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by MAJ Christopher White, Aviation Observer Controller, JRTC

From MOOTWA to SASO..What the Acronyms Mean

Stability and support operations (SASO) replaced military operations other than war (MOOTW) several years ago in our doctrinal vocabulary. So what's the difference? FM 100-20, Stability and Support Operations, DRAFT, defines SASO as "providing the U.S. Government an alternative to war." In more clearly defining SASO, the Army further determines "an operational category that entails political processes that sometimes may be accompanied by violence."

Different than peacekeeping and peace enforcement, SASO is based on a permissive environment. The military forces are on-site at the request of the host government and the likelihood of war is reduced; however, the presence of the SASO force does serve as a deterrent, and these forces must remain prepared to transition to peacekeeping, peace enforcement, or combat at all times.

The initial deployment of forces into Bosnia led the Seventh Army Training Command (7ATC) to establish baseline standards for training. The 30 June 1995 document, titled 7th ATC Mission Training Plan for Stability Operations, is the blueprint for pre-deployment training. It identifies key base tasks that all soldiers need to complete to be qualified. The most important tasks among them are force protection training, convoy operations, Joint Air/Attack (JAAT) for aviation units, mine awareness and, of course, country-specific training. Country-specific training includes a history of the conflict and the law of war as applied to the target environment, along with applicable rules of engagement. This pre-deployment training document is a compilation of tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP); it also includes tasks, conditions, and standards for many of the missions conducted in SASO environments. It is a must read for anyone preparing to train or deploy on a SASO mission.

How JRTC Replicates the SASO Environment

The JRTC has been conducting mission rehearsal exercises (MREs) for about two years. The format is based on the Mountain Eagle model pioneered by 7ATC. The first MRE certified the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment prior to their deployment to Bosnia in August 1997.

The physical layout of the maneuver area and substantial construction efforts allow the JRTC to replicate the Bosnian environment, from bottled water to horse-drawn carriages carrying local farmers through checkpoints and along main supply routes (MSRs). Accurate portrayal of the environment is important. Self Airfield serves as Comanche Base. Using festival tents and the unit's own tactical operations center (TOC) and administrative/ logistics operations center (ALOC) layouts transforms Self Airfield into an adequate representation of what units will see in Bosnia.

The training, principally aimed at battalion and brigade combat team staffs, emphasizes patrolling and force protection. Except for a number of specific tasks at the BCT level, most of the operations are developed in a "free-play" environment that exposes the unit to the full spectrum of possible SASO tasks. Typically, units conduct weapon storage site inspections (WSS), convoy and area security missions, route and area reconnaissance, and entity armed forces (EAF) monitoring flights to ensure compliance with the training provisions of the general framework agreement for peace (GFAP).

Unit METL - The First Step Must "Doctrinally" Address "How To" in a SASO Environment

Any unit preparing to train or deploy on a SASO or any other mission must first determine its readiness to accomplish that mission.

What is the mission? The first task is to determine the overall mission. After that, units can begin to work on their SASO mission essential task lists (METL).


  • Use your unit's wartime METL as a start point.
  • Analyze higher commander's guidance and intent.
  • Apply the results to develop a working METL tailored to the SASO environment. EXAMPLE: If the unit has the mission to conduct hasty attacks in its wartime METL, the SASO equivalent must include rules of engagement, graduated response criteria, clearance/authorization to fire, and collateral damage considerations.
  • Rely on the entire METL to cover each wartime task.
  • Include any unique or critical tasks.

RESULT: A baseline and standard for training.

The development of task, condition and standard is the key to success. It is similar to creating a mission training plan. Units must rigorously apply themselves to the process; otherwise, they will experience confusion and failure on a SASO mission. The 1st Armored Division, 1st Infantry Division, 2d Armored Cavalry, and 1st Cavalry Division all have current SASO experience. It is likely they will have a variety of products available for use as models.

Establishing and publishing the SASO-focused METL ensures that the standards are known and complied with when training begins. Watch out for operational-level missions such as presence or show of force. Each of these has too many possibilities. Instead, consider what doctrinal tactical aviation missions would support the operation.


  • Presence might be defined as an area security mission with specific security requirements.
  • Show of force could be anything from a fire control exercise or hasty attack to a dense aerial screen with intensive patrolling within sight of the objective area.
  • Develop each within the scope of the mission and the higher commander's intent and guidance.

Aviation Specific Operations in SASO

Several aviation-specific missions in SASO are worth discussing here. They may assist in the process for developing SASO METL.

For attack aviation units, the dilemma is integrating reconnaissance into their METL. These units are routinely trained ("T") in deep attacks, but they are not proficient in reconnaissance. To avoid overlooking key points, briefly review FM 17-95, Cavalry, and FM 34-130, Reconnaissance. Attack may remain a SASO METL task. However, reconnaissance and surveillance are the most likely missions for attack aviation. Do your homework on the doctrine and mission analysis for SASO early. It will prevent frustration later.

Assault aviation faces a similar challenge. Assault units are not typically prepared to track and manage multiple missions. They must develop TTP to ensure they can meet all mission requirements. They must figure out how to manage the incredible volume of general support missions. These missions will put ten or more aircraft in the air each day -- in every direction. Major considerations are determining spare requirements, command and control (C2), and managing maintenance.

VIP aircraft are even more sensitive. Working out all the details and coordinating deviations prove difficult to impossible. Cranking or flying spares, A2C2 at the PZ/LZ, delays, fighter management, and weather contingencies are just the tip of this slippery slope of detail. Experienced general support crews usually do well on these missions. Having TTP to provide any utility crew with the tools to succeed is the staff challenge.

