Aircraft Refueling -
Second to None!
|CPT Matthew J. Sheiffer|
The Aviation Brigade of the 2d Infantry Division provides the division commander with mobility and lethality unmatched on the modern battlefield. However, behind this unqualified force multiplier must be the ability to conduct sustained operations. The success of this mission rests in the hands of the organizational and direct support units whose mission is to keep an aviation brigade ready to "Fight Tonight." In one recent exercise, the 2d Infantry Division Aviation Brigade successfully adapted current doctrine to complete a logistically intensive air assault operation. The execution of the air assault highlights a number of hot aircraft refueling issues of interest to the support community.
Exercise Strike ARTEP
In early October 2003, elements of the 2d Infantry Aviation Brigade deployed in support of Exercise Strike ARTEP, an annual external evaluation of subordinate units conducted by the 2d Infantry Division. One component of the exercise’s final mission was the air assault of a light infantry battalion. The mission consisted of two parts: the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) insertion; and the battalion air assault. The ISR insertion occurred about 24 hours before execution of the air assault.
The Aviation Task Force (TF) designated for command and control of the operation was the 2d Battalion, 2d Aviation Regiment. This air assault battalion equipped with UH-60 helicopters received augmentation by AH-64 helicopters, CH-47 helicopters, air defense artillery (ADA), air traffic control (ATC), and logistics support for the mission.
One critical issue that quickly emerged during the planning of the air assault was the need for forward area refueling to sustain operations. To complicate matters, the mission involved the integration of multiple airframes - increasing both the quantity of fuel required and the complexity of the mission. These issues quickly overwhelmed the organizational combat service support capabilities of the battalion. In response, the battalion turned to its direct support unit - the 602d Aviation Support Battalion (ASB) - for assistance.
During routine operations, the 602d ASB operates the Division Rapid Refuel Point (DRRP) from Cochran Army Airfield at Camp Stanley in the Republic of Korea. The DRRP supports both aviation brigade assets as well as all other aircraft operating in the division area of operations (AO). Also, the 602d ASB provides bulk petroleum storage and distribution to the two organic aviation battalions and division cavalry squadron assigned to the aviation brigade.
Design and Doctrine
By design and doctrine, the Aviation Brigade of the 2d Infantry Division is capable of operating and manning two RRPs for UH-60 operations, three Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARPs) for AH-64D attack operations, and two FARPs for OH-58D scout operations – with the ASB providing the DRRP in the aviation support area (ASA). These equally important missions required close coordination to resolve conflicting support requirements. Since the Aviation TF can only operate and man two RRPs, a third was required from the 602d ASB to execute the support mission for the air assault. Also, the DRRP had to be repositioned in order to provide bulk petroleum support to the division’s cavalry squadron gunnery exercise.
Adapting Doctrine to Battlefield
Doctrinally, according to FM 3-04.111 (Aviation Brigades, dated 21 Aug 03 and superceding FM 1-111), sources of fuel for aviation assets operating in the division AO are the Brigade Rapid Refueling Point (BRRP) and the DRRP.
Brigades employ rapid refueling points to refuel other unit aircraft. The rapid refueling point services aircraft as quickly as possible, allowing CS [combat support] missions to continue. Rearming operations are not conducted at this site unless a Level III threat requires it. This practice allows more arming assets forward. (FM 3-04.11, Appendix F)
Stationary in nature, the division rapid refueling point locates in protected rear areas of the DSA [division support area]. It is manned by the aviation support battalion (ASB) or is task organized within the aviation brigade. It supports organic and transient aircraft...As with the brigade, the division rapid refueling point does not rearm aircraft. (FM 3-04.111, Appendix F)
Aviation brigades also use FARPs to promote increased time on station. (Increased time on station refers to time on target. Units deploy the FARPs as close to the forward line of defense as possible to minimize turnaround time of aircraft.) Deploying FARPs into the aviation brigade AO reduces the turnaround time necessary for aircraft arming and refueling. Organizational assets conduct the FARP operations described in Appendix F of FM 3-04.111 for the purpose of supporting specific mission objectives.
