Earlier this year, the U.S. Marine Corps filed a solicitation to procure their own Russian Mi-24 Hind or Mi-17 HIP transport helicopter with one specific goal in mind: realistic preparation for a fight against Russian forces. Not just that, however, they also want a full contractor staff to support and operate the aircraft against Marines in a number of training rotations.
“The attack helicopter will act as an aggressor to interfere with the exercises forces conducting offensive, defensive and stability operations,” the document said. “This will include potential use during friendly aviation operations in order to force decision making.”
The use of “aggressor” aircraft is not uncommon, and the U.S. military has increasingly warmed to the idea of private adversary contractors serving as the notional opponents for U.S. troops as they transition away from training that focuses on counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism warfare and back toward the possibility of contending with a well equipped and technologically capable national military. There was little need to prepare for combat operations with a Russian Hind bearing down on you throughout the past two decades of the Global War on Terror, but that possibility has begun to seem increasingly possible under the current geopolitical climate.
And the Marines clearly don’t want to be caught with their pants down.
“The scope of this effort is to provide familiarization of flight characteristics, capabilities and limitations of the foreign adversary rotary-wing and propeller-driven aircraft,” according to the solicitation. “This will be accomplished by having accessibility to two foreign adversary contractor-provided aircraft that shall participate in certain exercise events as part of a realistic opposing force.”
The aggressor helicopters would be equipped with AN/ASQ-T50(V)2 tracking pods to register “hits” from Marines training against them, as well as hits registered on the Marines themselves. The contract would require no more than 40 hours of flight time during daylight training operations to be conducted at no more than five training cycles throughout the year. The solicitation also adds that a contractor that can provide these helicopters as well as “adversary fixed-wing aircraft” would be preferred, though it’s not a requirement to land the deal.
“The attack helicopter, due to its size, flight profile, firepower and defensive maneuvering capabilities, constitutes a unique threat creating a realistic, dissimilar and credible Opposing Force (OPFOR) to stress the joint forces conducting Joint Air and Missile Defense Operations,” the draft contract notice stated. That points to an interesting question: because the aggressor aircraft Marines will train against won’t carry any actual ammunition, couldn’t they simply mount the tracking pods on civilian helicopters that can approximate the flight characteristics of the Russian aircraft?
The answer is… sort of. Training against aggressor aircraft is about more than engaging an airborne opponent. It would be impossible to outfit a civilian chopper to perfectly mirror a Russian Hind’s electromagnetic, infrared, acoustic, or visual signatures — making any stand-in not quite effective for most modern sensor systems. But one of the most pertinent elements to consider is simple familiarity: Marines that have trained against the Hind will carry a great deal more confidence into battle if they come across a similar situation in a real conflict.
And that extra bit of confidence can make quite a difference for the warfighter on the ground.