Interview with Colonel Mangum


running up that hill
Jan 3, 2007
in Wonderland, with my Alice
Aerial Warrior
Colonel Kevin W. Mangum

Commander U.S. Army 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)

Colonel Kevin W. Mangum was commissioned as a second lieutenant of armor upon graduation from the United States Military Academy in 1982. He attended the armor officer basic course at Fort Knox, Ky., followed by flight school and the UH-60 aircraft qualifications course at Fort Rucker, Ala.

Mangum has served in a variety of aviation, special operations and joint assignments. His assignments include two tours in the Republic of Korea as a section leader and as the commander of 2nd Battalion (Assault), 2nd Aviation Regiment. He also served as the Flight operations officer, company commander, and battalion S-3 in 4th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, Fort Campbell, Ky. This is Mangum’s fourth tour in the 160th (Task Force 160, the Group and the Regiment). In his previous tours spanning over ten years, he served in assignments from section leader to battalion commander. His most recent past assignments include: deputy commander, aviation tactics evaluations group, Joint Special Operations Command; senior service college fellow, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University; and commander, 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne).

His awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross and Bronze Star (with Oak Leaf Cluster), Master Aviator Badge, Parachutists Badge, and the Air Assault Badge.

Interview by SOTECH editor Jeff McKaughan.


Q: Good morning Colonel Mangum. Let’s start with an overview. With so much of the 160th deployed and OPTEMPO high, how is the 160th doing?

A: Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you about a very special group of people—Night Stalkers and their families. The 160th is doing great. We’re experiencing the most challenging and dynamic period in our 25-year history. Demand for our product, professional and surgically precise aviation support, has never been higher. Supporting and sustaining the GWOT fight is our number one priority, so we deliver that product daily, across the globe.

While we’re continuously engaged in combat operations, we balance often-competing challenges of modernizing our fleet and growing the regiment to ensure we can meet the demands we anticipate in the future. This is a lot to ask of a brigade-size organization. But, as we say, if it was easy anybody could do it. But we aren’t asking anybody to do it. We are asking Night Stalkers to do it and they are more than up to the task.

Q: Can you tell me about the Forward Presence-Expeditionary concept and how it relates to the 160th?

A: My predecessor, Colonel Andy Milani, developed the Army Special Operations Aviation [ARSOA] Forward Presence-Expeditionary [FP-X] concept based on USSOCOM’s Shape Force Implementation Plan. This plan will allow us to provide more support to more SOF more often.

The FP-X concept design includes a headquarters and headquarters company and four CONUS-based special operations aviation battalions [SOAB] to support the requirements of the growing SOF community. These SOABs will rotate forces to each combatant command area of responsibility to support presence for purpose operations. These battalions will operate within the Global SOF Posture framework on a four-cycle training calendar: internal training, interoperability training, deployment and recovery. The battalions are designed to support the two separate external command and control and maintenance nodes concurrently. We are growing the regiment to facilitate this presence for purpose rotational concept and expect approval of a new modified table of organization and equipment in the near future.

Q: What about personnel growth within the regiment? Do you expect to see additional manning for the existing structure and/or will that structure grow in the number of battalions?

A: As I mentioned earlier, we are growing—both in the number of companies and battalions as well as overall personnel strength. Our current growth plan will give us 2,850 personnel—about 200 officers, 430 warrant officers and 2,220 enlisted soldiers in support of FP-X. This is an increase of 400 personnel over our current authorizations.

We will also continue to rely on our great civilian work force of contractors and government service employees who are integral members of the Night Stalker team. They provide critical maintenance, technical, training and administrative support. We could not possibly maintain the pace of operations or our OPTEMPO without their expertise and tireless efforts.

When we have completed the current growth plan in fiscal year 2013, the regiment will be organized into four SOABs. Two of those battalions [1st and 2nd battalions] will be located at Fort Campbell, Ky., along with the regiment headquarters, the Special Operations Aviation Training Company, and our Systems Integration and Maintenance Office. Third Battalion will grow an additional MH-47G company and remain in its current location, Hunter Army Airfield, Ga., and 4th Battalion will stand up at Fort Lewis, Wash.

