATF headquarters will allow subsequent planning phases of the air assault to be accomplished. Development of the AATF ground tactical plan need not be complete to begin air assault mission planning. As a minimum, the AATFC must provide the following information for the AATF and aviation staffs to begin the air assault planning process. The ground scheme of maneuver must be known for air assault planning to begin. The AATF planners should not wait for the completed assault force OPORD to begin planning. When the general scheme of maneuver is approved by the assault force commander, the AATF staff and aviation units can begin air assault planning.

      (4) Commander's intent. The AATFC must articulate early his intent for the air assault. Air assault planning can often begin after the AATFC issues his intent, even though the ground tactical plan may not be complete. The commander's intent for the air assault will allow the air assault planners to clearly understand the method and end state and begin to piece together the subsequent plans. Commander's intent for the air assault will include such things as whether the assault force will land on the objective or land near it and maneuver to it. The commander's intent for the air assault may include surprise as a critical element, which leads to the develop-ment of the fire support and SEAD plans. Intent will vary based on the factors of METT-T, but it is critical that the AATF planners receive the commanders intent as soon as possible after the mission is received.

      (5) Air cavalry/attack helicopters in support of the ground tactical plan. Once the infantry is on the ground, the air cavalry and/or attack helicopters may switch roles. The AATFC may designate that at this time C2 of the security assets change from the AMC to the ground force commander. During the ground fight the air cavalry and attack helicopters assist the assault force commander by providing reconnaissance in the vicinity of the LZs, destroying repositioning forces, destroying counterattacking forces, and calling fire. The shift in C2 from the AMC to the assault force commander is critical, and must be planned and rehearsed in detail. It may occur that during an air assault with multiple lifts the cavalry and attack helicopters will support the air assault and ground fight (some elements will provide reconnaissance and security for the air assault and other elements will screen for the assault force). If this happens, synchronization of the attack and cavalry assets must be precise and detailed to eliminate confusion and to ensure that the flow of the air assault is not disrupted.

    b. Landing Plan. The scheme of maneuver and ground tactical plan directly impacts on the selection of LZs, landing formation, and amount of combat power that must be assaulted into the LZ. The landing plan must be planned in conjunction with the development of the ground tactical plan. The landing plan must support the assault force commander's intent and scheme of maneuver. The landing plan outlines the distribution, timing, and sequencing of aircraft into the LZ.

      (1) LZ selection. In coordination with the AMC and LNO, the AATFC selects primary and alternate LZs. The number of selected LZs is based upon the ground scheme of maneuver and LZ availability. The aviation planners advise the AATFC on LZ suitability. The considerations for selecting suitable landing zones are--

    • Location. The LZ must be located in an area that supports the ground tactical plan of the AATFC. It may be located on the objective, close by, or at a distance. The factors of METT-T should be considered when selecting LZs.
    • Capacity. The selected LZ must be big enough to support the number of aircraft the AATFC requires on air assault lifts.
    • Enemy disposition and capabilities. The AMC must consider ADA locations and weapons ranges, and the ability of the enemy to reposition ground forces to react to the air assault. LZ selection must involve the AATF S3, the AMC, and the S2s from the AATF and aviation task force. S2s provide intelligence information that will affect the selection of LZ locations.
    • Unit tactical integrity. Squads must land intact in the LZ, and platoons must land in the same serial. This ensures fighting unit integrity during the air assault.
    • Supporting fires. LZs must be selected that are in the range of supporting fires (artillery, CAS, naval gunfire).
    • Obstacles. LZ selection must include existing obstacles on the LZ as well as reinforcing. LZs should be selected that are beyond enemy obstacles.
    • Identification from the air. The LZ should be identifiable from the air if possible.

      (2) Single or multiple landing zones. The decision to use a single or multiple LZs is based upon the ground tactical plan and the AATFC's intent. However, there are advantages to using single or multiple LZs. The single Lzs--

    • Make controlling the operations easier.
    • Require less planning and rehearsal time.
    • Centralize any required resupply operations.
    • Concentrate supporting fires on one location.
    • Provide better security on subsequent lifts.
    • Mass more combat power in a single location.
    • May make the detection of the air assault by enemy units more difficult because the air assault operation is confined to a smaller area of the battlefield.

    The multiple LZs--

    • Do not group the entire force in one location.
    • Force the enemy to fight in multiple directions.
    • Allow rapid dispersal of ground elements to accomplish tasks in separate areas.
    • Make determining the size of the assault force difficult for the enemy.

