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by CW4 David Hardin, Aviation Observer Controller, JRTC

A dramatically changing world environment during the past several years has led to a revision of the national military strategy. This strategy calls for smaller numbers of forward-deployed forces and a greater reliance on CONUS-based contingency forces. The basic concept of this new strategy is to rapidly deploy combat power to meet a regional threat or crisis. These deployments, doctrinally referred to as stability and support operations (SASOs), are designed to promote regional stability, maintain or achieve democratic end-states, and retain U.S. influence and access abroad. SASOs provide humanitarian assistance to distressed areas, protect U.S. interests, and assist U.S. civil authorities. The Army usually conducts such operations as part of a joint team and often in conjunction with other U.S. and foreign government agencies. The JRTC prepares and trains aviation battalion task forces to support these types of operations.

Stability and support operations are the most challenging operations for aviation maintenance managers to support. Elements from attack, assault, MEDEVAC, and heavy lift battalions are combined (sliced together) to form an aviation task force. Maintenance managers must redesign their force configuration from a "general war" design to a "modular" maintenance design tailored to support the aviation task force during limited war. This concept of operation creates a difficult challenge for maintainers attempting to provide support for four types of aircraft. FM 1-500, Army Aviation Maintenance, does not provide solutions or give guidelines on how to task- organize or unify maintenance for this type of deployment.

As the result of observations of over 70 rotations made by aviation observer/controllers (O/Cs) at the JRTC, two primary reasons have been identified that lead to maintenance operations severely eroding in the 11 days of sustained operations.

1. When units are sliced to form the aviation task force, no one sets the priorities of what test sets, special tools, and repair parts remain in the rear to support aircraft at Home Station and what should be sent with the slice unit. This becomes an important issue when units deploy to the JRTC without all the equipment needed to repair aircraft because the priority went to the aircraft at Home Station. The result is one-of-a-kind items found in unit MTO&Es; high-dollar special tools, parts, and personnel that are in high demand are not available. What are the priorities? There is no doctrinal answer to this question. Units operational ready rates are affected due to delays in obtaining necessary items needed for repairs. The solution to this problem must come from commanders at brigade or higher level units.

2. The next problem is the absence of a unified maintenance effort within the aviation task force. During a rotation, one maintenance element within the aviation task force is assigned the responsibility for aviation unit maintenance (AVUM). This responsibility entails providing the aviation task force commander with updated aircraft status, ordering parts, and maintaining oil analysis and quality control, along with other inherent maintenance functions such as downed aircraft recovery teams (DART).

In reality, there are actually four separate maintenance companies or platoons working independently from each other. Each slice company has a small maintenance package attached for support along with limited parts, tools, and bench stock. When one of the slice unit's aircraft goes down for maintenance, it may be repaired without being reported to the maintenance unit with the responsibility for reporting to higher. These repairs could take hours or days depending on the problem. The maintenance unit responsible for providing accurate aircraft status to the aviation task force commander has no control over the slice units and, therefore, finds it difficult, if not impossible, to furnish accurate status to higher.

Another major factor is the lack of control of aircraft historical records or logbooks by the unit responsible for maintenance. The absence of control over these records prevents the responsible maintenance unit from being able to forecast hours to the next scheduled service or program time change component replacement. Most maintenance units try to schedule daily maintenance meetings hoping to improve status reporting and unify the maintenance effort, but, in most cases, participation by the slice units is limited.

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures

What then is the answer to this dilemma? As stated earlier, FM 1-500 does not address this problem. The best technique is to create a maintenance company capable of supporting each type aircraft assigned to the task force. The use of OPCON mechanics, technical inspectors, technical supply personnel, tools, test equipment, and parts for each type aircraft to one maintenance commander will unify status reporting, parts requisitions, Army oil analysis program (AOAP), quality control (QC) and all other functions of maintenance. If one commander controls these assets, the line units will be obligated to use this unit for support. Line units may be allowed to have technical inspectors on limited orders for batteries, panels, and other items to reduce downtime for routine maintenance. By task-organizing in this manner, the aviation task force commander can rely on a single maintenance manager, and information flow problems on aircraft status would be an internal problem handled by the maintenance company commander. Quality control personnel will have to maintain time before overhaul (TBO) charts to monitor time change components, and production control should check aircraft logbooks for pending scheduled maintenance.

During after-action reviews conducted with maintenance units at the JRTC, maintenance commanders were questioned to find out why they did not task-organize as indicated above. Feedback from maintenance commanders was that their battalion commanders declined to support this type of organization because of concerns from line commanders that their units would be weakened if the maintenance slice was removed from their direct control. Another concern was that soldiers attached to another unit would be abused with details and guard duty. Logically, the greater number of details would have to be performed by the largest unit. However, with more people, each soldier will have fewer diversions. The larger unit will have to assume a greater part of the tactical assembly area security, allowing line units time to focus on combat operations.

Regardless of what method is used to unify the maintenance effort, it is certain that maintainers need to formulate a better plan than what is being demonstrated at the JRTC. If the aviation community holds to the adage, "units must train as they fight," then units must begin to change their training now or they not only will lose the next battle, they will lose the next war.

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