This past summer the lead elements of this battalion moved to Fort Lewis as a provisional battalion and we currently have 240 soldiers stationed on the West Coast. The vision for the transformation is three identically organized battalions [2nd, 3rd and 4th] to support combatant commanders under the FP-X scheme. They will be equipped with two MH-47G companies and one MH-60 company. The MH-60 company for 2nd Battalion is not currently resourced but we are hopeful we’ll gain this capability in the future.

When this transformation and growth are complete, 1st Battalion will not change a whole lot and will remain focused on its national mission. They will maintain one MH-6M, one AH-6M, and two MH-60 companies. Of course, each of these battalions will have headquarters and maintenance companies to support their missions.

Q: When you need to add manning, where do you get them from and how do you go about maturing a 160th operator?

A: We rely on our great Army to provide us the talent to then train and build Night Stalkers. Since we’re an Army at war, the experience base we are able to draw upon has never been better. Combat seasoned officers and soldiers are in abundance and the experience level of young aviation crewmembers, pilots and crewchiefs, has not been this good since Vietnam. While we focus our efforts on the Army, Active and Reserve components as well as the National Guard, we’ll take all comers if they possess the skills we are looking for. Recently, we have had a number of Marine Corps and Air Force officers express interest in transferring to the Army for [the] sole purpose of being Night Stalkers. We have a Night Stalker recruiting team from the special operation recruiting battalion that focuses their attention and resources on recruiting officers for our ranks. We also use assigned personnel, both officer and enlisted, and aviation and non-aviation military occupational specialties, to travel the country with the U.S. Army Recruiting Command recruiting team to attract the talent we need to perform our mission.

Once we have identified officers and soldiers we want to consider, we work with the Army’s Human Resources Command to assign enlisted soldiers and to assess officers for assignment. We work very hard to ensure we don’t steal good folks at the wrong time—just prior to a deployment, for example. Most of our aviators are assigned to the regiment with a solid background in tactical assignments. In the past two years, 33 percent of aviation commissioned officers and 34 percent of aviation warrant officers assigned had just completed their first assignment. In the same period, 4 percent of the aviation commissioned officers assigned and 3 percent of the aviation warrant officers assigned to the regiment were assigned directly from flight school. We have not changed our standards but are looking for the very best young aviators to help us fill our ranks. Maturing the force is a continuous process that begins upon the soldier’s arrival to the 160th. Our special operations training company [SOATC] has the responsibility of taking newly assigned personnel and teaching them basic skills they require to immediately support combat operations once they’re assigned to a unit within the regiment. To give you an idea of the importance we place on the initial training investment we put in our soldiers, SOATC taught three courses and trained 205 personnel in 1989. Today, they teach 26 separate courses and will train 920 personnel annually to meet the regiment’s growth and sustainment requirements. At any given time, SOATC has approximately 320 students assigned to them in different phases of training or in/out processing.

Enlisted soldiers go though an enlisted Green Platoon, which is designed to challenge them mentally and physically to determine if they have what it takes to be a Night Stalker. In addition, SOATC has 26 specialized courses to train soldiers on our unique equipment and modified aircraft. However, the real maturation process begins when they’re assigned to their units. Training is a never-ending process and soldiers are evaluated on their ability to consistently apply their MOS or skill identifier to the toughest of aviation standards.

Newly assigned aviators undergo comprehensive aviation training which, in addition to basic combat skills, focuses on basic and advanced mission planning and flight skills. Training includes basic navigation, aircraft qualification, deck landing qualification, and over water, mountain and desert environmental training. Aviators receive 120-140 simulator/aircraft hours while in Green Platoon and graduate as basic mission-qualified [BMQ] pilots. Our attack pilots receive additional gunnery training before they are BMQ. As BMQs, our aviators have earned their spurs to mount up and learn from the Army’s best pilots and crewmembers. There are ample learning opportunities for these new aviators in both combat and training environments.

