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Document created: 1 March 2007
Air & Space Power Journal - Spring 2007
|Editor’s Note: PIREP is aviation shorthand for pilot report. It’s a means for one pilot to pass on current, potentially useful information to other pilots. In the same fashion, we use this department to let readers know about items of interest.|
Lt Col Richard Bohn, USAF*
The current effort by the Joint National Training Capability (JNTC), led by US Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM), to transform all aspects of joint military training focuses needed attention on joint close air support (JCAS).1 In fact, the JCAS training event in January 2004 served as the cornerstone demonstration for defining the JNTC’s initial operating capability. This training included assessment of all aspects of JCAS, such as planning, execution, command and control between all levels, synergistic effects of fires, battle damage assessment, and prevention of fratricide.2 Additionally, the US military services, including US Special Operations Command, signed a “joint close-air support memorandum of agreement” in September of 2004 that should pave the way for a single document and supporting joint doctrine to standardize the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) of JCAS.3 It is no coincidence that the military is paying so much attention to this mission area. The events spanning the short period between Operations Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom have demonstrated a rapid evolution in the way air and ground forces integrate and sequence joint air and ground fires. This article investigates how the military can most effectively integrate airpower and ground forces to optimize the shaping of the battlespace and then seamlessly shift to an effective, safe environment for JCAS operations.
A few definitions from joint doctrine will set the stage for the discussion on JCAS. Joint Publication 3-09.3, Joint Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Close Air Support (CAS), defines CAS as “air action by fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft against hostile targets that are in close proximity to friendly forces and that require detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of those forces.”4 Joint Publication 3-03, Doctrine for Joint Interdiction Operations, defines air interdiction (AI) operations as those “conducted to destroy, neutralize, or delay the enemy’s military potential before it can be brought to bear effectively against friendly forces at such distance from friendly forces that detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of friendly forces is not required.”5
The US Air Force merges AI and CAS operations under the mission area known as counterland, defined by Air Force Doctrine Document 2-1.3, Counterland, as “operations conducted to attain and maintain a desired degree of superiority over surface operations by the destruction, disrupting, delaying, diverting or other neutralization of enemy forces. The main objectives of counterland operations are to dominate the surface environment and prevent the opponent from doing the same.”6 Iraqi Freedom demonstrated the combined power of air and ground forces and the potential effect of joint synchronization on the enemy’s ability to resist in a force-on-force capacity. If we more thoroughly develop joint training, doctrine, and interservice operability in counterland and JCAS operations, then we should be able to meet the combatant commander’s airpower-supported objectives more rapidly and efficiently.
The TTPs, doctrine, training, and purpose of CAS have long remained contentious issues among US military experts because of its perception as an ancillary mission. In general, early proponents of strategic airpower very consciously tried to avoid assignment of this role to their fledgling service, preferring other roles that better justified the existence of the Air Force as a separate entity. Immediately following World War II, for instance, most Air Staff officers, including Gen Carl Spaatz, Gen Hoyt Vandenberg, and Gen Curtis LeMay did not want to provide secondary support to the Army in the form of air artillery, choosing to develop Airmen primarily for strategic-attack missions.7 The Korean War and Vietnam War presented the US military with adversaries and terrain that caused ground forces to rely heavily on CAS. During these conflicts, many Airmen in Tactical Air Command and Strategic Air Command became familiar with and proficient in CAS operations.8 Even these experiences, however, failed to produce the impetus among military leaders to increase and formalize the required level of joint training and proficiency among air and ground forces tasked with executing this critical mission.
The Cold War and, in particular, the threat of a Soviet invasion of Europe motivated the Army’s development of AirLand Battle doctrine, which integrated air and land operations (including CAS and AI as essential elements) to halt or slow the Soviet advance.9 The end of the Cold War and breakup of the Soviet Union resulted in a drastic drawdown of US forces and a diminished likelihood of having to execute this doctrine. In recent history, Desert Storm featured an extensive 38-day air operation highlighted by strategic attack, AI, and CAS, followed by only four days of ground operations. This situation limited CAS sorties, which received very little attention from either the Air Force or Army. Furthering this trend, the United States conducted Operation Allied Force, the air war over Serbia in 1999, without deployment of friendly ground forces. The absence of CAS placed this mission even lower on the Air Force’s priority list and deemphasized the necessity of conducting extensive joint air and ground training. Enduring Freedom and the global war on terrorism saw the reemergence of airpower directly controlled by ground forces to direct tactical fires against enemy supplies and forces. Finally, Iraqi Freedom relied heavily on the synchronization of air and ground power to engage and overwhelm the enemy’s ground forces.10 In contrast to Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom’s air operations did not culminate with a ground invasion since the two occurred simultaneously, requiring detailed joint command, control, and coordination of countless tactical and operational fires.
Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom demonstrated the rapidly evolving nature of the JCAS mission. Once regarded as a specialty conducted by a limited number of aircraft, it has become a critical capability requiring more weapon systems to execute. A number of factors influence the application of JCAS: technological advances in precision weapons, the changing structure of armed forces due to military-transformation efforts, the growing ability of ground forces to maneuver over large distances quickly, and the changing character of the war against terrorism.
Key factors such as technology and the precise delivery of munitions without visually identifying the target have propelled the evolution of JCAS. Integration of technology into all aspects of JCAS operations remains critical, regardless of whether forces execute fires from the air or ground. The battle for Fallujah during Iraqi Freedom in 2004 offers a perfect example. Aircraft from all services conducted the JCAS portion of the operation; they precision-guided, launched, or dropped nearly every weapon from altitudes that prevented the visual identification of targets. Standardized procedures, skillful employment of precision-guided munitions (PGM), and a clear airspace-deconfliction plan contributed to the operation’s effectiveness.11 Technology has also benefited JCAS by increasing the accuracy with which PGMs strike their targets. Such accuracy enables the use of smaller weapons to achieve the same desired effects as larger numbers of less-precise weaponry, which translates to the availability of more weapons per aircraft to strike more targets, less collateral damage, and decreased chances for fratricide.
Although PGMs have undergone significant advances, airpower has had difficulty successfully engaging moving targets on the battlefield, a situation that imposes significant limitations and unacceptable risk to friendly ground forces during JCAS operations. Technology has helped alleviate this challenge, and recent flight tests have shown how high-altitude bombers or fighters can successfully engage and destroy a moving target in support of JCAS. One test consisted of an E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft linked with a B-52H carrying multiple weapons guided by the global positioning system (GPS), with the latter aircraft successfully engaging a moving ship.12 This test demonstrated that any weapon classified as a Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) could be used in the JCAS or AI role against moving ground targets and that delivery procedures could be nearly transparent to pilots of all weapon systems carrying JDAMs. Integration and location of the JSTARS aircraft, however, would require development of additional procedures and planning considerations—clearly part of developing a concept of operations.
The joint standoff weapon (JSOW) and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) can also prove effective in a JCAS role, particularly for striking a target in near real time (five to 20 minutes from release) while facing a high-threat air defense. A GPS-guided weapon, the JSOW has a range of approximately 50 nautical miles (nm), and the optically and GPS-guided JASSM has a range of over 200 nm. Recent flight tests have illustrated the feasibility of updating the desired point of impact of en route GPS-guided weapons with respect to a moving target. During these tests, a tactical air control party (TACP) used a laser range finder in conjunction with an operational software suite to generate digital geographic coordinates and then provided them to the weapon via a Link-16 network.13 Air Force tests such as these indicate the need for common (or at least compatible) hardware and software throughout the Department of Defense (DOD) as well as standardized training and qualifications for JCAS ground controllers, including special forces and related Central Intelligence Agency operatives. Technology will not be able to eliminate what Carl von Clausewitz called the “friction” and “fog of war,” but its ability to attenuate these effects has outpaced joint training and doctrine.
