NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The U.S. Army aviation branch wants to grow force structure and is proposing some strategic options as part of a larger service analysis.
Specifically, the Army wants to add a CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopter battalion to the 101st Airborne Division as well as fill out its 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, potentially to full capacity, in Europe, according to Maj. Gen. Frank Tate. The director of aviation at the Pentagon with the Army’s operations, plans and training branch was speaking to attendees of the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual summit.
Driving major force structure changes in the Army are the service’s new top six modernization priorities as well as new operating concepts and doctrine, which have already influenced some force structure growth, such as the addition of security force assistance brigades to the Army. The first unit recently deployed to Afghanistan.
And Army aviation wants in on those growth opportunities.
“There are some areas in Army aviation that we think potentially need to be reconsidered for force structure growth,” Tate said.
“We are extremely short right now on CH-47 organizations able to deploy in companies in support of ongoing operations,” he said. “ We just had a plus-up in Afghanistan of aviation, and it was very difficult for us to find CH-47s.”
As a result, Army aviation leaders are submitting the proposal to add two companies worth of CH-47s to the 101st to compete with other priorities in the Total Army Analysis.
“This is not a promise it’s going to happen at all, but we think, at least from an Army aviation perspective, that is a very wise use of force structure growth,” he said, this is meant to give the aviation branch more capacity and meet requirements around the world.
“It also returns to the 101st Airborne, the ability to move a [brigade combat team] in a period of darkness, which has always been one of the great, unique capabilities of the 101st Airborne Division,” he added.
But, Tate reiterated, the proposed additional force structure will have to compete with other priorities, “and we will continue to keep that energized in the coming years and maybe it will be possible.”
The Army has also been weighing whether to fill out its 12th CAB for several years, but a ramp up of rotational CABs in Europe and on the Korean Peninsula might be sparking a renewed push to grow back capacity.
“We’ve also looked at aviation in Europe,” Tate said. “Right now we rotate a CAB through Europe to keep the appropriate level of aviation support there for a deterrent effect.”
The Army will have to decide if it’s going to continue on a rotational model, “which may prove to be necessary based on the inability to grow what we need to.”
Or the Army could grow back capacity in the 12th CAB, which has a partial general support aviation battalion there now, Tate said, adding the ability to round that out would be “relatively easy.”
Then-U.S. Army Europe Commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges reiterated in 2017 in an interview with Defense News that while it would be nice to have a forward-stationed CAB by restoring the 12th CAB to its full size, money and assets would have to come from somewhere else. “ I’m not holding my breath,” Hodges said at the time.
Tate suggested rounding out to a full CAB headquarters, adjusting a few personnel and stationing it in Europe, which would counter the need to rotate a whole CAB into theater.
He added the Army could also build an assault battalion in Europe.
“These possibilities exist because we have aircraft that could make that happen; and while we have those aircraft, we have to decide that we are going to do something like that or we may change and divest a few aircraft that we have that could have filled that function,” Tate said. “These are questions that we deal with.”
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.