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by CW-4 David H. Hardin, Aviation Observer Controller, JRTC

Battlefield aircraft recovery is an operation that results from an aircraft having experienced a component- failure-induced or combat-damage-induced forced landing on the battlefield, or it is disabled because of an accident.

Evacuation of disabled aircraft from the battlefield is a recurring maintenance function. The threat and battlefield conditions dictate whether the aircraft is repaired on-site or flown out, recovered to a secure area by aerial or ground transportation, or, on rare occasions, destroyed or abandoned. This mission requires detailed advance planning on the part of aviation unit maintenance (AVUM) units in coordination with other maintenance support units. Command, control, and coordination to support aircraft recovery operations must be preplanned and as detailed and thorough as possible. Major considerations are the size of the force and the density of recovery assets at the disposal of the commander. Aircraft recovery procedures must be included in the unit standing operating procedures (SOPs) and in all contingency plans, operation orders, and air mission briefings.

Aviation unit maintenance and aviation intermediate maintenance (AVIM) units form downed aircraft recovery teams (DART) from within their organic assets. These teams are skilled in battle damage assessment and repair (BDAR), the use of rigging kits, and combat expedient recovery techniques (CERT). FM 1-513, Battlefield Recovery and Evacuation of Aircraft, is the doctrinal reference.

Based on observations during numerous JRTC rotations, several trends are apparent. These JRTC trends indicate that battalion commanders and their staffs place little emphasis on planning for DART missions.

TREND: The modified table of organization and equipment (MTOE) for maintenance companies does not authorize aircraft to perform DART missions. Maintenance companies are forced to rely on support from line units. The aircraft provided by a line unit is usually not a dedicated DART aircraft, but used for other missions. In some instances, a different aircraft is assigned for DART each day. This means that the team cannot keep the aircraft uploaded with recovery equipment such as tools, rigging equipment, or battle damage assessment (BDA) kits. Threat drives the tempo of a DART mission. Delays in a low-threat mission often escalate that mission to moderate or high risk if the enemy has time to react to the damaged aircraft by placing booby-traps or by establishing an ambush.

Technique: Battalion commanders can avoid this problem by placing an aircraft and DART/BDAR personnel under operational control (OPCON) with a day and night crew to the AVUM commander.

TREND: Many battalions use the same aircraft for DART and combat search and rescue (CSAR), or actually combine both missions. CSAR/DART then becomes a "911" mission that consists of 8 to 11 maintenance personnel who are sent into a potentially hostile area where they are expected to provide security, treat the wounded, evacuate the wounded, assess the damaged aircraft, and recover the damaged aircraft back to a secure airfield. These missions are rarely successful.

1. FM 1-513 provides fundamental data for effective recovery of downed aircraft and maintenance evacuation of disabled aircraft.
2. Battalion commanders and their staffs must understand that a DART mission is just as important as any other mission they plan during combat operations. It must be planned in detail, and coordination is always influenced by the commander's assessment of the threat and the tactical situation.
3. Other factors the staff must consider when planning a DART are the condition of the disabled aircraft, time available, terrain and airspace restrictions, and weather.
4. Even more important is security! Requirements for fire support, air defense, engineer support, ground security, and aerial surveillance are crucial in planning a successful DART mission.

Helicopter repairmen are highly trained personnel who do an outstanding job repairing aircraft, but are generally unskilled as infantrymen. Replacement of mechanics or component repairers lost as a result of enemy action during security operations for DART will most likely be slow or not at all, especially during the early stages of a conflict. The matrix shown on page 11-3 is a basic outline that can be used when planning CSAR/DART operations.

TREND: AVUM commanders must realize that DART training cannot begin when the unit arrives at the JRTC. Aircraft recovery training must begin at Home Station. FM 1-513 states that the preferred means of recovering an aircraft is to fix and fly it out. Today's sophisticated airframes have many redundant systems. "Fix and fly will normally take much longer than rigging the aircraft for sling load. A properly trained team can rig any AH, UH, or OH series aircraft in thirty minutes or less when using the new unit maintenance aerial recovery kit (UMARK) or the intermediate unit aerial recovery kit (IUMARK). Teams must practice in order to accomplish rigging within that time frame. Furthermore, each team member must know the jobs of his fellow team members in case someone becomes a casualty.

Rigging is just one aspect of the DART mission training. Planning must be sufficiently detailed to cover any contingency that might occur during a recovery. A team leader should ensure that each member of the team has a map and a compass in the event they come under attack and have to escape and evade (E&E). Team members must have a good intelligence brief to understand the situation, the threat, and the direction to friendly lines. Water and food will be a necessity if forced to E&E. A man-pack radio may be needed to talk to the recovery aircraft. These are but a few things to consider when formulating a plan for aircraft recovery missions.

In modern conflict, aircraft on the battlefield will need to be recovered to preserve the combat power and effectiveness of Army aviation. If a battalion commander and his staff plan more effectively, and unit commanders formulate and train DART at Home Station, this mission will be a success. If units use these techniques as planning considerations, they will continue to show improvement when they train for and at the JRTC.

Figure 1
DART/CSAR Decision Matrix

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