In addition to advances in weapons technology, transformation in the DOD influences many operations. One can describe transformation of the US military as the process of changing the structure of its forces as well as the culture and doctrine supporting those forces. Moreover, transformation will streamline our war-fighting functions to more effectively meet the complexity of emerging threats in the new millennium.14 Thus, because transformation serves as another catalyst for the evolution of JCAS, we must analyze and actively adopt its effects in all aspects of training, doctrine, and interoperability of hardware and software systems. The Unified Command Plan of 2002 directs USJFCOM to serve as the lead command for developing ways and means of increasing joint interoperability and synergy in military-training programs. USJFCOM, which has started many initiatives that address deficiencies in joint interoperability, seems on the right track toward better joint training and rehearsal exercises, more realistic evaluation of command and control, and more thorough TTPs and planning phases. The command has also established lead-agency responsibility for the interoperability of data interfaces (i.e., can my system talk to your system?). Unfortunately, many of these initiatives will take years to become effectively implemented. Procurement, testing, and integration of hardware and software systems that enable all joint tactical air controllers to communicate consistently with aircrews—or directly with the weapons—are years away. Moreover, the current simulated and actual military-training ranges cannot effectively conduct and evaluate JCAS operations with the multitude of weapons and weapon systems now in the DOD’s inventory.15
The ability of our Marine and Army ground forces to maneuver quickly in the battlespace has also outpaced the TTPs and doctrine of JCAS and AI. Fire support coordinating measures are doctrinally inadequate to synchronize many JCAS and AI fires required by the joint force commander’s tactical and operational plans. In support of Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, US Central Command successfully developed alternate procedures to compensate for inadequate doctrine. For instance, the grid-box system—unofficially used since Allied Force in Kosovo—became procedural for air and ground forces by virtue of its inclusion in Central Command’s special instructions for Iraqi Freedom. US forces enjoy substantial advantages when they operate in darkness and bad weather. The necessity of conducting JCAS missions during these conditions also exemplifies the inadequacy of our current fire support coordinating measures when coupled with the fluidity of today’s battlespace and the speed of ground maneuver.
The global war on terrorism has also had significant effects on the role and execution of JCAS. The war rapidly shifts from special forces operations to major combat operations and back to counterinsurgent or special forces operations. The nature of this conflict dictates that our military forces remain extremely adaptable to evolving enemy tactics and strategy. Therefore, all aspects of our military power must be able to perform a variety of missions with little or no warning. This flexibility is especially true of special forces soldiers, now frequent consumers of JCAS. During Desert Storm, for instance, 30 operational detachment teams of special forces functioned independently of conventional forces. In Iraqi Freedom, however, over 100 special forces teams worked closely with conventional forces in the air and on the ground.16 As the need for special forces during air support continues to increase, the demand for qualified TACPs will exceed the number of personnel the Air Force can supply.17 Even if the Air Force could provide enough TACPs, however, these Airmen do not have the training to operate like special forces personnel.
Similarly, the military’s current exercises conducted with joint US forces have little or no integration with special forces on a large, deliberate scale. Using specialized weapon systems to perform specialized missions evidently is responsible to some extent for this lack of training. A further complication of providing air support to special forces is that such requests are generally unplanned events in reaction to enemy maneuvers. Therefore, providing focused, precise JCAS to special forces exacerbates many current shortfalls and requires even more extensive analysis of the joint training, doctrine, and interoperability challenges facing the DOD.
Tasked with conducting joint training, USJFCOM is responsible to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and combatant commanders worldwide. The JNTC—the centerpiece for joint training—currently conducts simulated and live joint-force exercises in an attempt to establish its initial operating capability. The JNTC is still developing a model for emulating combat operations at a joint operational level—a daunting task—so personnel will execute many exercises at the rudimentary or intermediate levels for the next few years.
Military forces conducting joint training and large exercises must plan and execute JCAS and AI from an operational level. If adequately planned and orchestrated by operational-level commanders and staffs, the requirement for representing all military forces, including Special Operations Command, will become apparent. Further, each service must consciously equip and train all units that will perform JCAS. If the mission receives proper development and documentation in unit training plans at the tactical level, service weapon systems and operators will also find themselves conducting operational planning and execution of JCAS and AI missions in support of ground forces during larger joint-force exercises. Realistic joint training that emulates current CAS operations will result in the refining or rewriting of doctrine to support the reality of joint combat. Finally, the military’s transformation has significantly streamlined our war-fighting functions. The development of joint doctrine must include technological advances, and such efforts must recognize the growing capabilities of many weapon systems to perform missions not thought possible only a few years ago.
*Lieutenant Colonel Bohn is an Air Force liaison officer on the Navy Staff at the Pentagon.