      (3) Air cavalry/attack helicopters in support of the landing plan. During the landing plan the air cavalry and/or attack helicopters will provide overwatch of the LZs, conduct a reconnaissance of the egress flight routes, call for fire (if designated to do so), and set up a screen for supporting the assault force commander during the ground tactical plan. The AMC must be certain that the missions of the attack and cavalry aircraft are synchronized with the assault helicopters.

    c. Air Movement Plan. The air movement plan is based on the ground tactical and landing plan. It specifies the schedule and provides the instructions for the movement of troops, equipment, and supplies from the PZ to the LZ. It provides coordinating instructions regarding air routes, ACPs, aircraft speeds, altitudes, formations, and fire support. The AATFC develops the air movement plan in conjunction with the AMC, LNO, and flight lead. The air movement plan results in the production of the air movement table.

      (1) Selection of flight routes is always based upon the factors of METT-T. The AATF staff and the AMC consider the location of friendly troops, enemy disposition, air defense systems, terrain, and the locations of the PZ and LZ to select the best flight route. Flight route selection should be accomplished by the AATF staff, to include the S3 and S2, the AMC (or LNO), and flight lead. Selected flight routes should always be laid over the enemy situational template produced by the S2 to ensure that a flight route is selected that best avoids known or suspected enemy positions.

      (2) The AATF staff and the AMC must select primary and alternate flight routes. Alternate flight routes are selected to provide the assault force with a preplanned, precoordinated method of moving from the PZ to LZ if the primary route becomes compromised.

      (3) Flight routes that pass through adjacent unit sectors must be coordinated and approved by the adjacent unit to avoid potential fratricide.

      (4) When selecting flight routes, the AMC and AATF staff must consider the following factors:

        (a) Airspace management. Flight routes are designed to ensure that aviation task force maneuver space is free from friendly fire. Flight routes must be planned that do not conflict with artillery or ground maneuver forces that may be operating. They should not overfly friendly artillery locations. Flight routes must be coordinated with all forces to ensure prevention from fratricide.

        (b) Support of the landing plan. Flight routes should provide for approach to and departure from the LZ so as to minimize the ability of the enemy to see the LZ. It must support the landing plan.

        (c) Enemy capabilities. To minimize enemy observation and acquisition, flight routes should make maximum use of terrain, cover, and concealment and avoid known or suspected enemy positions.

        (d) Fire support. Flight routes should be selected that are within the range of friendly fire support assets.

        (e) Distance. To reduce aircraft exposure time and the ability of the enemy to observe the air assault, flight routes should be as short as possible.

      (5) Air cavalry/attack helicopters can be used in support of the air movement plan. During the air movement phase the air assault security forces provide reconnaissance and security for the assault helicopters. This may be accomplished in a number of ways. For example, prior to the assault helicopters departing the PZ, the attack/cavalry aircraft can conduct a reconnaissance of the ingress route and set up overwatch positions along the route to provide security, or the attack/cavalry aircraft can fly ahead of and/or behind the assault helicopters to provide security.

    d. Loading Plan. The AATFC bases the loading plan on the air movement plan and the ground tactical plan. The loading plan ensures that troops, equipment, and supplies are loaded on the correct aircraft. It establishes the priority of loads, the bump plan, and the cross loading of equipment and personnel. Detailed load planning will ensure that the aatf arrives at the LZ configured to support the ground tactical plan. A bump plan ensures that essential troops and equipment are loaded ahead of less critical loads in case aircraft are lost during the air assault. Planning for the loading plan must include the organization and operation of the PZ, the loading of aircraft, and the bump plan.

      (1) Pickup zone selection. The first step in the loading plan is selection of a suitable PZ or PZs. Primary and alternate PZs should be selected during this process. Multiple primary PZs may be necessary to facilitate a smooth flow of personnel and equipment. The AATFC may elect to have separate LZs for troops and equipment (heavy and light PZs). The heavy PZ contains any external loads that will be used for the air assault, and the light PZ is where the troops will be lifted from. Selection of PZs is based on METT-T, the intent of the AATFC, the location of the assault forces in relation to the PZ, and the size and capability of available PZs. The AATF staff, AMC, and LNO select suitable PZs that support the intent of the AATFC. PZ selection should be based on the following considerations:

        (a) Number. The AATFC specifies the number of PZs based on the factors discussed above. Multiple PZs may have an advantage over single PZs in that they avoid concentrating the force in one location. However, multiple PZ operations require detailed and precise planning.

        (b) Size. Each PZ should accommodate all supporting aircraft at one time.

        (c) Proximity to troops. PZs should be selected that are close to the troops being lifted, so they are not required to travel a long distance.

