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Support Aviation in Deep Operations

by CW5 Rodney Sangsland and CW4 Michael Trotter

Combat Service Support (CSS)
Table of Contents
The Battle Command Training Program and Army Simulations

FM 1-100, Doctrinal Principles for Army Aviation in Combat Operations, defines aviation Combat Support (CS) as "the operational support and sustainment to forces in combat by aviation units" and aviation Combat Service Support (CSS) as "the assistance provided by aviation forces to sustain combat forces." These assets primarily emplace and reposition logistical support such as equipment, materiel, and supplies. These logistical operations can include the movement of personnel. Flexibility and maneuverability are the cornerstones of Army Aviation doctrine. The commander's ability to concentrate superior forces at enemy weaknesses and to maneuver reinforcements to advantageous positions are key ingredients to fighting and winning.

Deep operations comprised activities directed against opposing forces not in contact. Deep operations shape the battlefield to obtain advantages in subsequent engagements. Successful deep operations create the conditions for future victory. The primary mission of the utility and cargo helicopters was to support the TF Hawk commander's CSS plans. The Corps Aviation Brigade (CAB) accomplished this by providing aerial movement of fire support systems, combat troops, equipment, and supplies whenever and wherever they were needed. Because helicopters are unique and limited assets, any mission assigned to them must be sufficiently important to warrant the potential loss of trained crews and equipment. Commanders at all levels must know the capabilities and methods of employment of support helicopters.

The CAB was alerted to rapidly deploy to support the NATO-phased campaign in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). The CAB formed a Task Force Aviation Brigade (TFAB) which was one of the two aviation tasks forces within TF Hawk. The TFAB was tasked to support the Task Force Attack Helicopter Regiment (TF AHR) for Deep Operations into the FRY province of Kosovo.

The TFAB organized to provide CS with Command and Control (C2), Downed Aircrew Recovery Team (DART) and Downed Aircrew and Aircraft Recovery Team (DAART) and CSS with Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC), Heavy Lift, and "fat Cow" refueling. Special aircraft equipment and aircrew training was required to properly support the Deep Operations. TFAB support aviation assets provided the commander greater mobility by transporting priority fire support systems, personnel, and supplies rapidly throughout deep areas of operation. Understanding the versatility of support helicopter greatly increased the TF commander's battlefield options.


Photo of helicopterThe TFAB provided DART support beyond the Forward Line of Troops (FLOT) during the Deep Attack using organic utility helicopters from its UH-60 battalion and attached MEDEVAC UH-60s. DART mission requirements included aircrew recovery, site security team insertion and extraction, MEDEVAC and C2support. Due in part to the mountainous terrain, the unit required special aircraft equipment and modifications to adequately support the tasking. Special equipment requirements included internal extended range fuel systems for extended on-station time, Fast Rope Insertion and Extraction System (FRIES) hardware for security team insertion, Satellite Communications (SATCOM) for over-the-horizon communications and provisions for Long Range Surveillance (LRS) team transport. The required special equipment was not standard to the UH-60 battalion. One of the battalion's UH-60 lift companies had recently completed a lengthy deployment that required UH-60Ls to be specially equipped with SATCOM and one 172-gallon Robertson internal extended range fuel tank each. Therefore, five of the battalion's Blackhawks were already so equipped. Additionally, two of those five were modified with FRIES.

The TFAB task organized the DART into two elements: the Immediate DART, which directly supported the Deep Attack and the Deliberate Downed Aircraft and Aircrew Recovery Team (DAART), which remained on-call at the Task Force Assembly Area (TFAA). The Immediate DART or "Three Pack" consisted of three Blackhawks: one each for security team insertion and extraction, C2, and MEDEVAC. The security team UH-60L was equipped with SATCOM, one 172-gallon Robertson internal extended range fuel tank, FRIES hardware and Ballistic Armored Subsystem (BASS) blanket. To maximize internal load capacity for this special equipment plus an eight-man LRS team, the unit removed the troop seats from the cargo compartment. The C2UH-60A was equipped with a 15B Command Console with the ARC 212 SINCGARS, Have Quick and SATCOM, and external Extended Range Fuel System (ERFS) while the MEDEVAC UH-60A carried a rescue hoist and ERFS.

