One of the new initiatives that US Special Operations Forces will be undertaking in future years is a new focus on Aviation Foreign International Defense or AvFID. The FID mission itself is a mission that Special Forces has focused on since its inception, a mission that usually sees 12-man ODAs training indigenous soldiers in basic infantry tasks such as marksmanship and battle drills, as well as how to carry out proper mission planning.

AvFID involves undertaking the same type of mission in host-nations by US soldiers and airmen, but instead of training Infantrymen or Counter-Terrorist units, they would be training the pilots and flight crews who fly the previously mentioned forces to their targets, help collect intelligence from the air, and conduct air strikes in support of ground forces. “For the last 18 years, the 6th SOS and its advisors deployed around the world and trained, advised, and assisted numerous countries,” writes Air Force Major Eric M. Carrano in his thesis paper.

The idea of Special Forces and the FID mission has always been that by acting early, with a light foot print, the United States can prevent conflicts before they escalate into larger matters which would require a large scale deployment of US military forces. With both fixed wing and rotary wing aviation operations being central to modern warfare, AvFID supports this endeavor.

The 2014 fiscal year budgets for an increase in AvFID spending and the 2013 Defense Appropriations bill requests nearly 98 million dollars for the procurement of non-standard aircraft for the AvFID mission, demonstrating a renewed focus on this capability. In past conflicts in the Philippines and El Salvador, AvFID played a important supporting role that aided over all US military counter-insurgency efforts.

This writer first got eyes on AvFID in Iraq during a 2009 deployment with 5th Special Forces Group. After being destroyed during the 2003 invasion, the Iraqi Air Force was slowly being re-built. In 2009 they had a handful of aging, but functional, Huey helicopters outfitted with PKM machine guns in the doors. The lead Iraqi pilot flew with and was mentored by an American pilot.

The Iraqi helicopter pilot knew his way around an aircraft already since he had been flying off and on since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980’s. He said that he liked to fly solo because he worried about his door gunners getting hurt in combat. While chain smoking cigarettes, he reached out and held the American pilot’s hand.

Joint operation between the Iraqi Air Force and US Special Operations.
Joint operation between the Iraqi Air Force and US Special Operations.

There is nothing homosexual about this in Arab culture, but it is certainly a bit awkward for American soldiers. To his credit, the American pilot didn’t flinch or miss a beat. He wasn’t just a pilot, but a AvFID expert who realized that knowing the culture and environment was as important as knowing his helicopter. [In the interest of full disclosure, this author participated in the traditional “man dance” with Iraqi SWAT team members…when in Rome.]

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The 2013 Defense Appropriations Bill asks Special Operations Command and, “Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) to continually and comprehensively validate geographic combatant commander requirements for AvFID and NSAV and to prioritize in a way that will ensure a globally persistent and effective presence that contributes to security force assistance and national security objectives.” These AvFID initiatives also include harmonizing all US military AvFID efforts as these were previously done by a mix-mash of units in an uncoordinated manner.

It should also be noted that AvFID is separate from other Special Operations aviation assets like 160th Special Operations Aviation, “Seaspray,” or other para-military aviation endeavors. AvFID is about building host nation capabilities rather then conducting actual operations.

It will be interesting to see what directions AvFID takes in the future. Our partners in places like Iraq and Mali certainly need help in building a professional Air Force that can conduct successful counter-terrorist operations, but this capability gap is one of the most vexing issues even for our highly trained SOF allies.

From Italy to Australia, operators in allied SOF units have complained about their lack of dedicated aviation assets and that what helicopters they do have available are not able to fulfill their unit’s operational requirements. 160th SOAR is a uniquely American unit, a unit much coveted by operators in Australia, Poland, Denmark, and beyond. The types of mission requirements that SOF units have which conventional aviation units cannot support range from flying at night to fast roping.

Often times operations in Afghanistan are tasked to allied SOF units like Polish GROM or Danish Jaeger Corps. However, because there are only so many 160th assets to go around, these missions sometimes have to be delayed or scrubbed. The operators from our allied nations are highly trained and can go to to toe with SEALs or Rangers but they simply do not have the dedicated aviation assets required to conduct modern Special Operations missions.

Some ideas have been pitched about creating a NATO SOF aviation unit that could support, and be on call for NATO operations. Whether or not this happens remains to be seen, but this could be a prime mission for American AvFID advisors in the coming years.