US Army Apaches train to counter-North Korean maritime SOF
US Army Apache helicopters are conducting training operations designed to counter the threat of North Korean maritime special operations forces. Designated 'maritime counter-SOF', the operations reflect one of the unique mission sets conducted in the Korean theatre.
Speaking at the recent Army Aviation Association of America (AAAA) Mission Summit in Nashville, Tennessee, Brig Gen David Francis, deputy commander, 2nd Infantry Division, 8th US Army, highlighted the unique mission set being conducted by the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade.
'Maritime counter-SOF is essentially designed to defeat a SOF infil via sea,' Francis explained. 'That can either be in the West Sea or the East Sea. Primarily we're focused in the west right now, but the primary mission is to defeat that SOF threat before it reaches the [South Korean] mainland.'
Francis noted that the maritime counter-SOF mission has 'matured over time…to the point where we have an attack helicopter battalion that, for a portion of time, works for the 2nd ROK [Republic of Korea] Fleet and a maritime battle group in the ROK Navy. And their purpose, for a period of time, is to in fact defeat and destroy this threat.'
From a multi-domain perspective, he said that translated to US Army Apaches 'flying out over the water in direct support to our surface commander, who in this case is a naval commander, to defeat a specific threat using direct fire from our AH-64s. We are guided onto targets by ROK controllers in some cases, and in other cases, depending on the scenario, we might have some US folks out there. But the bottom line is that we take an Apache helicopter battalion and execute attack operations over the water to find and destroy enemy targets.'
Francis identified 'many challenges' associated with the multi-domain operation, beginning with interoperability issues between the Apaches and ROK naval forces.
'We have matured this capability to the point where we are doing live fire with them about every two weeks right now,' he said. 'And one of the challenges is that right now we are doing [the target hand-off] manually, because their Lynx aircraft and our Apaches are not able to talk from a common operational picture point of view. So target handover is done manually, although we have put many procedural measures in place to facilitate that. But it's still going to be very challenging because it's not just an attack helicopter battalion out there, but you have other joint fires.'
He noted that some of the solutions include placing army liaison officers on ROK ships and assembling ad hoc mission command packages to facilitate communications with ROK and US forces during these missions.
Other identified challenges to the maritime counter-SOF mission set included flying distances over water, as well as rearming and associated munitions issues aboard US Navy vessels.
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