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South African Defense Forces (SADF); USMC Analysis of Operations in Angolan War

South African Defense Forces (SADF); USMC Analysis of Operations in Angolan War

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US Marine Corps analysis of South African Army operations during Angolan War.
US Marine Corps analysis of South African Army operations during Angolan War.

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Published by: kickerofelves on Apr 10, 2011
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The fuel and ammunition required by fighting column vehicles mandate that the

ACE dedicate much of its lift capacity to logistic duties. The advantage of fighting

columns over foot mobile forces is that a mobile battle group's vehicles can carry much

of its logistic requirements. Thus resupply runs by aircraft would not be required on a

daily basis. In fact, the column's vehicles could carry forty percent of the fuel required

and all of the food necessary for a two-week long, three-hundred-mile- deep mission.

Additional fuel and ammunition would be delivered by a mix of Marine C-130, CH-53E,

and MV-22 aircraft or by Air Mobility Command assets.

88

The tactical flexibility inherent in the marriage of operationally mobile fighting

columns with aerial resupply capabilities is well illustrated by the 101st

Air Assault

Division's experience in Iraq. Helicopters were insufficient to carry both assault troops

and the logistics to sustain them, so truck convoys carried the supplies to the forward

operating base airheads. More than five thousand soldiers in six hundred vehicles,

including forty-five HEMTT refuelers, covered the one hundred miles from the line of

departure to FOB Cobra in twelve hours. On 26 February 1991 a shamal sandstorm

grounded the CH-47 Chinooks while truck convoys continued to resupply Cobra. The

bad weather also grounded the Blackhawk helicopters and stranded half of Third

Brigade's assault force one hundred miles short of its first objective. Despite the storm a

ground column composed of TOW HMMWVs and towed artillery drove to the new FOB

from an intermediate landing zone. Had the primary means of transport been reversed, a

powerful combined arms truck column with several days of organic logistic support could

have proceeded to the target and awaited better flying weather before helicopters

resupplied the unit. The lesson is apparent: several days of logistic self-sufficiency

provide inherent tactical flexibility to motorized/mechanized forces.148

MV-22, CH-53E, and C-130 aircraft can conduct aerial refueling, as required, to

achieve desired station times at OMFTS distances, but AH-1W and UH-1N helicopters

must land to rearm and refuel to sustain operations several hundred miles inland. Next

generation rotary wing attack and utility platforms should incorporate in-flight refueling

capabilities, but FARPS are the only viable solution at present. Fighting columns provide

ideal protection for establishment of FARP sites; helicopters can land and replenish in

148

Thomas Taylor, Lightning in the Storm: The 101st

Air Assault Division in the Gulf War (New York:

Hippocrene Books, 1994), 303, 313, 321, 349, 356, 370, 378; Flanagan, 194.

89

secure LZs. Historically helicopters have proven surprisingly survivable in combat. In

Vietnam only one aircraft was destroyed for every 18,193 sorties flown. Of the 2,587

helicopters lost in action between 1965 and 1971, however, fully ninety-two percent were

shot down by antiaircraft guns or small arms.149

Using CH-53Es and MV-22s primarily

to conduct resupply into landing zones previously secured by fighting columns should

therefore serve to increase the historical margin of safety. SADF battle groups

conducting external operations deep in Angola sometimes refueled helicopters from the

columns' organic fuel reserves; MAGTF fighting columns could perform this function as

well. When required, air assault forces from the sea can also establish and secure FARP

sites with fuel provided from bladders or other aircraft, but this technique is more risky

because the initial entry into the landing zone is unprotected by ground forces.

Air superiority is a prerequisite for effective fighting column operations. Air Force

and Navy assets would provide much of this air cover. Marine aircraft, primarily Joint

Strike Fighters, would support fighting column operations in their normal fashion. In

most cases it would be easier and more efficient to operate from naval ships at sea than

from airstrips ashore. Nonetheless, Marine aircraft could operate from expeditionary

airfields if required. Security concerns associated with defending an airfield suggest that

this mode should be the exception rather than the rule.

Timely rotary wing close air support could be provided to fighting columns by

adopting a technique employed by Army special operations aviators. The 160th

Special

Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) uses tiny one engine AH-6/MH-6 Little Bird

aircraft to support U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) forces. These

149

Hohn Everett-Heath, Helicopters in Combat: The First Fifty Years (London: Arms and Armour Press,

1992), 111-112.

90

forward looking infrared radar (FLIR) equipped aircraft come in two versions: close air

support and troop lift. The AH-6 attack version can carry guns and either rockets or

missiles. Each plane can mount 7.62mm Miniguns, .50 Cal machine guns, or 40mm MK

19 machine guns. It can also simultaneously carry either seven or nineteen round pods of

2.75" rockets or four Hellfire missiles. The AH-6 can be carried on the back of a medium

tactical vehicle replacement (MTVR) truck and be airborne in less than ten minutes to

respond to calls for fire. The utility version can carry six lightly equipped men on planks

above the skids; it is useful for scouting, aerial observation, insertion of small blocking

elements, and message service. Four attack and two utility helicopters represent a

standard package in support of one Army ranger battalion.150

A similar package for a

MEU size-fighting column would require eight trucks (six for helicopters and three for

ammo and equipment) but provide immediate CAS until more formidable aviation

support could arrive. A cadre of qualified USMC Little Bird pilots already exists as a

result of an ongoing exchange program between the Corps and 160th

SOAR.

The addition of AH-6 CAS support to fighting columns provides an added dimension

to the potential of existing Huey and Cobra aviation assets. The latter could be used to

perform shaping operations as an independent maneuver element in line with current

Army aviation doctrine and Marine emphasis on aviation as a maneuver element.

Huey/Cobra hunter-killer teams could be flown from secure FARP sites at night as part of

scheduled fires in designated engagement areas and kill boxes. Shaping operations, flank

security, reserve missions, and escort of aerial resupply runs could be more readily

150

Joint Special Operations Forces Institute, Special Operations Forces Reference Manual (Fayetteville,
NC: Cubic Applications, Inc., 1998),3-19 to 3-23; also drawn from the author's personal experience as
assistant fire support coordinator for the U.S. Army's 75th

Ranger Regiment in Fort Benning, Georgia.

91

assigned to these forces because the Little Bird aircraft collocated with the maneuver

columns would handle immediate CAS requests.

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