Exploiting the 3rd Dimension Air Manoeuvre in the Future Operating Environment
Exploiting the third dimension is simply the ability to use a range of aircraft, whether manned fixed or rotary wing platforms, or unmanned aerial vehicles/unmanned aerial systems (UAV/UAS), in order to gain the upper hand against a less mobile enemy.
As we enter the period of drawdown from Op HERRICK and a “return to contingency” from 2015, the case for a fully resourced Air Manoeuvre (AM) Capability is becoming an increasingly compelling one. AM will facilitate what the Future Character of Conflict (FCOC) paper describes as the need for ‘reach’, be adaptive and integrated and, above all, demonstrate institutional and operational agility. JHC gives us the aviation framework on which the current and future UK AM capability is built, and it will continue to support Land, Maritime (including Littoral) and Special Forces (SF) Components. Equally, AM will adapt to the increasing need to operate in urban and especially littoral environments and the closer alignment of the single Services structures into a more flexible joint services framework in the future.
The complex, cluttered and unpredictable environment in which we shall operate in future will demand that we maximise the flexibility that the JHC force structure has developed and be able to carry out various missions within a combined, joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational (CJIIM) command organisation. Operations will be typically conducted in high tempo, high intensity and day/night all-weather conditions. JHC’s specialist “air-mindedness” will be an enduring asset because it is structured to optimise the AM potential of 16 Air Asslt Bde, Strike, ISTAR and Lift helicopters within the same command, as well as providing BH support for the wider Field Army, SF and 3 Cdo Bde’s Littoral Manoeuvre capability.
AM encompasses the agility, reach and flexibility demanded by FCOC as its foundation. This is manifest in the ability to switch between roles and operate across the spectrum of operational environments seamlessly; most notably from the sea via the littoral to the land and back again, often at distance and with great agility. This gives an operational commander the option to fully exploit the 3rd dimension in planning and conducting Combined Arms operations, which will be enhanced by choosing a combination of manned and unmanned fixed and rotary wing aircraft and the teaming (e.g. mutually supporting operations) of manned and unmanned platforms for reconnaissance, strike and lift sorties. AM will be the only capability that can achieve the speed of deployment and redeployment, independent of terrain and often adverse weather, by day and night and deliver personnel and equipment or supplies rapidly, over distance and onto objectives that would normally be considered inaccessible.
AM Capability Definitions
Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) Operations definition is that: ‘AM is conducted… to achieve an advantage through shaping, and sustaining tasks [and it] can also provide the decisive act. It unites attack helicopters, ground, air assault and airborne forces, support helicopters and fires within a combined arms and joint framework. This significantly increases, in the third dimension, the force’s capacity for manoeuvre, [reach] and tempo.’ AM operations should be closely integrated with the Air and Maritime Components and the actions of a ground manoeuvre force if also deployed. As part of the AM capability, Air Assault provides a unique capacity to concentrate, disperse or redeploy rapidly by day or night and attack or approach from any direction across hostile terrain (overcoming both physical barriers and enemy threats such as IEDs) and in often inclement weather conditions, giving our forces the elements of surprise, deception and an often decisive advantage.
16 Air Assault Bde may also conduct airborne operations, which utilises fixed wing aircraft for rapid movement onto an objective of both the combat force and its logistical support to execute tactical, operational or even strategic missions. This might be achieved by any combination of airborne (parachute-delivered) units, air transportable units and various fixed wing aircraft, depending on the mission.
Operational experience from Vietnam to Afghanistan demonstrates that when properly employed the rapid tempo, reach, deployability and overall agility of AM forces and the use of Air Assault operations give commanders greater flexibility in planning and executing swift and often decisive actions. These operations have been sustained with subsequent aviation combat support and combat service support (CS/CSS), which include casualty evacuation, reinforcement, resupply and the movement of artillery and vehicles by air. So it will be in the future.
The Defence vision articulated in 1998 that led to the formation of JHC and 16 Air Asslt Bde and the subsequent introduction of the Apache Attack Helicopter has endured: we should continue to aspire for a “world class” AM capability. The time to redevelop and exploit AM capability has come and JHC will be instrumental in realising that potential for Future Force 2020 and beyond.