Over the previous five fiscal years, Army Aviation has experienced roughly 40 percent of its Class A mishaps during the fourth quarter. In numbers, that’s 21 of 53 Class A mishaps during that timeframe, nearly double the total of any other quarter. Plotted on a bar graph, the fourth quarter looks like the Himalayas of mishaps as compared to the remaining quarters. This fact should immediately garner the attention of every member of the Army Aviation team. However, arming the force with foresight of the hazards associated with this time period and employing effective leadership and mitigation measures can reverse this trend.
The fourth quarter represents a complex convergence of numerous factors that, individually or aggregated, if not mitigated create an increased risk to operations. The key to reducing risk during this timeframe is to ensure units adequately plan and train for associated complexities such as high operations tempo, fluctuations in combat power and leadership with the summer manning cycle, and a significant change in the operational environment and weather. Although Army Aviation historically flies the most hours in the third quarter, the fourth is a close second. When coupled with significant turbulence in leadership and combat power, as well as increased heat, dust and prolonged day/night operations, this time period is ripe with overlapping hazards. Armed with this knowledge, it is vital commands confirm their leaders and aircrews are cognizant of these complexities and employ sound planning and mitigation measures to reverse the mishap trend.
Aviation operations — including the tough, realistic training required to support large-scale combat operations — are inherently dangerous. DA PAM 385-30 states, “Managing risks related to such operations requires educated judgment, situational knowledge, demonstrated experience and professional competence.” In essence, effective leader knowledge, presence and engagement leading up to and throughout the fourth quarter will reduce risk. We must ensure we thoroughly train our leaders for the missions they are tasked with, position the right leaders with the proper experience and judgment at critical points throughout the depth of the operation, and set expectations while empowering our leaders to make appropriate risk decisions to protect the force and mission. Doing so will ensure appropriate oversight is in place to mitigate fourth-quarter trends.
Additional mitigation measures
Although identifying hazards and effective leadership are crucial, there are additional mitigation measures commands must consider during the fourth quarter. Managing transitions, especially given the current environment, will be complicated. However, proactive planning for transitions, seeking to rebuild habitual relationships and maintaining a running estimate of combat power based on personnel turbulence will provide senior leaders a realistic assessment of capabilities. Furthermore, instituting deliberate mission briefings and rehearsals, tied with an incremental training strategy to allow aircrews to establish (or re-establish) proficiency in the mission and environment, will pay significant dividends to the force. Finally, whether units see a significant transition in personnel or retain their combat power, the substantial change in the environment will make no mission “routine.” Maximizing unit ASOs, enforcing SOPs and having the right mitigation measures in place prior to and during the fourth quarter will help ensure mission success.
Winning the fourth quarter
The Army is a learning organization, and having foresight of the hazards associated with fourth-quarter operations, along with effective leadership and controls, will allow our formations to proactively plan for and mitigate risks. Turbulence during this timeframe happens every year and is forthcoming in FY20. However, as the USACRC commander states, “Collective critical thinking, discussion and sharing of best practices within our communities will allow us to reverse this trend.” One of my former Army football coaches preached that “we must win the fourth quarter.” How profound that those words still apply today in Army Aviation. Winning matters, especially in the fourth quarter!
Readiness Through Safety!