The Deliberate DAART consisted of two UH-60 Blackhawks, one security team and one MEDEVAC similarly equipped to those listed above, one CH-47 for aircraft recovery and two AH-64 Apaches for aerial security. The Deliberate DAART remained on-call at the TFAA to augment the Immediate DART with an additional eight-man LRS team and MEDEVAC, heavy lift and aerial security support when needed. When the Deliberate DAART was activated, the Immediate DART C2would remain on station to coordinate the entire recovery operation.

The DART provided continuous Deep Attack mission support through mountainous terrain during deployment. During that time, the DART provided C2communications, combat MEDEVAC support, remained on-station through the duration of each mission and conducted two actual downed aircraft and aircrew recoveries. The SATCOM provided better communications than line-of-sight (LOS) radios; however, it was intermittent when high terrain features blocked satellite reception. Extended range fuel tanks were essential to provide continuous on-station DART/DAART support during the entire attack mission. The FRIES was essential for security team insertion in the mountainous areas that prohibited the helicopter to land to the ground. Because the external ERFS tanks inhibit FRIES operations, the security team UH-60 carried an internal Robertson extended range fuel tank. Additionally, the unit removed the troop seats from the cargo compartment to safely conduct FRIES. The BASS blanket, which covers the floor of the cargo compartment, protected the security team from small arms fire. The MEDEVAC hoist was available for personnel extraction. The battalion acquired the Special Patrol Infiltration Exfiltration System (SPIES) while deployed in the Area of Responsibility (AOR) but didn't have time to install or train on the system. The SPIES provides a rapid, non-ambulatory downed aircrew and security team extraction capability. All of the above-mentioned equipment except the rescue hoist and ERFS were non-standard mission equipment/systems.

Lessons Learned:

  • The DART support mission required special equipment and aircraft modifications for mountainous terrain.

  • Extended range fuel systems were essential for Deep Operations support.

  • Internal extended range fuel tanks were preferred over external tanks on FRIES-equipped Blackhawks.

  • Airborne SATCOM on tactical helicopters can be intermittent during flight in mountainous terrain.

  • A seats-out MACOM waiver for FRIES operations was essential for DART support.


Photo of helicopterThe TFAB was tasked to conduct Deep Attack operations support which required extended range fuel capabilities. The Deep Attack operation consisted of two attack elements: the main attack and the feint. The mission of the main attack element was to conduct the Deep Attack across the FLOT in a specified Engagement Area (EA) while the mission of the second element was to conduct feint operations behind the FLOT. The UH-60 Blackhawks of the TFAB provided four support elements: an Immediate DART, a Deliberate DAART, a squadron C2and a Chase aircraft.

The three Blackhawks of the Immediate DART were equipped with the following extended range fuel systems. The security team UH-60L was equipped with one 172-gallon Robertson internal extended range fuel tank. The C2UH-60A and the MEDEVAC UH-60A were equipped with external ERFS. The Deliberate DART Blackhawks consisting of one security team and one MEDEVAC were equipped with extended range fuel systems similar to those listed above. The squadron C2UH-60A was equipped with external ERFS, and the Chase UH-60L was equipped with an internal Robertson tank.

The Immediate DART was tasked to provide behind-the-FLOT aircrew recovery for the two attack elements during the ingress and egress phases. It launched from the Task Force Assembly Area (TFAA) before the attack elements and remained on station at a Restricted Operations Zone (ROZ) during the entire mission. The Immediate DART C2had a full fuel load in the ERFS, giving it a five-hour station time.

The Deliberate DART remained on-call at the TFAA and, when activated, would augment the Immediate DART with an additional eight-man LRS team and MEDEVAC support. The Immediate DART C2had sufficient station time to coordinate all four aircraft during the aircrew recovery.

The squadron C2 launched from the TFAA with the main attack element and was tasked to follow it across the FLOT to provide C2in the EA. The squadron C2Blackhawk carried 100 gallons of fuel in each external ERFS tank, which would be expended prior to crossing the FLOT. The additional fuel gave the squadron C2a three and one-half hour station time.

The Chase aircraft launched with, and followed the second attack element through, the feint mission. It carried 172 gallons of fuel in the internal Robertson tank, giving it an on-station time of three hours. Both MEDEVAC aircraft carried additional fuel in their ERFS.

TF Hawk did not conduct Deep Operations before a peacekeeping plan was implemented in Kosovo; however, the TF conducted multiple Mission Rehearsal Exercises (MRE) which mirrored combat requirements. The extended range fuel capability for each Blackhawk was critical for the successful accomplishment of the mission.

