The 3rd REOS Aldebaran: the Third Dimension of the Special Forces

(To Tiziano Ciocchetti)

Genesis of the 3rd REOS. Following the failure of the operation Eagle Claw in 1980 (the attempt to free the American hostages in Tehran), in which the RH-53DS helicopters of the Marines and other USAF carriers were used jointly - without specific preparation by the crews for the type of intervention - a commission government carried out a thorough investigation to shed light on the most sensational American military failure of recent years.

Two branches were born from this study: the 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment) of the US Army (equipped with rotary-wing vectors) and the 1st Special Operations Wing (equipped with fixed-wing vectors).

The unsuccessful attempt to free hostages highlighted how, in special operations, common training was essential between all the components involved.

In Italy, as early as 1977, with the establishment of the 26th squadron group Jupiter, within the paratroopers brigade thunderbolt, the need was highlighted to support the raiders of the 9th Col Moschin assault battalion, in the missions abroad in which the unit was employed.

However, the growing number of international operations and the advent of increasingly asymmetrical conflicts, in which the third dimension is of significant importance for the success of the missions, has convinced the Army Staff to create a dedicated helicopter department for operations. special.

On November 4, 2002, at the Fabbri airport in Viterbo, the 26th squadron group Jupiter it was reconfigured into 26th squadron group Jupiter REOS (Special Operations Helicopter Department), formed by the merger of the 51st squadron group Lion and from the 39th squadron group Dragon.

The unit was organized on a group command, a maintenance squadron, two helicopter squadrons (one equipped with AB-412 and the other with CH-47C) and a training core. The choice that was made then, by the AvEs, was to make the REOS grow gradually, qualifying each member of the crews according to the needs of the department. In fact, the first courses for REOS operators were carried out in favor of pilots and specialists already in service at the AvEs, in order to provide a base of crews with consolidated flight experience, which could therefore be included in the context of special forces.

Subsequently, on 10 November 2014, the 3rd REOS (Special Operations Helicopter Regiment) was established in Viterbo, inheriting the name and the war flag of the dissolved 3rd AvEs Regiment. Aldebaran of Bresso (Milan). Created following a specific project of the Army staff, as part of the reorganization of the Special Forces sector of the Italian Army, the REOS was raised to the regimental level in order to make it able to express a more adherent support to those which are the needs of the Special Forces and, in particular, to be able to provide the framework of a so-called Special Operations Air Task Group. That is, a C2 (Command and Control) organization of several operational pawns, both joint and multinational, in the context of the activities defined at the Defense level: “Air Support to Special Operations” (SAOS).

Organization of the 3rd REOS. The regiment is directly dependent on the commander of the AvEs (currently the general of division Riccò), unlike the other regiments of the Army Aviation, thus creating a direct and streamlined chain of command.

The department's structure is based on a regimental command composed of multiple staff articulations, supporting the department and the commander, and on two pawns at the squadron group level: the 26th special operations helicopter squadron group Jupiter and the support squadron group.

It should also be emphasized the organic dependence of the CFEA (Advanced Crew Training Center) which, thanks to the presence of AVEs specialty instructors and actual Special Forces operators at REOS, responds to the selection, training and training needs of flight crews , both as regards the acquisition of the qualification of "Flight crew for Special Operations", and for the activities concerning the "Staff Recovery Advanced".

From the 26th Jupiter three flight lines depend: the ESC / LUH REOS squadron, currently equipped with the twin-engine AB-412 (in the near future it should be replaced by the AW-169MA already selected by the Army); the ETT REOS squadron on UH-90A and the ETM squadron on CH-47F.

The three types of machines have unique capabilities that complement each other, guaranteeing a wide range of options in the planning stage, in order to be able to prepare a suitable tool to respond in the best possible way to the various types of missions.

Almost all the pilots in force at REOS are bivalent, that is qualified on two flight lines supplied to the department in order to guarantee better flexibility of use. Being therefore trained with heterogeneous lines, the REOS crews demonstrate a peculiar confidence with the so-called Dissimilar Training, that is the formation flight with different helicopters and, more generally, to the operations conducted with the simultaneous use of several flight lines: this constitutes a big advantage compared to the conventional AvEs departments.