Our Green Platoon is a proven process that we continue to modify to adapt to the new skills sets required in the regiment. The benefit of having a dedicated training company cannot be overstated. SOATC provides initial training with resources—aircraft, instructors and time—dedicated for that task. Our fighting units do not have to give up their precious resources they need for the fight. Instead, these fighting companies can focus on the crew and collective training necessary to fly the toughest missions.

Q: You currently operate the Little Bird, the MH-60s and the MH-47s—basically small, medium and large. Are there any other platforms that the 160th would like to operate that might be better sized for some of the missions you are being tasked to do?

A: I think our current fleet of aircraft is about right for the diverse missions we are called upon to perform. Each of these aircraft, small, medium and large, has a niche where they best perform. Each of our aircraft is specially equipped to execute a range of special operations missions.

When we combine these capabilities, we have the flexibility to meet most, if not all, of the needs of the SOF commanders we support. We can tailor and scale our support for various size forces for various missions. We can deliver small teams to very small areas with small aircraft, provide very flexible support with medium aircraft and support company-size—and larger—operations with the big aircraft. We seek to keep our aircraft on the cutting edge of technology and capability through an aggressive aircraft modernization program.

A critical piece of this modernization program is to reduce the logistical, sustainment and support requirements for our fleet. We are in the process of reducing the number of different series of aircraft—MH-6C, MH-6J, etc.—from 10 to three different versions of aircraft. This will also pay great benefits in training focusing on common systems on various aircraft. And we are always on the lookout for emerging technologies which will allow us to improve the capability and survivability of our aircraft or reduce the workload of our aircrews.

Q: In comparison to the overall age of the Air Force fleet, AFSOC’s fleet is high. In comparison the rest of the Army helicopter fleet, how old are your airframes in general and what are the challenges in keeping them in top shape?

A: Our aircraft are about the same age as the rest of the Army fleet. We recently fielded the MH-6M Little Bird, are about halfway through fielding the MH-47G Chinook, and are in the developmental stage for our new MH-60M Black Hawk. Our newest Little Birds and Chinooks are recapitalized airframes and not new builds. For example, our MH-47G Chinooks are converted CH-47A, C and D models from the Army which have an average of 38 years. Nineteen aircraft of our current MH-47G fleet were once original CH-47A Chinook aircraft. This mirrors the Army Chinook fleet, which is, on average, 40 years old. Something interesting to note is that our old MH-47E fleet has an average age of 32.5 years. Our MH-60M aircraft will be new build airframes, modified into a SOF-unique configuration.

The age of our helicopter fleet does pose challenges to our maintainers. Airframe cracks, particularly in our Chinooks which are historically prone to these failures, continue to challenge our mechanics. Our Black Hawk fleet also sees its share of major structural repairs and several processes have been developed internally and approved by Aviation and Missile Command to repair major airframe structures. These procedures have kept several aircraft from having to be evacuated to a depot facility for repairs. Maintaining the regiment’s SOF-unique equipment, particularly avionics and electrical equipment, keeps our aircraft electricians busy. Logistically our SOF-unique equipment adds additional challenges as many of these items are commercially procured and sometimes not readily available. And our OPTEMPO results in a large amount of scheduled and unscheduled maintenance.

Q: Following on to that. How much of your maintenance and overhaul work do you do yourself and how much do you farm out to contractors?

A: Each of our four battalions has an organic maintenance company which provides aviation unit maintenance, aviation intermediate maintenance, and limited depot-level repairs. Our first line of maintenance is an enlisted crew chief, who is assigned to an aircraft and is responsible for the day-to-day maintenance readiness of that aircraft. For work above their skill level and for major unscheduled maintenance events, their battalion’s maintenance company will assist by providing additional mechanics, or take on the task entirely to fix the aircraft.