To meet extended on-station time requirements of the Blackhawks, additional fuel on board was mission essential. Although the 172-gallon Robertson internal extended fuel tanks on board the Immediate DART security team aircraft and the Chase aircraft worked fine, the TF noted two deficiencies with the tanks. They have no fuel quantity indicator and they take up limited internal load space. The external ERFS installed on the other Blackhawks provided necessary extended fuel range but had the deficiencies as indicated below.

Lessons Learned:

  • The UH-60 Blackhawk with extended range fuel capability was essential for CS and CSS of the Deep Attack operation.

  • The 172-gallon Robertson internal extended fuel system provided safe extended on-station mission support time; however, the tank further reduced the Blackhawk's limited internal load-carrying capacity.

  • The external ERFS provided ample extended on-station time; however, the system had the following deficiencies:

    • The tanks were not crashworthy and ballistically tolerant.
    • The tanks contained pressurized fuel.
    • The tanks limited lateral center-of-gravity balance.
    • The tanks severely restricted airspace surveillance and the window gunner's field of fire.
    • The tanks degraded aircraft performance and maneuverability.
    • The tanks hampered passenger ingress and egress.
    • The tanks presented a high risk of post-crash fire.
    • The tanks could not be hot-refueled.
    • The tanks could not be used with FRIES.

CH-47 Fat Cow Refuel Operations

Photo of helicopterCH-47s primarily supported the deep attack with forward area refueling for TF helicopters. The ability to configure the CH-47 with the refueling equipment provided the TF Commander increased mission flexibility by providing a highly mobile forward area fuel source. This method of delivering fuel to attack aviation assets via 600-gallon metal ERFS tanks proved invaluable. As installed, this modular, interconnected system can deliver up to 1,160 gallons of fuel to mission aircraft.

Two CH-47s were configured with the equipment to conduct Fat Cow operations. Each system was comprised of two non-crashworthy, non-ballistic proof metal internal tanks, associated plumbing, a 225-gallon-per-minute (GPM) diesel engine fuel pump, a filter separator, and lightweight discharge hoses. This configuration allowed each CH-47 to set up a dual Forward Area Refueling Point (FARP) within 10 minutes of arrival at the refueling location. The system had great versatility allowing the CH-47 not only the ability to refuel other aircraft, but also if the situation dictated, to refuel itself. The system also was very flexible allowing aircrews the ability to install one to four 600-gallon fuel tanks inside the helicopter.

Factors influencing the mission configuration included the number of expected customers, anticipated fuel requirements per customer, and the limitations of mission, enemy, terrain, troops and time available (METT-T). Additionally, aircraft performance data had to be carefully reviewed. With the four-tank configuration, the heavy lift helicopter operated near maximum gross weight. Fat Cow missions flown by the CH-47 crews demanded great attention to detail and presented the mission planners, flight crew, and leaders numerous challenges.

TF Hawk directed that missions flown in the AO would have over-the-horizon communications capability. TFAB heavy lift assets were outfitted with the standard military avionics package that included numerous line-of-site (LOS) radios. Because of the mountainous terrain throughout the AO, traditional LOS communications equipment proved ineffective. The TFAB overcame this limitation by employing a C2UH-60 helicopter operating in a restricted operations zone (ROZ) during missions. The C2aircraft operated at an altitude that allowed continous communications with the attack helicopter elements on the mission. However, the CH-47s were not assured of radio contact with the C2aircraft or the attack helicopters while on the ground conducting the refuel operation. The unit overcame this problem by using two Tactical Satellite (TACSAT) operators on the mission. The United States Air Force (USAF) TACSAT operator was responsible for communicating with the Airborne Command and Control Center (ABCCC) fixed-wing asset, and the U.S. Army TACSAT operator communicated with the TFAA Tactical Operations Center (TOC) and the inbound attack helicopters to be refueled.

Refueling is inherently dangerous and requires extensive planning and safety precautions. The unit used established procedures and guidance contained in a Tactical Standing Operating Procedure (TACSOP). This guidance was put into use with only minor alteration because of the new equipment. The TF conducted extensive pre-mission planning, dry runs, and full-site layout rehearsals at the TFAA to build teamwork, synchronization and proficiency among the Fat Cow mission personnel. The heavy lift unit organized two refuel teams to support Fat Cow missions. Composition of each team was four unit fuel handlers with the Military Occupation Skill (MOS) 77F.

