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Europe's New Carpetbaggers: The Future for NATO Special Operations Aviation

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Air War College Air University Maxwell AFB United States

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Sixty years after twelve nations pledged themselves to collective defense in the North Atlantic Treaty, an attack on one member state resulted in the formation and deployment of a response from the alliance. This was not, as envisioned, an attack by the Soviet Union on Western Europe, but a terrorist attack on the United States. The International Security Assistance Force ISAF was sent to Afghanistan in December, 2001, and now has the lead for military actions. This coalition includes special operations forces SOF from several nations, but their effectiveness is hampered by the lack of dedicated special operations aviation assets. The recent expansion from three SOF units to ten has only exacerbated the situation. To address this deficiency, this paper analyzes three courses of action NATO can maintain the status quo, it can establish a permanent SOF air wing, or it can adopt a modular concept of a centralized command and control structure augmented by affiliated air and ground SOF units comprised and based by member nations. Each of these options has advantages and disadvantages with respect to budgetary requirements both to the alliance and to individual member nations, time to implement, logistical support and military effectiveness. Given the current global economic crisis and the exigent need for special operations aviation to support ISAF in Afghanistan, this paper recommends the modular concept. By bolstering the NATO SOF Headquarters staff, one creates a strong, centralized structure to employ special operations aviation. Furthermore, by exploiting the flexibility of NATOs Security Investment Program, the alliance can more quickly modernize and train aviation units. Finally, by affiliating those units with other nations ground SOF units, the alliance would foster habitual operating relationships which could quickly be translated to special operations capability on the battlefield.

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