The report, first obtained by the Army Times, concerns the final quarter of Fiscal Year 2019. It reveals the following numbers of pilot shortages:
With regard to the MH-60 Black Hawk category, the 160th SOAR’s Chief Warrant Officer 3 and Chief Warrant Officer 4 slots were manned at 43 percent and 83 percent respectively. The MH-60 is the Special Operations variant of the famous UH-60 Black Hawk, which is used by the conventional aviation units of the Army.
The A/MH-6 Little Bird fleet is faring better, with manning at 73 percent and 62 percent in the CW3 and CW4 positions respectively.
Finally, the heavy-lifters of the unit, the MH-47 Chinook, is manned at 59 percent and 65 percent in the CW3 and CW4 positions respectively.
However, Lieutenant Colonel Loren Bymer, a spokesperson for the U.S. Special Operations Command, stated that “the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment is in the highest manning category. In general, our Aviation Warrant Officer population is a mature group. It will take time for the Army’s increase in aviation forces to mature into our recruiting population. We work closely with Army Aviation enterprise to address projected shortages, identify eligible recruiting populations, and retain talent.”
Almost two decades of constant combat deployments have exacted their toll on America’s tip of the spear. SOF deployments – and particularly those of high-demand units such as the 160th SOAR – are guaranteed to be intense.
However, current and former Night Stalkers who spoke to SOFREP stated that manning shortages in the cockpit are a perpetual reality in the Army’s elite aviation regiment. The heavy operational tempo of the 160th SOAR, regardless if the country is engaged in conflicts overseas, coupled with the extreme difficulty to join the unit in the first place only sustains the manning shortage.
The 160th SOAR first came to the attention of the world during Operation Gothic Serpent (also known as the Battle of Mogadishu) when two of its MH-60 Black Hawks were shot down while supporting a combined Delta Force and 75th Ranger Regiment assault force in Mogadishu, Somalia.
The unit, however, has been in existence since the early 1980s. It was created in the wake of Operation Eagle Claw, the failed attempted to rescue the American diplomats and civilians held by Iranian revolutionaries in Tehran, in 1980. The lack of coordination between the four branches of the military and the lack of a dedicated SOF helicopter unit were two of the most significant reasons for the failure of the hostage rescue operation, and consequently for the creation of the 160th SOAR.