Once established at the TFAA, the TFAB headquarters identified potential Fat Cow refueling sites. Very limited intelligence products were available for identifying refueling sites so a 1:250,000-scale map was used to locate primary and alternate refueling sites throughout the AO. Based on METT-T considerations, the heavy lift helicopters were allowed to reconnoiter the selected sites prior to anticipated missions. Those reconnaissance missions revealed that the majority of the selected sites were unusable for CH-47 Fat Cow operations. Sites were rejected due to excessive slope, uneven terrain, or simply that no open area existed as was indicated by the map reconnaissance. Crews identified acceptable sites throughout the AO and passed the locations on to the TFAB.

Additionally, METT-T considerations dictated a need for site security to accompany each Fat Cow sortie. This requirement stemmed from intelligence reports issued by higher headquarters, which warned of potential threat and the fact that the intentions of local population were uncertain. With the Forward Area Refueling Equipment (FARE) set up inside the CH-47, combined with the support personnel required to conduct the refuel operation, limited space was available for security force personnel. The unit conducted static-load training with a fully configured aircraft, mission equipment, and personnel to determine the appropriate loading configuration.

This training facilitated the maximization of available internal cargo space, and allowed the crew to coordinate and synchronize the actions of mission personnel. The final mission configuration derived from the static-load drills was four aircraft crew, four refuelers, two TACSAT operators, one interpreter, and 18 infantrymen. This maximization of internal cargo space meant no seats were available for non-crew members on the mission. TFAB personnel applied for, and received, a seats-out waiver from the major Army command (MACOM). This waiver was critical to the success of the Fat Cow mission when a security force was required. The unit identified this additional risk factor and accounted for it during the risk assessment and briefing process.

Lessons Learned:

  • A successful Fat Cow FARP operation is the final product of a series of progressive skill-building programs including dry runs, mission rehearsals exercise (MRE) and full-site layouts.

  • Extensive planning, including dry runs and rehearsals, supported successful execution of the operation by synchronizing support personnel, crew, and security forces.

  • Fat Cow mission elements should have enough security to defend against anticipated threat.

  • Infantry can be used as site security during Fat Cow missions but limit the amount of available fuel for the mission.

  • Inadequate security will degrade the refuel mission of its ability to protect itself long enough to move.

  • A MACOM waiver for seats out is required for the execution of the Fat Cow mission if security forces are utilized.

  • TACSAT can replace certain links previously provided by conventional LOS communications.

  • A well thought-out, properly executed plan with appropriate TACSAT resources can improve communications availability, reliability, and flexibility.

  • TACSAT overcomes the limitations of mountainous terrain on traditional LOS communications equipment.

CH-47 Aerial Recovery of Aircraft

Aerial recovery is accomplished by preparing an aircraft for movement, attaching suitable airlift recovery equipment, connecting it to a lifting helicopter, and flying the aircraft to a maintenance area. To accomplish this mission, the TFAB developed the concepts of the Deliberate DAART and the DAART Coordination Center (DCC) to control it.

The DCC was an operations cell located within the Deep Operations Coordination Center (DOCC), staffed by an aviation Liaison Officer (LO) who was well versed in aviation operations. The mission of the DCC was to alert subordinate units of a recovery mission, facilitate the organization of essential equipment and personnel, and track the progress of the mission through completion. The DCC used established essential elements of information (EEI) such as go/no-go, and abort criteria as a framework for mission execution. To facilitate a synchronized and focused effort, DCC personnel used a preplanned mission execution matrix checklist. The TF assigned level-200 numbers for normal missions while level-400 numbers were reserved for DAART missions. The use of execution matrix line numbers ensured the correct matrix was used for the recovery effort, eliminating confusion throughout the operation.

The TF tailored the procedures used in the recovery of aircraft and crews depending on the location of the downed aircraft. Location largely determined the capability of opposing forces to hinder the recovery operation and the capability of friendly forces to recover the downed aircraft. Because the most dangerous and difficult DAART missions would have been those within enemy-held terrain, the TF heavy lift assets were tasked to conduct downed aircraft recovery operations between the TFAA and the FLOT.

The Deliberate DAART aircraft and support personnel were not on standby, but were activated by the DCC. The DAART package included two AH-64 armed escorts, one C2 UH-60, one UH-60 MEDEVAC, one UH-60 with security team elements, and one CH-47. Based on METT-T considerations, the TF commander would alter the overall composition. The DAART package would conduct a recovery only during daytime hours.

