Joint Close Air Support Transformed

By Bohn, Richard | Air & Space Power Journal, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Joint Close Air Support Transformed


Bohn, Richard, Air & Space Power Journal


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 battle-space 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 (CASj, 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-onforce 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.

Brief History

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. …

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