Air Assault Operations in the AirLand Battle
AVIATION AND INFANTRY
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.
NOTE: 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.
To take advantage of the opportunities offered by an air assault task force, commanders and leaders must develop an insight into the principles governing their development (organization) and employment.
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.
ORGANIZATION OF AIR ASSAULT FORCES
There are no existing units below division level that are capable of unilaterally conducting effective air assault operations. Pure units simply do not have adequate organic assets to ensure successful air assault mission accomplishment. Task organizing or mission-specific tailoring of forces is the norm for air assault operations.
1-6. Task force.
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. (For a discussion of how AATFs are organized, see Chapter 2.)
CAPABILITIES, LIMITATIONS, AND VULNERABILITIES
An air assault task force provides commanders with truly unique capabilities. They can extend the battlefield, move, and rapidly concentrate combat power like no other available forces.
Specifically, an air assault task force can:
a. Attack enemy positions from any direction.
b. Delay a much larger force without becoming decisively engaged.
c. Overfly or bypass barriers and obstacles and strike objectives in otherwise inaccessible areas.
d. Conduct deep attacks and raids beyond the forward line of own troops (FLOT) or line of contact (LC), using helicopters to insert and extract forces.
e. Rapidly concentrate, disperse, or redeploy to extend the area of influence.
f. Provide responsive reserves allowing commanders) to commit a larger portion of his force to action.
g. React rapidly to tactical opportunities and necessities; conduct exploitation and pursuit operations.
h. Rapidly place forces at tactically decisive points in the battle area.
i. Provide surveillance or screen over a wide area.
j. React to rear area threats.
k. Rapidly secure and defend key terrain (such as crossing sites, road junctions, bridges) or deep objectives.
1. Bypass enemy positions; achieve surprise.
m. Conduct operations under adverse weather conditions and at night to facilitate deception and surprise.
n. Conduct fast-paced operations over extended distances.
o. Conduct economy-of-force operations over a wide area.
p. Rapidly reinforce committed units.
An air assault task force is light, mobile, and relies on helicopter support throughout any air assault operation. As such, they may be limited by:
a. Adverse weather, extreme heat and cold, and other environmental conditions such as blowing snow and sand that limit flight operations or helicopter lifting capability.
b. Reliance on air lines of communication.
c. Hostile aircraft, air defense, and electronic warfare action.
d. Reduced ground mobility once inserted.
e. Availability of suitable landing zones (LZ) and pickup zones (PZ).
f. Available nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) protection and decontamination capability.
g. Reduced vehicle-mounted antitank weapon systems (except in air assault units).
h. Battlefield obscuration that limits helicopter flight.
i. High fuel (JP4) and ammunition consumption rates.
An air assault task force uses the helicopter to move to and close with the enemy. Initial assault elements must be light and mobile. They are often separated from weapon systems, equipment, and materiel that provide protection and survivability on the battlefield. Thus, an air assault task force is particularly vulnerable to enemy:
a. Attack by aircraft and air defense weapon systems during the movement phase.
b. Attack by NBC systems, because of limited NBC protection and decontamination.
c. Attacks (ground, air, or artillery) during the loading and unloading phases and at other times when the infantry is not dug in.
d. Air strikes, due to limited availability of ADA weapon systems that can be deployed with an air assault task force.
e. Electronic warfare (jamming), due to the heavy reliance on radio communications for command and control (C2).
f. Artillery or other fires that may destroy helicopters and air assault forces during PZ or LZ operations.
g. Small arms fire that presents a large threat to helicopters.
Air assault operations are high risk, high payoff operations, that, when properly planned and vigorously executed, allow commanders to apply the four basic tenets and 10 combat imperatives of the AirLand Battle Doctrine (FM 100-5). An air assault task force can dramatically extend a commander's area of operation, enabling him to execute AirLand Battle Doctrine in areas ranging beyond the capability of more conventional forces.
1-12. Tactical employment.
The tactical employment of an air assault task force is different from those of light and other dismounted infantry. An air assault task force is employed judiciously and only on missions that require:
- Massing or shifting combat power rapidly.
- Using surprise.
- Using flexibility, mobility, and speed.
- Gaining and maintaining the initiative.
- Extending the depth, width, or breadth of the battlefield.
1-13. Operational guidelines.
An air assault task force is normally a highly tailored force specifically designed to hit fast and hard. They are best employed in situations that provide the air assault task force a calculated advantage due to surprise, terrain, threat, or mobility. The principles of employment are basic guidelines that govern the planning and execution of air assault operations. They are:
a. The air assault task force should normally be assigned only missions that take advantage of their superior mobility and should not be employed in roles requiring deliberate operations over an extended period of time.
h. The air assault forces always fight as a combined arms team.
c. The availability of critical aviation assets is a major factor in any operation.
d. The air assault planning must be centralized and precise; execution must be aggressive and decentralized.
e. The air assault operations may be conducted at night or during adverse weather, but require more planning and preparation time in those cases.
f. Unit tactical integrity must be maintained throughout an air assault. When planning loads, squads are normally loaded intact on the same helicopter, with platoons located in the same serial. This ensures fighting unit integrity upon landing.
g. The fire support planning must provide for suppressive fires along flight routes and in the vicinity of landing zones. Priority for fires must be to the suppression of enemy air defense systems (SEAD).
h. Infantry unit operations are not fundamentally changed by integrating aviation units with infantry; tempo and distance are dramatically changed, however.
i. Although mechanized infantry units are not frequently employed in air assault operations, such operations conducted on a limited scale may be the decisive form of combat. Typical air assault operations conducted by mechanized forces are river-crossing operations, seizure of key terrain, raids, and rear area combat operations.
j . An air assault task force is employed most effectively in environments where limited lines of communication are available to the enemy, where he lacks air superiority and effective air defense systems.
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