        (d) Accessibility. PZs should be accessible to vehicles that move support assets and infantry. However, PZs should be located in an area that limits traffic from vehicles or personnel that are not directly involved in PZ operations.

        (e) Vulnerability to attack. PZs should be masked by terrain from enemy observation.

        (f) Conditions. PZ selection needs to take into account the surface conditions of the area. Excessive slope, blowing dust or sand, blowing snow, and natural and man-made obstacles all create potential hazards to PZ operations.

      (2) Pickup zone control. Once the AATFC selects the PZ, the PZCO organizes, controls, and coordinates the PZ operation. To establish control over the PZ, the PZCO forms a control group consisting of PZ control teams, support personnel, air traffic services personnel (if available), and security personnel.

      (3) Aviation involvement. The assault helicopter unit must ensure that aviation expertise is present on the PZ. The LNO, or another designated representative, should locate with the PZCO during the PZ selection, set-up, and execution phase. The aviation representative provides guidance on the PZ setup, taking into consideration aircraft factors. For example, the PZ landing direction may change if the wind changes significantly. Additionally, the aviation representative can offer advice on surface conditions and their effect on helicopter operations.

      (4) Pickup zone communications. Communications must be by the most secure means available. PZ operations may be conducted under radio listening silence to avoid electronic detection. This requires detailed planning. If under radio listening silence, it is imperative that aircrews remain on schedule to allow the PZCO to keep a smooth flow of troops from the PZ. PZ communications will be accomplished on the established FM PZ control net, with transmissions kept to a minimum.

      (5) Pickup zone marking. The PZCO directs the marking of the PZ. PZ marking must be done so that the PZ is identifiable from the air. Far and near recognition signals are needed, especially at night, to allow the pilots to orient on the PZ quickly. Touchdown points must be clearly marked. The PZCO must ensure that no other lighting is on the PZ. Extraneous lights in the area of the PZ will cause confusion to the aircrews and result in slow loading times and delayed air assault times.

      (6) Disposition of loads on the pickup zone. Personnel and equipment must be positioned on the PZ to conform with the landing formation. Flight crews must understand the loading plan on the PZ, and be prepared to accept troops and equipment immediately on landing. PZ sketches depicting location of loads in the PZ will assist flight crews in loading troops and equipment quickly once the aircraft arrive in the PZ. Flight crews should be provided a PZ diagram. Figure 3-4 shows an example of a PZ diagram. Figure 3-5 shows the duties of the PZCO and the aviation LNO during the execution of the PZ operations.

LEGEND: See the glossary for acronyms and abbreviations.

Figure 3-4. PZ operations

Figure 3-5. PZCO and LNO PZ responsibilities

      (7) Air cavalry/attack helicopters in support of the loading plan. During the loading phase, the attack and cavalry aircraft can assist the AATFC by providing overwatch of the PZs and by conducting a route reconnaissance of the air assault flight routes.

    e. Staging Plan. The staging plan is based on the loading plan and prescribes the proper order for movement of personnel and aircraft to the PZ. Loads must be ready before the aircraft arrive at the PZ. During mission planning, the PZCO determines the time required to set up the PZ and selects times (based upon the air assault H-hour) that the PZ control group will establish the PZ. During the staging plan, the aviation unit is conducting mission planning, orders, and necessary checks to ensure that the mission times are met once the air assault is executed. During the staging plan, the aviation unit should be focusing on mission planning, precombat checks and inspections, FARP operations, and routes to the PZ.

      (1) Mission planning. Mission planning includes the coordination between the AATF and the AMC, development of the aviation OPORD, issuing of the OPORD and AB, and rehearsals.

      (2) Precombat checks and inspections. During the staging plan, the aircraft are prepared for the operation. Unit commanders ensure that aircraft have sufficient fuel, COMSEC fills are loaded and equipment is operational, cargo hooks are operational, and aircraft log books and keys are accessible. They also ensure that aircraft are prepared to accept the loads for the air assault (internal or external).

      (3) Forward arming and refueling point operations. If a FARP will be used during the air assault mission, it must be planned and positioned during the staging plan. Consideration should be given to site selection, time required to be operational, travel time, safety inspection criteria, and night set-up considerations (if applicable).

      (4) Routes to the pickup zone. The AMC must select flight routes to the PZ that allow the aircraft to arrive at the PZ on time in the proper landing direction and configuration to accept loads.


