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Disruptive Operational Risk Management

Combat Readiness Center / By BG David J. Francis: The U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center recently assessed long-term mishap trends for the last 35 years, dating back to the birth of the Aviation Branch in 1983 to present day.

Soldiers assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division fuel and perform systems checks on an AH-64 Apache during Decisive Action Rotation 18-02 at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, CA. / U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY SPC DANA CLARKE, OPNS. GRP., NTNL. TNG. CTR.

The study indicates that our Army suffers a steep increase in Class A aviation and ground accidents upon entering a new combat environment at the onset of large-scale operations. The U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center recently assessed long-term mishap trends for the last 35 years, dating back to the birth of the Aviation Branch in 1983 to present day. The study indicates that our Army suffers a steep increase in Class A aviation and ground accidents upon entering a new combat environment at the onset of large-scale operations. This trend was most recently evident after September 11, when we deployed to southwest Asia for Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.

Since then, we have steadily reduced Class A aviation mishaps, fatalities, and overall mishaps to near record lows as a result of our leaders’ and warfighters’ steadfast efforts to manage and mitigate risk. While we remain globally engaged and continue to sustain a high operational tempo, we must continue to effectively mitigate risk in current operations. We must also anticipate and account for hazards in the next major combat operation now with changes to our training and risk management approaches in the Decisive Action Training Environment (DATE). By doing so, we can and will disrupt the expected rapid rise in mishaps in the next fight while building decisive combat readiness today.

Training the Fundamentals
To achieve “disruptive” mishap prevention, we must focus on training the fundamentals of our profession. As stated in FM 3-0, “Aviation training must focus heavily on operations during periods of limited visibility, aircraft survivability equipment employment, terrain flight techniques, and gunnery operations that emphasize engaging targets at maximum stand-off ranges.”

While we progressively train the fundamentals using a deliberate crawl, walk, run methodology, we should also progressively reduce “inhibitors to training” to allow the maximum number of correct repetitions of training tasks. We should reduce range control restrictions at home station and at our training centers to facilitate true combined arms live-fire integration for junior leaders. Likewise, we should progressively reduce and then remove overly restrictive control measures and barriers to tough, realistic training, such as unrealistic “hard decks” or low illumination restrictions.

From a threat standpoint, we must prepare now in the decisive action training environment (DATE) for near-peer threats we expect to face. We need to assimilate 21st century threat replication at all venues, including live or virtual anti-access/area denial and integrated air defenses, along with living, breathing air defenders maneuvering as a wily OPFOR at all training centers. Threat mitigation is everybody’s business. Not only must our S2s maximize integrated threat analysis and active threat risk mitigation during planning, but all aviation leaders down to and including mission crews must become threat experts. In a peer or near-peer contest, integrated combined arms planning and seamless threat assessment will enable critical risk mitigation for our aviation assets.

The Payoff
In order to plan effectively against the threat, aviation commanders should empower their aviation safety and mission survivability officers during the planning process. We should implement and practice effective airspace control according to Field Manual 3-52. Aviation units must fully incorporate fires, air and missile defense, electronic warfare, ground maneuver liaison, and tactical air control party officers during mission planning, and we must employ our best aviation leaders as liaison officers with supported units. Although we might expect a slight increase in training mishaps as a result of this more aggressive training approach, the payoff will be an exponential and disruptive reduction in major mishaps during escalation of the next real-world fight.

Finally, we must better capture and share lessons learned across the aviation enterprise. We must execute thorough after action reviews throughout the force, and then we must drastically improve our culture of reporting to capture each and every mishap and near miss (those incidents in training that occur far more frequently than Class A or B mishaps, where we were just inches or seconds away from a catastrophic mishap or fatality). Some of our best lessons in risk mitigation should derive from these near misses.*
It will take a concerted approach from the collective team, but by changing the way we train, plan, and report, we will disrupt the likelihood of increased mishaps if and when we conduct the next major combat operation.

* To enable better reporting, the USACRC will introduce an improved mishap and hazard reporting tool in FY2019, to include a new safety and risk management query capability for commanders at echelon, and an improved Joint Risk Assessment Tool. The new database, reporting tool, and risk management query capabilities will complement the Standardized Aviation Battle Book currently in production from the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, in conjunction with the Aviation Risk Assessment Worksheet resident in the new Aviation Data Exploitation Capability developed by the Aviation Systems Process Office.
“Readiness Through Safety!”

BG David J. Francis is the commanding general of the Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, AL and the Director of Army Safety.

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