By David Vergun, Army News ServiceSeptember 11, 2017
WASHINGTON --- The necessity of fighting counter-insurgency-style wars over the last 17 years has resulted in rusty skill sets needed to fight against near-peer adversaries, said Brig. Gen. Frank W. Tate.
Tate, who serves as director of aviation within the Army's G-3/5/7, spoke Sept. 7 during an Association of the United States Army-sponsored forum on Army aviation.
Some of those rusty skills, he said, include terrain masking, which is flying below hills to avoid detection and affect surprise; camouflage netting of equipment on the ground to conceal one's position; and flying low over terrain to avoid being struck by surface-to-air missiles.
These are skills Army aviators once cut their teeth on, Tate said, and even as the counter-insurgency-style wars continue, training must now incorporate these and other tactics that will be needed against near-peer adversaries.
During Tate's last command at NATO Multinational Corps Northeast in Poland, he said he spent time studying NATO defensive and Russian offensive capability.
Kaliningrad, a tiny sliver of Russian land situated on the Baltic Sea between Lithuania and Poland, contains a very powerful suite of anti-access, area-denial, or A2AD missiles and aircraft that provide an umbrella of protection to forces that might strike out against NATO, he said.
"It became clear that the U.S. Air Force, along with NATO's air forces, are not capable alone of defeating Kaliningrad's A2AD umbrella, or at least rapidly defeating it," he said.
The Army is taking a number of steps to address that type of near-peer threat, he said, such as improved combined-arms training using a multi-domain approach, or MDA. That approach, he explained, relies on combining the effects of ground, space, cyber and sea, as well as air power from all branches of the military and coalition partners.
There are still gaps in making that approach a reality, he said, citing a shortage of long-range precision fires and other munitions.
Still other gaps relate to failure of current technologies in a nuclear war, he said.
For instance, Russian doctrine states that tactical nuclear weapons could be used in combat. Besides the hazards of the blast and fallout, position, navigation and timing devices would become inoperable and, with so many aircraft using fly-by-wire technology -- where the computer flies the airplane -- that too would be taken out.
So the challenge then becomes how can aircraft and GPS-enabled munitions function in that environment, he said.
Other gaps also need to be addressed, he said. For example, in Iraq and Afghanistan, there exist forward area refueling and rearming points, known as FARPs. These FARPs, which each contain upwards of 100,000 gallons of aviation fuel, remained static for months and years.
In a near-peer conflict, those could easily be targeted, he said.
So mobile FARPs need to be introduced, Tate said.
Also, there needs to be discussions on where to put the aviation assembly and maintenance areas, which are critical for keeping the helicopters flying, he said. Close to the battlefield is convenient, he said, but that also means they can more easily be targeted.
One solution now being implemented is to upgrade helicopters through the Improved Turbine Engine Program, or ITEP. The program gives aircraft greater speed, range and lift, and enables them to fly to more distant assembly and maintenance areas, he said.
The Future Vertical Lift, or FVL program is another necessary component, he said, which addresses similar flight needs.
In an era of fiscal constraints, the FVL is proving to be a smart, low-cost approach, with technical demonstrators validating the physics of flight improvements. Once a requirement is out, this approach will more rapidly get FVL fielded, since the technology will have been successfully demonstrated.
During a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Tate said lawmakers told him that incremental improvements to legacy helicopters, such as with ITEP, forward-leaning efforts like FVL, and other Army programs were models for what modernization should look like throughout the Department of Defense.
Col. Thomas von Eschenbach, who serves as director of the capability development and integration directorate within the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, said he agreed with Tate's assessment of what needs to be accomplished.
However, he added, "we all know we don't have the money. So that means you have to challenge the assumptions of yesterday, and that's a great thing because then you validate those that are true and question those that are not."
One thing that should be on the table when it comes to change, is organizational restructure. He said that kind of change doesn't cost much, but also that it doesn't come easy. Still, he said, "we're working on that."
The other inexpensive piece is training, he said. "You don't need material solutions to train to operate in an A2AD environment."
Maj. Gen. (ret.) Jeff Schloesser, who serves now as vice president of strategic planning for Sierra Nevada Corp., said the Army's counterterrorism mission, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, isn't going away.
"It's a multigenerational fight," he said. "You can't ignore that, so you have to keep those capabilities even as you address near-peer competition."
Schloesser concluded that preparing for both types of missions is an expensive proposition. The Army will need to make a better case to Congress and the American people in asking for what they need to fight. He suggested framing the narrative in terms of jobs and adding to the economy.
Tate said for now, the best Army aviation can hope for is to "keep its most valuable current programs on track and on time ... because realistically, we don't expect any funding growth in [fiscal year 2019].
Besides keeping funding on track for current programs, Tate said what also matters is funding for people. He predicted new retention bonuses for aviators by the end of this month. He said that in particular, he hates to lose Soldiers in the seven-to-10-year mark and others approaching retirement who are "seasoned aviators. We want to target them."
(Follow David Vergun on Twitter: @vergunARNEWS)