The success of any mission depends largely on the planning process. This section is designed to assist in the planning of the air assault operation. The time available for planning an air assault operation will vary. However, enough planning time must be allotted for detailed planning and synchronization to occur. For company level air assaults, a minimum of 24 hours should be allotted for air assault planning. For battalion and brigade level air assaults, 72 hours should be allotted for air assault planning. Air assault operations involving small numbers of aircraft and personnel (LRSD, scout insertions) may not require as much planning time. These missions should be able to be accomplished successfully with at least 6 hours planning time. These planning times are recommended and are based upon the ability to thoroughly plan and synchronize all air assault assets. Air assaults may be conducted with less time to plan than this, but the AATFC must understand that a much greater risk is assumed with a condensed planning time. Figure 3-6 shows the air assault planning process.

LEGEND: See the glossary for acronyms and abbreviations.

Figure 3-6. Air assault planning diagram

    a. Warning Order. Air assault planning begins when the aviation unit receives a WARNORD from higher headquarters on the upcoming air assault mission. The WARNORD should specify who the AATFC is. This will allow the aviation commander to dispatch an LNO early to the AATF headquarters and prepare the aviation unit for the initial planning stages of the air assault.

    b. Initial Planning Conference. The IPC is the first meeting between the AATF staff and the aviation unit. The aviation unit should be represented by the AMC, LNO, battalion S2, battalion S3, flight leads, and additional members of the battalion that the AMC selects to bring. The location of the IPC is at the AATF headquarters or at a location selected by the AATFC. The IPC should occur early in the air assault planning process. When the AATFC has a general idea of the intent and ground tactical plan scheme of maneuver, the planning can start. The IPC is covered in Appendix B.

    c. Commander's Critical Information Requirements. At IPC, the AATFC must establish his CCIR.

    CCIR: Information required by the commander that directly affects his decisions and dictates the successful execution of operational or tactical operations. CCIR will normally result in the generation of three types of information requirements: priority intelligence requirements (PIR), essential elements of friendly information (EEFI), and friendly force information requirements (FFIR). FM 101-5-1, Operational Terms and Graphics, Drag Version, 15 November 196. (Estimated publication date is August 1997.)

The AATFC must establish and define his CCIR early in the air assault planning process, as this will result in decision points that will affect the air assault. Abort criteria for the air assault results from the decision points established by the CCIR. Examples of CCIR in relation to the air assault are--

      (1) Priority intelligence requirements.

        (a) What are the locations of air defense systems that can affect me at night and range the PZ, LZ, and routes?

        (b) What ground forces have the ability to reposition and influence the LZ?

        (c) Is the LZ in direct fire range of any enemy forces?

      (2) Friendly force information requirements.

        (a) The air assault requires 12 UH-60s and 3 CH-47s. As a minimum, we can execute with 10 UH-60s and 2 CH-47s. The commander must be notified if UH-60 availability drops below 10 or CH-47 availability drops below 2.

        (b) Weather must be greater than the established minimums not later than 12 hours prior to the air assault. The commander must be notified if weather is less than established minimums at H-12 hours.

      (3) Essential elements of friendly information.

        (a) Preparation, marking, and setup of the PZ.

        (b) Air assault rehearsals.

The result of the CCIR is that the AATFC must establish decision points that affect the air assault. If and when these decision points are reached, they require the AATFC to do one of three things--abort the mission, change the scheme of maneuver, or accept risk and continue as planned.

    d. The Air Mission Briefing. The air mission briefing is the final coordination meeting of key air assault personnel. The AMB is designed for key AATF personnel to brief the plan to the AATFC. AMBs are not planning sessions. The planning for the air assault should be complete by this time. The AMB is a coordinated staff effort that is the culmination of the air assault planning process. Once the AMB is complete, the AATFC approves the air assault plan. The approval of the air assault plan by the AATFC signifies the "good idea cut off point." For the aviation assault unit, the minimum attendees should be the AMC, aviation S3, aviation S2, serial commanders, flight leads, and the LNO. The AMC should brief the aviation portion of the AMB. FM 90-4 discusses the format for the AMB.

    e. Aviation Orders Development. Throughout the air assault mission planning process, the aviation unit is producing the aviation OPORD, conducting ABs at company and serial level, and conducting a rehearsal of the aviation portion of the air assault.

      (1) Operation order. The aviation staff prepares an OPORD for the aviation portion of the air assault. The OPORD is approved by the AMC, and is planned in parallel with the air assault mission planning process. The OPORD discusses the aviation mission, and includes all members of the aviation portion of the air assault, to include the cavalry and attack helicopter assets. The OPORD is briefed to the commanders of the assault, medium lift, cavalry, and attack helicopter commanders involved in the air assault. Aviation task force staffs must pay attention to the 1/3-2/3 rule during the orders process. It is not always possible to follow a strict 1/3-2/3 planning timeline. In this case the use of WARNORDs becomes critical. WARNORD must be issued early and often to keep the company commanders and flight crews abreast of the current air assault plan. Maximum time must be provided to subordinate aviation commanders so that those aircrews executing the mission have sufficient mission preparation time.

