Small Wars Journal

Paradigm Shift: Turning an Attack Team into a Scout Team

Sun, 02/07/2016 - 7:11am

Paradigm Shift: Turning an Attack Team into a Scout Team

John Commerford

The effectiveness and practical necessity of aerial scouts executing their mission in an aircraft designed for the aerial scout mission is not in dispute, what is in dispute is how to make attack pilots trained in and flying in an aircraft designed for an attack mission into aerial scouts.  In these times of fiscal constraints and restructuring, the Army must develop a thorough and complete plan of action to use the AH-64 system (pilot and aircraft) in a reconnaissance role. Aircraft in the reconnaissance and security mission set increase the speed, tactical mobility, and depth of ground cavalry reconnaissance squadrons. The aviation community owes the ground force commander a continuation in the synergistic relationship of the ground and aero scout. The Army, when transitioning to the AH-64 as the primary manned scout aircraft, must maintain and nurture the aero scout mindset, create habitual training relationships to establish tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP), and leverage technology where possible to balance ground and aerial scout abilities.

An aircraft’s role begins with the pilot flying that aircraft. The Army can take the scout out of an aircraft, but must not take the scout mentality away from the scout. There are fundamental differences between the “gun” and “scout” mentalities, so when blending the scout culture into an attack aircraft the Army must preserve the aero scout mindset. The Army’s plan to transition OH-58 pilots into the AH-64 is a good starting point to preserve the scout culture. However, much more must be done to ensure the ground/air recon integration culture, as a combat multiplier, is not lost. The Army should seek to encourage current scout instructor pilots and unit trainers to continue service in the AH-64. These instructors must form an initial base at the unit level to generate scout teams from Fort Rucker produced attack pilots. Beyond the unit level, the Aviation Center of Excellence (ACoE) should consider creating a new syllabus for AH-64 academics and hands-on training to ensure the thoroughly developed and mature reconnaissance and security mission set now held by the OH-58 pilot community continues to serve the Army. Failing to do so, will invariably and dangerously burden the ground reconnaissance elements, not provisioned with appropriate equipment, with providing the commander with information he has heretofore expected and received from aerial scouts. The ACoE should seek to hire instructors with reconnaissance experience to develop a new crop of AH-64 pilots capable of leaving Ft. Rucker ready to be both attack and scout pilots.

Maintaining and nurturing the aero scout culture must include the integration of ground forces. Aero scouts historically have a very close relationship to ground scouts. The aero scouts work to increase the reach and scope of the ground reconnaissance forces. Careful air ground operations (AGO) planning, rehearsals, and training lead to the most beneficial intelligence for the ground force commander. Heavy Attack Reconnaissance Squadrons (H-ARSs) must train AGO in all of their mission sets. It is vital that the H-ARS complements the ground force and increases the tactical reach of the commander. Training with ground forces habitually in a progressive manner allows for the practice necessary for “gun” pilots to understand that integrated air and ground reconnaissance is more effective than pure air or pure ground reconnaissance.

The Army must have a renewed urgency for training. Not garrison type training, but real tactical training in the field. If forces are only as good as their training, then habitual training relationships must begin to take shape amongst the units of the Army. This is especially necessary for the new H-ARSs since they are new and relatively untested in combat. The H-ARS troops must practice with TTP in order to determine what works best to complement the ground force reconnaissance forces. Then, the H-ARS must pass this knowledge to the ACoE for dissemination to other squadrons. When testing TTP, training should include the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) of the H-ARS. The manned and unmanned team (MUMT) will likely form an integral part of the new reconnaissance role of the AH-64, but without first extensively testing the abilities of this technological match, the realization of both the potential strengths and weaknesses of the MUMT may come too late - in combat. Operationally, the Army should experiment with the deployment of AH-64s in training. The Air Mobility Command can quickly and easily move an entire air cavalry troop of OH-58s ready to perform soon after the C-17 lands, but it is far more complicated and takes far more time to move and make operational the same compliment of AH-64s. The Army must investigate and develop new maintenance requirement solutions for the AH-64 in order to decrease the deployment time of AH-64s into a contingency theater of operations.

Some training currently exists to leverage the technology of the AH-64 and UAS team. Investigations in Afghanistan identified some problems such as insufficient ranges for unmanned aircraft and constrained situational understanding – the limited aperture of UAS cameras can only provide a “soda straw” view of the operational environment. The closed cockpit of the AH-64 also limits visual situational awareness. With this in mind, tasks like assessing cross-country mobility on routes demand the development of different TTP to use in conjunction with ground reconnaissance. At the risk of honing in on singular targets, technology helps the scout extend visual range with the AH-64, but without proper scanning techniques trained crews could “miss the forest for the trees.” The development of new TTP is vital to ensure as pilots fly the unmanned aircraft to extend ranges the flight of the manned aircraft does not fall to the wayside. As the Army continues to proliferate the UAS, the commander must fully integrate UAS crews in AGO. UAS operators must understand what information the ground commander requires from UAS reconnaissance, and the UAS operators must be able to explain to the commander the capabilities of their aircraft. The sensors and hardware of the AH-64 and UAS are superior to those of the OH-58, but if not thoroughly developed and integrated, the AH-64 “bells and whistles” will not improve AGO for reconnaissance.

Challenged with significant cuts in its Fiscal Year 2014 and beyond procurement and operations budgets, Army Aviation chose to start down the path of its second Aviation Restructure Initiative (ARI) in just 21 years. The Army Chief of Staff approved and implemented the first ARI in 1993. A casualty of this second ARI is the OH-58 system – the OH-58 aerial scout and his aircraft. Nevertheless, Army Aviation retains the critical requirement to provide aerial reconnaissance. For the foreseeable future, the AH-64, teamed with UAS aircraft, must satisfy this requirement. This may not be a perfect solution, but this solution allows the opportunity for the scout community to grow provided the Army maintains and nourishes the scout culture, establishes new TTP through renewed training initiatives, and leverages the available technologies of the AH-64 and UAS aircraft to benefit the reconnaissance and security mission set. Challenges are inevitable in the Army, but how these challenges get resolved and the attitudes behind these resolutions shape future conflicts. The scout pilots of the present and the past owe it to Army Aviation and the ground forces to steer the course of the MUMT to success in the role of reconnaissance and security.


Colonel Joseph P. Creekmore. Personal Interview. 27 January 2015.

About the Author(s)

Captain John Commerford is currently the Commander of Headquarters Company, 3-1 Air Assault Battalion, 1st Infantry Division Combat Aviation Brigade.  His previous assignment was as an Assistant S3 for the 1st Infantry Division Combat Aviation Brigade.  He has served in the Aviation Branch as a battle captain and air assault planner for Operation Enduring Freedom and platoon leader for A Troop, 3rd Squadron 17th Cavalry Regiment.  CPT Commerford has served as a pilot in command in the OH-58D.


As you are probably well aware as aviator, with the reduction in available CABs the once doable workload has become imbalanced with CABs strained with multiple real world and training missions. While adding a new syllabus would be a way to do it, perhaps another solution would be to fix what we have currently? The current air/ground integration problem varies form installation to installation, but what is apparent is that there is a fundamental lack of understanding between ground and air units on the planning and integration needed to successfully maximize the true potential of both elements. MUM-T, Gray Eagle, and AH-64s are great pieces of equipment, but without the proper education and incorporation they will be relegated to flying route recon and the standard Afghan/Iraq target sets that Commanders have grown accustom to.