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1. The JNTC creates joint war-fighting conditions through a networked collection of interoperable training sites and nodes that combine personnel, doctrine, and technology to address the requirements of combatant commanders and service training. It not only will use live, virtual, and constructive training environments but also will focus on joint training, experimentation, testing, education, and mission rehearsal by linking command and control, training facilities, ranges, and simulation centers throughout the world. See House, Statement of Maj. Gen. Gordon C. Nash, USMC Commander, Joint Warfighting Center and Director for Joint Training, U.S. Joint Forces Command, before the House Armed Services Subcommittees on Readiness, Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities on the Joint National Training Capability, 108th Cong., 2d sess., 18 March 2004, http://www.jfcom.mil/newslink/storyarchive/ 2004/sp031804.htm (accessed 16 December 2004).
3. Sandra I. Erwin, “Services Sign Off on Common Procedures for Close-Air Support,” National Defense 89, no. 612 (November 2004): 33, http://www.nationaldefense magazine.org/issues/2004/Nov/CloseAir.htm.
4. Joint Publication 3-09.3, Joint Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Close Air Support (CAS), 3 September 2003 (incorporating change 1, 2 September 2005), I-1, http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/new_pubs/jp3_09_3ch1.pdf.
5. Joint Publication 3-03, Doctrine for Joint Interdiction Operations, 10 April 1997, II-4, http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/new_pubs/jp3_03.pdf.
6. Air Force Doctrine Document 2-1.3, Counterland, 27 August 1999, 92, https://www.doctrine.af.mil/afdc privateweb/AFDD_Page_HTML/Doctrine_Docs/afdd 2-1-3.pdf.
7. Gen Carl Spaatz and Gen Hoyt Vandenberg, air chiefs of staff, encouraged the service to focus on developing an atomic strike force of intercontinental bombers. Strategic Air Command would prove critical to winning the next war, envisioned as a nuclear war against the Soviet Union. See John Darrell Sherwood, Officers in Flight Suits: The Story of American Air Force Fighter Pilots in the Korean War (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 169.
8. Walter J. Boyne, Beyond the Wild Blue: A History of the United States Air Force, 1947–1997 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997), 56–59, 154.
9. Lt Col Phil M. Haun, “Direct Attack—A Counterland Mission,” Air and Space Power Journal 17, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 13, http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/apj/apj03/sum03/sum03.pdf.
10. CAPT Scott Jasper and Maj Michael Binney, “Joint Close Air Support Training Transformation,” Marine Corps Gazette 88, no. 5 (May 2004): 71–73, http://proquest.umi .com/pqdweb?index=11&did=635778041&SrchMode=3&sid=1&Fmt=6&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1155574859&clientId=417&aid=1.
11. Journalist 1st Class (SW) Christopher E. Tucker, “CVW-17 Supports Coalition Ground Forces in Fallujah,” Navy NewsStand, 22 November 2004, http://www.news .navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=16032 (accessed 1 February 2005).
12. TSgt Tonya Keebaugh, “Resultant Fury Successful Thanks to ‘Test’ Airmen,” Air Force Print News Today, 14 December 2004, http://www.af.mil/news/story_print.asp ?storyID=123009411 (accessed 30 January 2006).
13. Link 16 is a tactical data link that enables secure, jam-resistant communications between properly equipped platforms and weapons. See Kyle A. Swope, “Link-16/Seeker Flight Demonstration,” https://jcas.eglin.af.mil/Protected/reportsbriefs/0412FlightTestWhitepaper.pdf (accessed 30 January 2005), 1.
14. “What Is Transformation?” United States Joint Forces Command, http://www.jfcom.mil/about/transform .html (accessed 16 December 2004).
15. Jasper and Binney, “Joint Close Air Support,” 74–77.
16. Adm E. P. Giambastiani, “Remarks for Industry Symposium 2004,” United States Joint Forces Command, 17 March 2004, http://www.jfcom.mil/newslink/story archive/2004/sp031704.htm (accessed 16 December 2004).
17. Christian M. Karsner, “The Integration of Special Forces into U.S. Air Force Counterland Operations,” Special Warfare 16, no. 1 (April 2003): 3, http://www.find articles.com/p/articles/mi_m0HZY/is_1_16/ai_108148692.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University
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