      (2) Aircrew brief. Aviation unit commanders brief the flight crews that will execute the air assault mission. This briefing is called the AB and covers the essential flight crew actions and aviation planning necessary to successfully accomplish the mission. ABs are briefed by the unit commander or serial commander. However, the aviation battalion staff should be available to provide expertise and assistance (the S2 may brief the enemy situation). The AB is the critical portion of the aviation unit's piece of the air assault. Flight crews must fully understand the mission and execution for the air assault to be executed successfully. An example of an AB is included in Appendix C.

      (3) Rehearsals. The aviation battalion must conduct a rehearsal to synchronize all elements of the air assault. It must conduct rehearsals as part of the AATF. The aviation rehearsal focuses on synchronizing the aviation assets involved in the air assault. It should have a representative from the lifted unit and a representative from the AATF FSE. The type of rehearsal conducted is dependent upon METT-T. However, it must be focused on synchronizing the assets involved and coming up with contingencies for the most likely events that can affect the plan.


Air assault security operations provide force protection for air assault operations. Air assault security encompasses the entire range of planning and operations conducted to protect the AATF as it moves from the PZ to the LZ. It is planned and executed as an integral part of the air assault operations and is planned by the AATF headquarters. Air assault security is a highly synchronized operation often involving many different types of units executing reconnaissance, security, electronic warfare, and other missions in support of the AATF. A security force will precede the assault force on the route (based on METT-T), ensuring that the route is secure for the lifting aircraft.

    a. Units Involved in Air Assault Security.

      (1) Air cavalry. Reconnaissance and security are vital components of air assault security operations. Air cavalry units play a major role in these operations. Missions for the air cavalry include screening, route reconnaissance of air axes and flight routes, PZs, and LZs, providing suppressive fire, and coordinating passage of lines. METT-T determines how these units are actually employed. If attack helicopters are not available, air cavalry units may be required to perform attack missions within the limits of their capabilities.

      (2) Ground cavalry. Ground cavalry units may also be employed in the air assault security role. Missions for the ground cavalry units include PZ security, reconnaissance of routes, security of FARPs, and passage of lines coordination.

      (3) Attack helicopters. AHBs or companies are capable of performing the missions of the air cavalry units and can be expected to conduct these missions when air cavalry is unavailable. The attack helicopter units also conduct overwatch and screening of the air assault force during movement along the flight route from the PZ to LZ, providing protection from enemy ground fire or attacks. They can provide suppressive fires, SEAD, and may be used as a reserve force to counterattack threats to the AATF. Attack helicopters may also be integrated in the scheme of maneuver for the ground tactical phase, where they may be used to conduct screen or guard missions, hasty attacks, or other missions in support of the AATF.

      (4) Military intelligence units. Corps MI units equipped with UAVs can provide R&S for air assault operations. Corps LRSD teams can provide similar intelligence products. UAVs equipped with day television or FLIR sensor packages are capable of reconnoitering flight routes, LZs, and objectives before and during air assault operations.

    b. Air Assault Security Planning. Although air assault security is performed by the air cavalry or attack units, the AMC will control the operations of these assets. However, the method of employment and maneuvering of the security elements should be left to the commander of the security element.

      (1) Scheme of maneuver development. During air assault planning the security element commander will develop his scheme of maneuver to provide the best, most responsive support for the AATF. The plan developed by the security element will be planned in conjunction with the air assault to ensure that it supports the air assault phases. Additionally, the security plan must be briefed to the AATFC as part of the AMB. The AATFC is the final approval for the scheme of maneuver to be used by the air assault security element. (An example of a scheme of maneuver developed by the security element commander is the security teams/companies/troops may fly ahead of the air assault and set up overwatch positions in the vicinity of the route and LZ; they may travel behind the lifting helicopters and be prepared to respond to any threat that is encountered.) The security team commander will decide, based on METT-T, the best way to employ the cavalry or attack aircraft. Once the scheme of maneuver is developed, the AMC will brief the AATFC, who will approve the air assault security plan.

      (2) Airspace deconfliction. The AMC and the aviation staff will be responsible for coordinating the airspace during the air assault. They will ensure that an adequate plan is developed to deconflict the lifting helicopters, the cavalry, and attack helicopters. The AMC must ensure that all aviation commanders understand the airspace management plan prior to executing the air assault.

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