The UH-90A medium helicopter. The UH-90A (opening photo) represents a unicum in the panorama of aircraft supplied to the Army Aviation (with a take-off mass of 10,5 tons).

Particular attention was paid, in the design phase, to the safety and survivability of the machine, which incorporates an automatic fault detection and self-diagnosis system that presents any failures or important damage reported in combat on the multifunction screens. The crew, in fact, can take advantage of the fully digital cockpit equipped with 5 multifunction 8-inch color screens, compatible with night vision goggles, on which all flight, mission and maintenance data are presented.

The integrated avionics of the UH-90A is based on a double digital databus to MIL-STD-1553B standard and also includes a satellite navigation system (GPS), a FLIR (Forward Looking Infra-Red) mounted in a turret under the muzzle, and an Instrumented Landing System (ILS). These systems allow, in case of need, to reduce the crew to a single pilot, even in low visibility conditions that require instrument flight.

The cabin is made of composite materials based on carbon fiber and is designed to withstand vertical impacts up to a speed of 11 m / sec. The seats are armored (capable of withstanding 12,7mm shocks), capable of attenuating an acceleration of 50g, transmitting only 20g to the occupant. The three retractable carriages have been designed to absorb violent impacts.

The vulnerability of the machine has been reduced with the integration of active and passive countermeasures, in addition to the installation of the classic cable cutters.

The main rotor is installed on four-blade titanium couplings, made of composite materials with a multi-box structure and covered with Midex crystal fiber.

The latter have a particular design that helps reduce the radar signature, noise and IR trace caused by turbines and can be fitted with an anti-icing system on the leading edge that allows the UH-90A to operate even at very low temperatures. In addition, all moving parts of the transmission system are able to operate without lubricant for 30 minutes.

As for the propulsion system, the UH-90A is equipped with the General Electric T700-T6E1 from 1.530 kW (2.040 hp) to the shaft (which was also developed by the Italian Avio Aero) which allows a maximum speed of 300 km / h (260 km / h cruising) and a range of 900 km with 2.500 kg of load.

The interior of the machine has 20 seats to carry as many fully equipped soldiers. Designed for helicopter transport on the battlefield, the UH-90A is equipped with an obstacle warning system that, with the FLIR, facilitates low-altitude flight following the profile of the terrain, in any weather conditions and, thanks to the 'night vision system, even at night. The pilot can also count on aids such as the Honeywell Primus 701A weather radar, digital maps and HMSD (Helmet Mounted Sight & Dsplay).

UH-90A are equipped with self-protection suite including MILDS (Missile Launch Detection System) EADS AN / AAR-60 and TWE (Threat Warning Equipment) by Thales which integrates RWR and LWR (Radar and Laser Warning Receiver) with the dispenser of countermeasures (chaff and flares) MBDA Saphir-M, IR trace suppressors, together with armored seats for the crew and armored panels for the passenger cabin.

The armament consists of two M-134D miniguns with 6 rotating 7,62x51 mm barrels, located at the two side doors, complete with pivoting platforms and seats for the machine gunners (all made by OTO-Melara). When not needed, the assembly can be rotated inwards, in order to close the side doors and improve the aerodynamics of the aircraft. Under the machine guns, large tubes have been placed that serve to disperse the mass of shells outwards (the M-134D has a rate of fire of about 3.000 rounds / min.) Which are ejected when fired. prevent them from creating problems inside the passenger compartment.

The CH-47F heavy helicopter. Latest version of the famous Boeing machine, the CH-47F was acquired by AvEs in 16 units (see article). The main changes, compared to the version Charlie, concern the engines, more modern and with power increased to 4.866 shp (indicates the power actually transmitted to the rotors); the maximum speed rose to 282 km / h with a maximum transportable load of 9,5 tons.

The cockpit is entirely digital, in order to lighten the work of the pilots. In addition, the aircraft has a front FLIR that allows night flight even at low altitudes. There is a complete set of electronic countermeasures, with detectors of approaching surface-to-air missiles and dispensers for chaff and flares, to deceive radar and infrared search systems.