In contrast, the maintenance company’s primary role is to complete scheduled phase maintenance events. The phase is a periodic disassembly and inspection of critical components to ensure that the aircraft is safe to continue flying. The phase event averages approximately 60 calendar days to complete and is performed in conjunction with RESET requirements that are levied on aircraft returning from combat. The maintenance companies are augmented with contractors to assist in performing phase, RESET, and back-shop component repairs. The contractor support is invaluable, especially while our soldiers continually deploy in support of GWOT requirements.

No overhaul work is accomplished within the regiment and instead is returned to the original equipment manufacturer or to Corpus Christi Army Depot for these extensive repairs. The regiment does have depot-level capability resident in our Avionics Specialized Repair Activity [SRA], manned by equipment experts and field service reps, for some of our Army and SOF-unique radios and electronic equipment. We have enjoyed great cost savings and shorter repair times by using the SRA.

Q: How involved are you and your staff in searching for new technologies. For example, do you have teams that look for innovative solutions for armor protection of the helicopters, noise cancellation, self-defense suites, improved night vision, enhanced landing aids, better target acquisition, more lethal weaponry, etc.?

A: The short answer is yes, and we have a dedicated team for this effort. Our Systems Integration and Maintenance Office [SIMO] is chartered to coordinate the regiment’s maintenance programs, integrate aircraft and systems for maximum effect, and to look over the horizon for new technologies that will continue to give Night Stalkers a pronounced advantage on the battlefield.

SIMO is comprised of active-duty military, government civilians, and contractors with a wide array of skills. It is a hybrid acquisition organization that at any given time acts as force developers, materiel developers, testers, and user representatives. SIMO works closely with the entire USSOCOM materiel development team, especially the Technology Applications Program Office, to ensure that new and proposed technologies that we identify make sense for the regiment, are cost effective, and, in some cases, can be made airworthy.

As an example, recent efforts have focused on finding better ballistic protection for our aircraft, and enhanced radio frequency detection and countermeasures. Historically, SIMO has had great success identifying new technologies, which after being battlefield tested by their fellow Night Stalkers, ultimately find their way onto many Army and DoD aircraft.

Q: You have acquired several new simulators over the past few years. Do you expect additional platforms or any significant upgrades to the existing inventory?

A: This is true. Last December, we brought the H-6M Light Assault/Attack Reconfigurable [LASAR] combat mission simulator (CMS) on-line for training at Fort Campbell. By next September, we expect to have our first MH-47G CMS ready for training to help us increase pilot throughput and reduce the tremendous cost of flight training. Additionally, we expect to receive our first MH-60L CMS in February 2008.

This simulator will reflect the modifications that we are currently performing on our legacy MH-60L fleet and will be fielded in the Defensive Armed Penetrator configuration. The regiment is also funded in FY 2012 for an MH-60M simulator.

In terms of simulator upgrades, our current MH-47E and MH-60K CMS visuals are being upgraded with Medallion-S image generators, and a study is being conducted to determine the suitability of replacing the CRT projector with a laser scanning projector for the LASAR simulator. This will provide a brighter and higher fidelity visual display while reducing maintenance costs and scheduled downtime associated with CRT displays. Additionally, work is underway to provide interoperability between our MH-47E, MH-60K and LASAR simulators to provide a joint mission rehearsal capability for our three primary airframes. The 160th is continually upgrading our simulation devices to provide 100 percent concurrency with aircraft on the flight line, and it is a challenge to keep up with the rapid changes in our fleet.

Q: Speaking of simulators, what kinds of sims do you use other than pilot/flight ops? Do you have total mission planning systems, maintenance, gunnery, etc.?

A: Yes, we use a desktop trainer [DTT] which is hosted on a PC to train aviators on the operation of cockpit avionics and systems. A multi-band radio simulation will be added to the DTT in the spring of 2007. Additionally, we are developing a PC-based mission rehearsal device that would allow Night Stalkers to virtually fly their upcoming route, with extreme realism, numerous times prior to actual mission execution.