Aircraft recovery, according to FM 1-500, Army Aviation Maintenance, is the responsibility of the aviation operational unit, using its aviation unit maintenance (AVUM) assets and within the limits of its organic lift capability. Supporting TF aviation intermediate maintenance (AVIM) units provide back-up recovery support when aviation units are overloaded or complex aircraft disassembly is required. Recovery operations required a highly coordinated effort among the TF elements. As with most operations, DAART has both advantages and disadvantages that must be considered by the TF headquarters before implementation.


  • Faster recovery times, reducing battlefield exposure time.
  • Fewer route reconnaissance requirements.
  • Less disassembly required.
  • Less security escort requirements.


  • Total loss of aircraft being recovered if rigging equipment fails.
  • Exposes heavy lift helicopters to enemy action.

In preparation for aircraft recovery, the DCC identified aircraft recovery teams for the DAART. The team consisted of maintenance personnel who were trained in preparing aircraft for recovery. The team officer in charge (OIC) ensured that appropriate rigging and recovery equipment was identified, available, and prepared for the short-notice recovery missions. The size and composition of the team was dependent on the type of disabled aircraft.

Lessons Learned:

  • Incorporate the DCC into the DOCC for C2of DAART missions.

  • Incorporate the CH-47 aircraft into Deliberate DAART aviation operations.

CH-47 External/Internal Load Operations

TF Hawk employed CH-47s for internal logistical resupply missions to the Forward Operations Base (FOB), along with external transport of artillery systems throughout the AO. TF heavy lift helicopters conducted internal resupply missions that were planned and executed according to Army doctrine. These operations served to establish the framework for cooperation between the requesting/receiving unit and the CH-47 element. This cooperation was essential for smooth, efficient and safe logistical resupply.

The spacious cargo compartment of the CH-47 was designed to accommodate many standardized loads. TF CH-47 aircraft were outfitted with the Helicopter Internal Cargo Handling System (HICHS). This system of guides and rollers mounted to the floor of the aircraft eased the loading and unloading of cargo, decreased turnaround time, and enabled faster and more efficient cargo movement. This internal cargo system can also accommodate the standard USAF 463L pallet, making it very versatile. In addition to the payloads previously listed, the heavy helicopter was also capable of transporting other less typical loads because of its heavy lift capability, versatility, speed, and maneuverability. Although the CH-47 unit was not often tasked to conduct these missions, early planning, training, and preparation increased the likelihood of a successful operation.

As part of predeployment preparation, the CH-47 unit coordinated with numerous TF units including a Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) Battalion. This prior coordination revealed that the MLRS unit was unfamiliar with the rigging procedures of the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) and had never conducted the External Air Transport (EAT) system for moving its equipment. Furthermore, Field Manual 6-60, MLRS Battery Operations, indicated this system had a no-drop tolerance for EAT. The CH-47 unit preferred the EAT system of the ATACMS because of the incompatibility of the weapons system with the CH-47 HICHS.

Internal loading of ATACMS required lengthy on- and off-load times and additional equipment. Lengthy off-load times to resupply forward areas, such as the FOB, would needlessly subject limited heavy lift helicopters to additional risk. Direct coordination with Natick Labs, the U.S. Army slingload approval authority, revealed this restriction was based on the cost of the weapons system. In fact, approved sling-load rigging procedures were published for this system. The heavy lift unit obtained the publication and familiarized the flight crews with the rigging procedure.

Lessons Learned:

  • External loading is quicker and preferred because it expedites the delivery of critical items.

  • External loading enables aircraft to move supplies and equipment too large for the internal cargo area.

  • Supplies can be quickly moved on 463L pallets internally by heavy lift assets from improved areas such as the TFAA. However, this proves difficult when the receiving unit is located at an unimproved location without the proper forklift support to download the cargo. In this situation, multiple cargo nets are the preferred method of cargo delivery.

  • The CH-47 can External Air Transport (EAT) the Guided Missile Launch Assembly (GMLA)which contains the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS).

  • Establishing a direct line of communications between TF support units, Natick Labs, and the U.S. Army Quartermaster School ensures that the most up-to-date information is available for use by forward-deployed units.

Combat Service Support (CSS)
Table of Contents
The Battle Command Training Program and Army Simulations

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