The machines supplied with the 3rd REOS can be armed with different configurations. The CH-47F we viewed had an M-23 machine gun in 7,62x51 mm caliber placed on the tailgate, a M-134D 6-barreled rotating minigun in 7,62x51 mm caliber in the left window and another M-23 a the right one. If necessary, one of the weapons can be replaced with an M-3M heavy machine gun in 12,7x99 mm caliber.

To underline (as explained by pilot lieutenant colonel Carmine Bertolino, Army Silver Medal of Valor for an action performed in Bala Morghab, in Afghanistan, July 16, 2010) as the CH-47F allows a triple descent through solid Rope (barbettone), also known as FRIES (Fast Rope Insertion Extraction System), using ropes with a diameter of 4 cm. This descent procedure allows an entire platoon to be placed on the ground in a few tens of seconds.

The NATO Special Operations Air Task Group (SOATG) concept. According to the doctrine of the Alliance, in the C2 structure established for a specific operation, the task of supporting in the Third Dimension the command of the component dedicated to special operations - called Special Operations Component Command (SOCC) - is donated to one Special Operations Air Task GROUP which leads the cd Special Air Operations, or the activities of Air Support to Special Operations (SAOS), in the national joint doctrine. In fact the 3rd REOS Aldebaran it has been qualified by the COFS as a NATO certified SOCC.

The primary mission of a SOATG, which materializes on the ground in a command at the tactical level, translates into planning and conducting support activities for special operations, mainly providing maneuvering capabilities through TTP (Tactics, Techniques, Procedures) peculiar in the maneuvering phase through insertion / extraction with rotating wing, fixed or tilt-rotor, but also activities such as CAS (Close Air Support), CCA (Close Fighting Attack), AAR (Air-to-Air Refueling), ISR (Intelligence, surveillance and Recognition) and PR (Staff Recovery) for the Special Forces.

To accomplish this mission, the SOATG usually makes use of units dedicated to Special Air Operations, the so-called SOATU (Special Operations Air Task Unit) or conventional air units, defined DSATU (Direct Support Air Task Unit) what could be, for example, a unit of attack helicopters (such as the 5th rgt AvEs Rigel with the EES AH-129D Mongoose) or transport aircraft (28th squadron group Toucan with the Dornier D-228). It also receives highly specialized personnel in competition for component C2.

Being validated as SOATG therefore means possessing a real command and control capability, not only as regards one's own assets but also those of the specialized and / or conventional flight units assigned as part of a special operation, which generally is joint (joint forces) and / or combined (multinationals).

Support for Special Operations in the Third Dimension. The doctrine of special operations emphasizes the concept of "Relative Superiority", as a necessary condition for the success of this type of mission.

In this case, the detachments of Special Forces, composed of a limited number of elements, can achieve and maintain this superiority only for a short period or, in many cases, thanks to support in the broad sense (special mobility, fire support, ISR capability , supplies, Medevac, advanced Pesonnel Recovery, etc.) provided by the dedicated aircraft assets.

To give an example, a Helicopter Assault Strength which inserts, through solid Rope, a critical mass of operators in contact with the enemy, in complete darkness, with precision to the minute, avoiding the threat, are not simply carrying forces, they are reaching "Relative Superiority", which can be maintained by guaranteeing fire support through helisniping or with onboard weapons, such as the M-134D and M-3M.

Another important factor in special operations is morale. After years of missions and training lived side by side in the special operations sector, the operators trust the REOS crews, they know that they can count on them and this constitutes a real advantage from a moral point of view.

The training. The specific use of the REOS requires the possession, by the crews, of a mindset appropriate. That is a way of approaching the operational problem that is in perfect harmony with the entire OS Sector, as well as of peculiar skills and competences in the planning and conduct of air support operations for special operations as well as survival techniques, escape and behavior in case of capture.