To execute the Exercise Strike ARTEP air assault, Aviation TF planners determined the need for multiple FARPs to decrease turnaround time for the aircraft executing the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) insertion and air assault. Also, planners decided upon multiple FARPS to maximize time on station for the attack aviation elements providing security for the two missions. In addition, airfield constraints required separate FARPs because of restrictions on the size and number of aircraft that could operate out of each area.
The plan presented during the Aviation TF operations order (OPORD) and rehearsal called for use of the DRRP to support the ISR insertion and the employment of three separate, geographically dispersed FARPs - one to support each type of aircraft - to support the air assault (Figure 1). Assets to operate each FARP came from three different units. Class III (petroleum, oils and lubricants)/Class V (ammunition) platoon assets from the attack battalion operated FARP Miller (all AH-64 helicopters). Class III platoon assets from 2d Battalion, 2d Aviation Regiment expanded the DRRP operated by the 602d ASB to five points to become FARP Bud (all UH-60 helicopters). Class III/V platoon assets from the 602d ASB operated FARP Corona (all CH-47 helicopters). All Class III/V assets were under operational control (OPCON) of the headquarters and headquarters company (HHC) of the Aviation TF throughout the operation.
As with all refueling operations, a critical planning factor for Aviation TF was FARP resupply. The plan called for all FARP assets to deploy at 100 percent of operational capacity. However, two of the three FARPs required resupply on the day of the air assault in order to execute their mission. Serving as the division RRP, FARP Bud required resupply to ensure that normal flight operations not associated with the air assault were not jeopardized. In addition, FARP Miller supported AH-64 movement to the tactical assembly area (TAA) and also required resupply. Only FARP Corona deployed with sufficient supplies to execute the mission. Responsibility for all resupply missions fell to the 602d ASB, with execution through unit distribution specified by the Aviation TF.
The intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance insertion occurred on schedule about 24 hours before the air assault. The UH-60 and AH-64 aircraft executing the mission lifted off at about 1930 hours, executed the insertion and refueled. The aircrews did not identify any logistical constraints. A three-Soldier crew operating the DRRP provided complete support for the hot refueling. The noncommissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) of the DRRP was an experienced Soldier in the rank of specialist (promotable) with more than five months in the unit, and the two Soldiers were both new arrivals straight from advanced individual training (AIT) with less than one month in the unit.
The DRRP consisted of Fuel System Supply Point (FSSP) components configured into a two-point aviation refueling facility (Figure 2). The DRRP used two 10,000-gallon collapsible fuel tanks and the 350-gallon per minute (GPM) pump and filter separator that make up the FSSP. The layout of the DRRP looked similar to the layout of a Forward Area Refueling Equipment (FARE) system, but operated on a much larger scale. The three-Soldier crew was on the third day of a weeklong shift at the DRRP and had executed a number of crew drills before being certified to operate the equipment. The chief of the Class III Storage and Issue Section provided oversight of the operation.
On the morning of the air assault, while the Infantry Battalion and Aviation TF conducted troop-leading procedures and crew rest, resupply convoys from the 602d ASB departed the ASA. The first convoy departed at 0700 and consisted of one M969 5,000-gallon fuel tanker and a high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV) providing trail escort. This convoy provided unit distribution of JP-8 to FARP Miller on schedule and returned without issue.
The second convoy departed at 0900. It consisted of two M1083 cargo trucks and four M978 heavy expanded mobility tactical truck (HEMTT) fuel tankers. This convoy moved to FARP Corona to establish a four-point CH-47 FARP (Figure 3). The FARP section chief led the convoy, and the Class III/V platoon sergeant accompanied the mission.
The third convoy departed at 1300 and consisted of three HMMWVs. The FARP officer in charge (OIC) led the convoy, which included an Air Traffic Control Section from the Theater Aviation Brigade and a field litter ambulance from the Aviation TF. A total of 9 vehicles and 27 Soldiers deployed to establish and operate FARP Corona. To maximize the training value of the mission, the FARP section chief brought many of the new Soldiers assigned to the unit.