The regiment operates a Mission Rehearsal Operations Center [MROC] to allow personnel not actively involved in a simulation exercise the ability to observe simulator training. The MROC’s observation area provides out-the-window viewing, multi-function displays, crew coordination camera displays of the MH-60K and MH-47G CMS cockpit, as well as audio communications from either cockpit. The device can be used by commanders and trainers to witness the performance of aircrews and staff and allows them to interject contingencies at will for additional training value. The MROC is also used as a debrief facility by utilizing its integrated recording and playback capabilities.

Q: A driving part of the success of the 160th are the innovative tools, and tactics, techniques and procedures that have been developed and employed. Do you keep most of that in-house or do you go out and share those experiences with the rest of the aviation community?

A: We readily share and exchange ideas and innovations with the aviation community. As Army aviators, we take pride in the number of initiatives that were born here in the regiment and were implemented, integrated or modified for use by other Army units. Some of these initiatives are quite elaborate and others are quite simple and range from high-tech materiel solutions to common-sense tactics, techniques and procedures our operators think of, document and share.

We also rely on and appreciate the innovation inherent in the rest of the Army and DoD to leverage those good ideas for our use. A few examples of contributions to Army aviation over the years include night vision systems, gunnery, and glass cockpit TTPs, an integrated cockpit, a voice and data recorder, a ballistic armor protection system, the fast rope insertion/extraction system, internal auxiliary fuel tanks, weather radar and lightening detection system, voice and altitude warning system, strap-on global positioning system, a 714 series engine for H-47 aircraft, H-47 crewmember seats, aircraft life support equipment, and Unit Level Logistics System-Aviation SCP 6.

We are also very proud of the quality leaders who depart the regiment and serve and contribute to our nation in other assignments. Night Stalkers currently serve as the commander of the USSOCOM and vice chief of staff of the Army. They also command 10 battalions, four brigades, and an Army division. Ten battalion and brigade command sergeants major came from our ranks.

Q: The name Night Stalkers really says it all but what are the skills and technologies behind making that a reality and not just a moniker?

A: We are very proud of the 160th’s contributions to our Army’s aviation NVG capability and doctrine. The heroes from TF160 who developed the equipment, tactics, techniques and procedures focused on accomplishing tough missions others wouldn’t or couldn’t accomplish. I believe that legacy lives today, 25 years since the unit officially formed.

We strive to accomplish the very toughest missions in all conditions and all environments, not just at night. While we are comfortable operating at night to enhance our survivability and tactical surprise, we must go where the enemy is. Our SOF brothers need and deserve the very best aviation support regardless of the conditions. It is both our mission and goal to provide that support, precise and on-time, no matter how tough it may be.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

A: We’ve talked a lot about our great warriors and the equipment they use. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our great families who provide so much support to our soldiers and each other. They are a vital element to our combat readiness and they truly have the tough job—waiting and worrying, holding down the home front while their loved one does the nation’s business.

I am amazed every day by what Night Stalkers—soldiers, civilians, contractors and family members—accomplish every day. They continue striving to provide a world-class aviation force and world-class support to our families.

Thanks for the opportunity to tell you a little bit about their accomplishments!

Night Stalkers Don’t Quit!
Q: Speaking of simulators, what kinds of sims do you use other than pilot/flight ops? Do you have total mission planning systems, maintenance, gunnery, etc.?

Call of Duty :D
Well CoD 4 is due to come out soon, so You will have a go :D

Can't wait to see the new MELB (MH-6M), got some infos about it:

(...) it was also one of the new ones with shock absorbing skids, a sixth rotor blade and two sets of tail rotor blades (to make up for the extra torqe of the sixth main rotor blade)...
Got a question for You guys. The Colonel sad that he has a USMC guy in training now and a Air Force guy also. So lets say I'm a Navy pilot, a helo pilot and I want to go 160th, so I have to go Army and then what ? go to Ft. Rucker etc. etc. ?