In fact, there are several aspects that must be considered in this sense:

  • REOS staff can also be employed with very short notice times, therefore they must acquire specific skills of use, both individually and above all at the level of equipment / team of Personnel Recovery;

  • SO scenarios require a specific ability to deal with the possibility of capture by hostiles;

  • The support to the SO requires, as mentioned, the best possible synergy with the FS departments, starting from the planning phases up to the conduct, through the accurate knowledge of the specific planning procedures typical of the SO;

  • flight units for OSes such as REOS usually operate organized in numerically reduced devices (SOATG and SOATU) which base their operational output on very specific factors, such as: autonomy of use; development of innovative techniques, tactics and procedures; capacity expeditionary; ability to adapt and improvise; unconventional use of technology; maximum exploitation of available intelligence.

To reach the basic qualification to be able to operate within the department, the course for "Flight crew for OS" also called EVOS, lasting 9 weeks, is held. The course complies with both the new Armed Force directive, inherent to the procedure of Special Forces operators, and the recently approved EVOS directive of the Defense Staff, which among other things has established new reference standards for all Forces. Armed and an ad hoc badge.

The course is developed on three modules: Ground, which includes a CAC (Conduct After Capture) part in the OS context; Integrated Planning e He flew.

In this context, the 3rd REOS was a forerunner, since it has been carrying out these types of courses since 2002, first under the name of Course REOS, then OBOS, now EVOS, according to the joint doctrine that was inspired by the REOS process.

Obviously, beyond the course, the crews only later reach, thanks to a long journey within the department, the ability to operate effectively in the most complex scenarios.

In addition to this Course, the OS onboard machine gunners, who are actual members of the flight crew, will follow a specific process, within the so-called ability to "Advanced Personnel Recovery" that the REOS is developing on directives of the General Staff.

This personnel, in fact, after obtaining the flight suitability and the patent of military paratrooper, will have to acquire the ability to plan and conduct, independently or jointly with the other units of the OS sector, activities of Staff Recovery in OS use scenarios, including through the acquisition of additional qualifications (such as military rescuer, ability to use the winch, solid Rope, cluster recovery, recall, sharpshooter, etc.).

As for the selection and access to REOS, for pilots, technical and technical officers of aircraft, this takes place through participation in the "Personnel Search" within the AvEs, on the basis of the requirements outlined by the 3rd REOS. For OS machine gunners, access is open to both graduates (VSP) - primarily to those already in possession of the military paratrooper through the search for personnel -, both to VFP4 in "first assignment".

The amalgamation with the Special Forces. The amalgamation is essential, since the flight units for OS belong to all intents and purposes to the special operations sector of the Defense, of which they constitute, together with other units, one of the so-called Tier.

It must be clear that SAOS activities are not special for the type of assets supplied, nor for the flight techniques and tactics used (which are also peculiar) but are above all for the integration and synergy with the units of the sector and for the mindset, through which the flight crews ensure a support so adherent and specialized to the needs of the sector, even in uncertain or hostile operational contexts.

To obtain this amalgam, training is carried out jointly with the FS departments to maintain and develop specific capabilities, such as the interdiction of vehicles or specialized transport capacities, in particular through TTP insertion and extraction of FS units in any operational environment (such as snow-covered terrain , desert and / or sandy areas, stretches of water, urbanized areas, etc.), in all weather conditions, especially by resorting to specific techniques such as solid Rope, cluster recovery, recall, biscuit, helo cast, insertion / extraction of RHIB boats or special underwater vehicles, insertions by means of TCL aircraft.

Moreover, the training in complex operations, in the inter-force field, is carried out regularly through the CFOS exercises such as FIT (Strength Integration Training) such as "Dark Night" and "Gazza Ladra". In these training activities, the principles of special operations are pursued, which should then be applied in the planning and conduct phase, i.e. Simplicity, Safety, Rehearsal, Surprise, Speed ​​and Sharing of Purpose.

During our visit to the 3rd REOS Aldebaran we had the feeling of being in front of a constantly evolving FS regiment, projected towards future operational scenarios. In this regard, the pilot colonel Loreto Bolla (coming from the Cavalry Army) embodies the best synthesis of the FS commander: anchored to traditions but aware that to have a truly efficient flight department it is essential to focus on continuous technological innovation and constant staff training.

Images: Online Defense / Italian Army