Upon arrival at FARP Corona, the FARP section moved quickly to emplace the four points of the FARP. Each point consisted of one M978 HEMTT tanker. This configuration both maximized the quantity of fuel on hand for the CH-47s and maximized hose pressure of each line to minimize the time required to refuel each aircraft. Each HEMTT point consisted of the vehicle’s 50-meter hose reel with three 50-meter HEMTT Tanker Aviation Refueling System (HTARS) hoses attached. The closed circuit couplings of the HTARS system were ideal in this situation for switching between D-1 and open port nozzles at the point.
Solely the responsibility of the FARP section, security of the FARP was primarily accomplished by using cover and concealment at the site. Each vehicle was pushed into the tree line, so that only the end of the hose line was visible on the landing zone (LZ). Security of the FARP always is a concern for FARP personnel. In most cases, FARP personnel are tasked with providing their own security. Additional assistance is based on the threat level.
The aircraft had to fly in a row to enter and exit the FARP due to site constraints. If the FARP was able to rotate 90 degrees, the aircraft could enter and exit the FARP individually – reducing the wait time for other aircraft to complete their refueling. This is commonly referred to as a "drive through FARP."
A four-aircraft CH-47 flight arrived at FARP Corona at about 1600 and shut down. The helicopters would use FARP Corona as a laager (protected) site until required for the air assault. Upon arrival, the flight safety officer certified the FARP, and the FARP Section topped off each aircraft. This cold aircraft refueling included over-the-wing open port refueling to top off the fuel cell on both sides of the aircraft, in addition to the refueling each aircraft using the D-1 nozzle at each point. The cold refuel provided the additional fuel required for the air assault mission.
The final bulk resupply mission of the day occurred at about 1700, when the DRRP received petroleum resupply from assets remaining in the ASA. At that time, more than 10 hours since departure of the first convoy, all resupply missions were complete. All FARPs were now certified and prepared to receive aircraft.
At about 2040, the CH-47 flight departed FARP Corona to execute the air assault. The aircraft returned two hours later and executed a hot aircraft refueling before shutting down again to await clearance to move to their next laager site. Upon receipt of that clearance, the aircraft departed the FARP. Then the FARP Section disassembled and stored all equipment and initiated a rest and security plan before movement back to the ASA the next morning. The Soldiers returned at 0940 the next morning after executing two tactical road marches of more than 30 kilometers each and issuing 2,700 gallons of JP-8 fuel in support of the air assault.
Upon launch of the CH-47 flight from FARP Corona, FARP Bud became active and received UH-60 flights returning from the first lifts of the air assault. FARP Bud now consisted of the two points of the DRRP augmented by a three-point HEMTT FARP executed by the Aviation TF Class III Platoon. Refueling proceeded until the closure of FARP Miller because of weather conditions. At that point in the mission, all AH-64 assets were diverted to FARP Bud. However, because of the DRRP personnel’s familiarity with refueling multiple types of aircraft and the quantity of fuel on hand due to the configuration of the RRP, this change in plan was executed with no logistical constraints to air operations.
While the ASB doctrinally provides the DRRP in the ASA or DSA of the division rear and would not normally act as a battalion/TF RRP, the training value of Exercise Strike ARTEP was tremendous. Acting as an Aviation TF RRP, while Aviation TF assets augmented the DRRP, allowed mission support for training both the air assault and RRP personnel. However, execution in this manner was a deviation from normal operations. The DRRP has the primary mission for the ASB’s RRP assets, and the capability to push fuel to multiple locations is limited.
By doctrine, FARPs and battalion/TF RRP forward in the brigade areas must obtain their support from the nearest brigade support area (BSA) and forward support battalion (FSB). The FSB’s fuelers and ammunition transfer point (ATP) must support the FARP and RRP resupply in most operations. The doctrine is flexible enough to allow pushes of resupply from corps, main support battalion and ASB assets. ASB resupply assets are limited, and FARPs/RRPs must resupply from the nearest source to continue to rapidly support mission requirements.
To summarize, the unique employment of ASB assets and the training and experience of the 602d Aviation Support Battalion Class III/V Platoon during support of the air assault operation proved an innovative and resourceful solution to addressing petroleum supply issues. However, while the course of action definitely conserved organizational assets, the unique employment of ASB assets had the potential cost of future logistical constraints if sustained operations and support from both direct support and organizational assets had been required.
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