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ARMY AIRSPACE

by LTC Michael F. Corbin and CPT Michael Odom, G-3 Aviation, Third U.S. Army

During large-scale, combined arms operations, rotary and fixed-wing aircraft compete throughout the battlefield for airspace priority with artillery shells, Army tactical missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Mission success hinges on effective management of these diverse assets from various services as they move through the skies. Managing airspace is more challenging when operating in a foreign country with joint and coalition forces. The foreign country's rules and regulations must be adhered to with consideration for political sensitivities. U.S. aviators may not be familiar with host nation regulations, especially if they are deploying directly from the continental United States for the first time. In such cases, an aviation cell with a good grasp of airspace management principles and a flexible air traffic services (ATS) company are important.

A flexible ATS company is one that can handle a multitude of tasks required by airspace use from both U.S. and foreign aircraft simultaneously. U.S. pilots are very familiar with airspace control, but foreign pilots vary in the ability to follow procedures and directions given to them by air traffic control personnel.

Airspace Management

The C/JTF-KU C/J-3 aviation cell's mission in Operation DESERT THUNDER was planning, coordinating, and consolidating aviation activities, airspace management, and personnel recovery operations. The cell was also responsible for battle-tracking aviation operations; coordinating airspace control measures for Army aviation and other airspace users; and providing coalition-level combat, combat support, and combat service support operations. The aviation cell provides support services through OPORDERs. The cell advises the C/JFLC commander on how to use the assets he has in-theater, and then based on the commander's decision, they write the OPORDERs tasking specific units to conduct missions. Major objectives of the aviation cell were to anticipate airspace requirements, establish procedures and lines of communication for effective operations, and train to limit the possibility of fratricide.

Helicopter traffic is normally infrequent in Kuwait. Consequently, the country's civil and military airspace systems were not prepared to handle the volume of low-altitude helicopter traffic expected with the contingency operation. Much of the aviation cell's energy was devoted to planning and coordinating to accommodate the additional traffic.

Lessons

  • Planned meetings conducted by an airspace coordination working group is invaluable in resolving airspace conflicts.
  • The airspace coordination group should be composed of representatives from all airspace users: Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine, coalition and special operations aviation representatives, and Air Traffic Control personnel.
  • The group should develop joint and coalition procedures for operating within the prescribed airspace below the coordinating altitude. These procedures should be incorporated into the published airspace control order and daily air tasking order/special instructions.
  • The working group provides an opportunity for many of the key players in the airspace arena to meet and discuss areas of disagreement. This allows them to form a united front in making recommendations to the Airspace Control Authority (ACA) with standing procedures and airspace control measures consistent with joint and coalition training requirements.

Airspace Liaisons

A major challenge for the aviation cell was to establish early liaison with the civil and military airspace authorities within the host nation.

The deployment flow called for airspace liaisons to be deployed from an Army Reserve Component ATS group. However, authorization for reserve call-up was not granted at the time of deployment. C/JTF-KU requested the requirement be resourced from D Co. 1-58th AVN, a CONUS-based corps organic ATS battalion. Two soldiers were deployed and arrived approximately one week later than anticipated. The airspace liaisons were to be placed at both the C/JTF-KU and the Air Operations Center. In order to conduct 24-hour operations at both locations, two additional liaisons were required. The ad hoc fix for this contingency was to get airspace liaison personnel from the deployed ATS company.

Lessons

  • Ensure availability of airspace liaison personnel as soon as possible in a contingency operation.
  • Act quickly to request active component fill of requirements normally resourced from reserve units when reserve call-up is doubtful.

Air Traffic Service (ATS)

The ATS company did not arrive in-theater until late in the deployment. Even though they were a priority in the deployment flow, their departure was pushed back due to the need to provide combat power in-theater as rapidly as possible. The result was that aircraft were flying before the arrival of air traffic control personnel. In addition, ATS expertise was not available to assist the C/JTF-KU aviation section in organizing and planning the integration of additional traffic into the civil airspace within Kuwait. A review of available facilities in-country revealed that none of the existing facilities provided an approved instrument recovery capability for U.S. Army Apache and Kiowa Warrior helicopters.

Lesson: Synchronize the flow of ATS assets with the flow of Army aviation units.

Communications

Communications between C/JTF-KU, ground forces, air operations centers, and host nation civil airspace authorities were sometimes unreliable. This resulted in delays in transferring information relevant to flight safety and aviation operations. Although there were no accidents or serious incidents associated with a communications failure, there was the potential for these incidents.

Lesson: Reliable communications must remain a key priority for all future operations.

Summary

Overall, airspace management for the contingency operation in Kuwait was extremely successful. The 1st Battlefield Coordination Detachment (BCD) from Fort Bragg, N.C., was effective in providing support and in communicating C/JTF-KU airspace requirements to the Joint Task Force-Southwest Asia Air Operations Center. The BCD coordinated all Army and coalition rotary wing and artillery requests from within the C/JFLC and ensured the requests did not conflict with space usage by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. The BCD is always located in the USAF Air Operations Center, which has overall control of the airspace in-theater and generates the Air Tasking Order (ATO).

The BCD did a superb job of handling the multitude of airspace requests, ensuring each one was coordinated with other airspace users and included in the ATO. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps and other nations have their own version of the BCD that works in the Air Operations Center. All the services have a significant amount of airspace requests in order to conduct their part of the mission. Ensuring there is no conflicting airspace requests is no small feat. The BCD did a great job of working with the other services and nations to ensure all missions were conducted safely and efficiently.


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