October 04, 2022

How to Improve Your Pickup Aviation Advising Game

By Tobias Switzer and Jonathan Magill

The United States failed in its attempts to build air forces in Iraq and Afghanistan for numerous reasons. Chief among these was policymakers’ excessive ambition: they failed to consider what the US military services could plausibly deliver and what Iraqi and Afghan air forces could realistically absorb. The provision of ill-suited F-16s to the Iraqis, for example, and UH-60s to the Afghans led to a loss of lives, time, and money. And the US military utilized aviation advisors in an ineffective ad hoc approach that we can best describe as an amateur pickup game—random, inexperienced personnel working together briefly before rotating out.

Imagine walking into a park to see a soccer game. One team is made of pickup players wearing a hodgepodge of uniforms and confused by the game and each other. The team members communicate poorly, resulting in confusion and fouls. Slowly, they learn and improve, but just as things start to go well, they step off the field and walk out of the park. Replacements appear from seemingly every direction to fill the vacancies on the soccer field. With the rookies, the team’s performance slips back to where it started. The new players make the same mistakes and learn the same hard lessons as their predecessors.

The best solution for a successful large-scale air advising mission is for the Air Force to organize, train, and equip a standing advisor wing with regionally aligned squadrons that build partnerships and capabilities in support of combatant command priorities.

This example illustrates the shortcomings of aviation advising in Iraq and Afghanistan. There, aviation advisor missions were staffed with a collection of individual augmentees drawn from the joint and coalition forces based on rank and duty qualifications, but inexperienced in the advising mission. And with few exceptions, aviation advisors rarely returned to the mission after leaving the theater. In effect, advisor missions were forced to continually climb the learning curve only to slide back down when advisors departed en masse with their hard-won knowledge and experience. This approach was ill-suited for a mission that required contextualized learning over the long term.

Read the full story from Modern War Institute.

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