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Army Aviation  –  Counterinsurgency Lessons  –  Strategy & Tactics  –  22 June 2008

Counterinsurgency  Legacy  –  US  Army  Aviation Supports its Own
US  Air  Force  turns  out  to  be  too  Tardy  to  be  Tactically  Useful


Edited  excerpts  from  an  article  published  in  The  Sunday  New  York  Times    [1]
US Ground Forces dissatisfied  with their dependence on far off  USAF Commander Centres

Ever since the US Army  lost its warplanes  to a newly independent US Air Force after World War II,  soldiers have depended on their sister service for help from the sky  –  from bombing and strafing, to transport  and surveillance. But  the [counterinsurgency]  warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan have frayed the relationship, with  US  Army officers making increasingly vocal complaints that the Air Force is not pulling its weight.

In Afghanistan, Army officers have complained about bombing missions gone awry that have killed innocent civilians.  In Iraq,  US Army officers say that the US Air Force has often been out of touch,  fulfilling only half of  their requests  for the sophisticated  surveillance aircraft that ground commanders say are needed to find  roadside bombs and track down insurgents.

The US Air Force responds that  it  has only a limited number of  those remotely  piloted  Predator  UAVs  (left),  and other advanced  surveillance  aircraft [ manned or remotely piloted ], so that  priorities  for  assigning them must  be  set  by  senior commanders at  the  local  headquarters  in  Baghdad.  [ Those Baghdad commanders must  then, in  turn, consult ]  with their counterparts  at  the  USAF  Regional  Command  in  Qatar.

In Iraq,  the US Army quietly decided to 'go it alone',  especially in the surveillance missions

[In response, the US Army has] organized an 'all-Army' surveillance unit. [This US Army unit] represents a  new move by  the ground forces towards self-sufficiency,  and  away from 'joint' operations.  Senior aides to US  Defense Secretary  Robert  M. Gates  say  that  he has shown  keen interest in this US Army initiative as a quick way to improve battlefield surveillance.

The work of  the new aviation battalion  was initially kept secret,  but Army officials involved in its planning say it has been exceptionally active.  [They used] remotely piloted surveillance aircraft to call in  Apache  helicopter  strikes  [using  Hellfire  missiles and  30mm  cannon fire].

The US Army aviation task force became  fully operational  last July, setting up  its  headquarters at  Camp Speicher,  in  the north-central Iraq city of Tikrit. [The aviation task force] has focused its efforts on insurgents [who have been found ]  planting roadside bombs [IEDs]. However,  it has also located and attacked insurgents in battles with US and  Iraqi troops. [ In additon ],  it has supported  Special  Opera- tions  missions intended  to capture or kill  high-value targets in Iraq.

The battalion is called Task Force ODIN. The name is that of  the  Norse god,  but it is also an acronym  for  ' observe,  detect,  identify,  and  neutralize '.  The task force of about 300 people and 25 aircraft is a  'Rube Goldberg' [2] collection of surveillance, communications,  and attack systems.  [ It  is a  lash - up ]  of  manned  and  remotely  piloted  vehicles,  commercial  aircraft with  infrared  sensors  strapped  to the fuselage,  along  with attack  helicopters and  infantry.

The  US  Army  cobbled   together  small  civilian aircraft, including the Beech C-12 [3],  fitting them with advanced  reconnaissance sensors [infrared and radar]. Small, medium, and large remotely pilo- ted surveillance vehicles,  including  Warrior and Shadow  UAVs  [4]  –  carrying  infrared  cameras for night operations and  full-motion video cameras  –  have also  been assigned to TF  ODIN.

All are linked  by radio to  Apache  attack helicopters, with Hellfire missiles and  30-millimeter cannons  –  and  to  infantry  units  in  armoured  vehicles.

The Army  claims  that  civilian  casualties  are  lower  when  they  perform  local  airstrikes

Civilian casualties are always  a risk  in air raids,  particularly  those  attacking  bomb-placing teams that operate in cities and villages. Army officials declined to say whether they believed the casualties  from  the new  US Army raids  included innocent civilians,  but they sought to pre-empt some criticism  by screening an aerial surveillance video  that they said  showed the precise nature of the raids.  The video showed an insurgent who had escaped attack and hid in a courtyard a few feet from a grazing mule.  It then showed  Apache  helicopter fire,  killing the insurgent,  while the  mule was  left grazing  beside  the corpse.

In contrast to  Predators,  which are assigned by  the  top  USAF  headquarters  for  missions all  across  Iraq,  TF ODIN  is  'on  call '  for  commanders  at  the level  of  brigade  and  below. [This is]  an effort  by  the  US  Army  to be  responsive  to the needs of  smaller combat units in direct contact with adversaries  –  [a clear divergence from the USAF concept of readiness].

The Pentagon's  press secretary,  Geoff  Morrell,  said  that  Secretary  Gates  "wants  to  make sure that we are looking at,  not  just  top - down  solutions,  but  also  ground - up  solutions. We  need  to  pay  attention  to  anything  that  works."

Counterinsurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq have strained relations between the services

Army and Marine Corps officers in Afghanistan have complained that Air Force pilots flying attack missions  in  support of  ground operations  do not come in as  low  as their Navy and Marine counterparts.  Instances of civilian casualties from bombing and missile attacks have increased tensions among  the local people. These tensions must then  be eased  by ground commanders, adding to their burden of winning  hearts and minds in the counterinsurgency.

"We are supporting the Army as best we can," Michael W. Wynne,  the departing Air Force Secretary, said Friday.  He said that, as the Army and Marine Corps increased ground forces in Iraq as part of the so-called 'troop surge' over the past year,  the Air Force  quadrupled its number of  sorties  and  increased  its bombing  tenfold.  The number of  surveillance flights by Predators  and  Reapers over  Iraq  and  Afghanistan  has doubled  since  January  2007.

US Army officers who are promoting the new concept have shown senior Pentagon officials classified [ targetting sights ] video clips intended to advertise the service’s increasing  'go-it-alone ' ability. One clip from a remotely piloted vehicle shows an insurgent using palm fronds to smooth dirt over a bomb he had buried late at night along a major convoy route. Moments later, he disappeared in  30- millimeter  fire  from an  Apache, alerted  by  the Army - controlled  UAV overhead.  The Army is asking  for money  to create  a similar unit  in  Afghanistan  within  the  next  six  (6)  months.
[1]   Article published under the title,  'Edging away from Air Force,  Army adds Air Unit',
        in  The  Sunday  New  York  Times,  22  June  2008.

[2]   ' Rube  Goldberg '  is  an  American  anachronism  for  the  ' Red  Green '  approach  to
        problem-solving.  It  involves  a lot of  duct  tape  and  a  cheerful,  unrelenting  faith
        in  one's  own  technical  abilities.

[3]  US Army Raytheon Beech C-12R Huron transport aircraft have been modified into ARMS
        (Aerial Reconnaissance Multi-Sensor) carriers known as 'Horned Owls'.  A C-12 is a more
        powerful version of the C90B King Air, used to train Canadian Forces pilots in Manitoba.

[4]   "Warrior" is the General Atomics MQ-12 Sky Warrior (which the US Army prefers to call
        the Warrior-Alpha). "Shadow" is the much smaller AAI RQ-7 Shadow 200 Tactical UAV.

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