At the tactical level, the commander must determine how to command and control SASO missions. What tools does he have to help him command and control this wide variety of frequently concurrent SASO missions? Look no further than the friendly force information requirements (FFIR). They are perhaps the most basic source of information on what the commander must know about his own unit. Since staff participation with regard to what the commander must know and when to make critical decisions is paramount, FFIR must be disseminated to all levels in the unit. The commander must make himself available or delegate the responsibility for this system to be effective.

Trends from Recent MREs and ATXs

Military Decision-Making Process. Most aviation staffs do not utilize the Military Decision-Making Process (MDMP) in accordance with FM 101-5, Operations.

  • When a fragmentary order (FRAGO) arrives at the TOC, the S-3 or plans officer normally conducts mission analysis by himself, identifying specified and implied tasks and then sending requests for information (RFIs) to the brigade.
  • At times the aircrew gets involved in the process, but at no time does the entire staff develop their respective estimates and perform the required doctrinal steps.
  • Rarely is a commander's intent given.
  • No course-of-action (COA) development.
  • No wargaming.
  • Although FRAGOs are published, there is little time for the company to plan, brief, and rehearse the mission.

Technique: Time analysis and enforcement of a timeline is the key to success.

Airborne Video Tape Recorder (VTR) Operations. The instrument of choice in SASO operations is the VTR.

Continued maintenance and pre-combat inspection (PCI) issues caused teams to fail in returning with useful video footage.

1. The unit must have spare VTRs and be capable of changing them out on short notice.
2. Consider tracking the VTR as mission essential equipment, and carry inoperable aircraft VTR within the unit as PMC.
3. The crew must properly initialize and verbally document the video.
4. Following a mission, the tape should become a stand-alone documentation of what occurred; only with a continuing and thorough narrative by the crew is this possible.
5. Properly mark the cassette with the mission information.
6. Make sure the video is reviewed by the battalion S-2 or S-3 and forwarded to brigade or higher as required.

Hard Deck. Most aviation units struggle with the application of a hard deck. Is it necessary? In most cases the aviation commander has no vote. In the big picture, unless there is an air defense threat, the hard deck makes good sense. Stay higher to avoid hazards. Most aviation units in the MRE are discovering the hard deck for the first time at the JRTC.

1. The place to start training higher and with the SASO METL is at Home Station. During most MREs there is not an SA14 waiting behind every tree. The replication here is accurate. If the projected deployment location has a limited threat, then units should expect it will be the same at the JRTC. Aircrews need not struggle with this artificial floor if they start early at Home Station and become more comfortable operating at higher altitudes. Most aviation units find it amazing how much more they can really see once they get out of the NOE and low-level environments.
2. For en route compliance with a hard deck: determine the maximum terrain height en route. Select an altitude (MSL) that ensures compliance above the highest terrain and then remain at that altitude en route. Typical altitudes around the Tuzla valley are 1,000 feet to 1,500 feet MSL to maintain compliance.
3. Remember that weather and minimum cloud clearances may affect this TTP at certain times, and it may be necessary to operate at lower altitudes but still above the hard deck.

QRF Management

Identification and management of the QRF is a difficult challenge for aviation units to face in SASO. For Bosnia-specific applications, there is no flexibility or period to assume risk. The unit must meet Task Force Eagle or SFOR requirements which involve, at a minimum, one-hour response with an attack team or single UH-60. The fighter management considerations, crew rotation, and drill used to launch a QRF must be addressed. Frequent drills ensure readiness and reduce complacency. There are many potential solutions to this challenge. Early identification of the challenges and staff analysis to achieve the best combination of forces is essential.

Force Protection. The first priority in any tactical situation is more important in SASO. The loss of a single soldier might be the trigger that changes the national policy of a particular area. It may be no more than avoiding a known land mine, but it can extend into every action taken. The majority of injuries to date in Bosnia are accident related.

Techniques: How do we reduce accidents?
1. Use tasks, conditions, and standards.
2. Enforce known standards.
3. Instill a "sixth sense" in each deployed soldier which focuses on how, where, and when the next soldier may be injured.
4. Be proactive and avoid or correct situations that are potentially dangerous.
5. Leadership can make the difference through awareness and strict discipline. In most cases, increased leader presence and involvement can make the difference. There is no room for freelancing in SASO.

Convoy Operations. The greatest single risk is tactical vehicle movement on host nation roads. The condition of the roads, other drivers, and typical low experience rate of most unit drivers and TCs create the ideal conditions for an accident.

1. Sound risk management and leader involvement can reduce or eliminate many of these factors.
2. The tactical situation may further elevate risk beyond the routine conditions.

  • Troop-leading procedures prior to a convoy.
  • Thorough briefs to all personnel.
  • Rehearsals of contingencies.
  • A strong C2 plan.
3. Use a risk management worksheet to identify and implement controls for hazards.
4. Allow conditions to dictate the approval authority. Approval authority may be the battalion or even the brigade commander.

C2 Relationships. Command relationships are often confusing in SASO. Doctrinal relationships articulated in FM 101-5 are the right answer; however, teams, platoons, and even troops "working for" or "talking to" or even " in direct support of" another unit are often seen at the JRTC. Each of these situations is much too ambiguous.

Technique: Leaders must understand their command relationship. It must survive the "what if" contingency. Use OPCON, TACON or ADCON whenever possible. Use the most commonly understood command relationships for the employment of aviation.


Aviation operations in SASO are a unique challenge. Sound application of published tactical doctrine and a clear understanding of the higher commander's intent and guidance can reduce these challenges to a manageable level. Develop your SASO METL first. Publish it. Train to that standard. Apply sound risk management with strong C2. Your unit can place a "T" in the SASO column.

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