Beyond Close Air Support: Forging a New Air-Ground Partnership

By Roberts, Lawrence R. Usmc | Air & Space Power Journal, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Beyond Close Air Support: Forging a New Air-Ground Partnership


Roberts, Lawrence R. Usmc, Air & Space Power Journal


Beyond Close Air Support: Forging a New Air-Ground Partnership by Bruce R. Pirnie et al. RAND (htf://www.rand.org/publications/index.html), 1776 Main Street, P.O. Box 2138, Santa Monica, California 90407-2138, 2005, 214 pages, $25.00 (softcover). Available free from http://www .rand.org/pubs/monographs/2005/RAND _MG301.pdf.

The US Air Force contracted with RAND's Project Air Force, a federally funded research and development center, to study and recommend ways to improve the relationship between airpower and land power. Specifically, the audiors address three questions concerning close air support and its relevance for the future battlefield: (1) How should air attack and ground maneuver be integrated? (2) How should the terminal attack control function be executed? (3) How should ground maneuver/ fires and air attack be deconflicted? To answer these questions, the audiors effectively use three case studies to formulate their observations and make recommendations for the Air Force and Army to improve dieir air-ground partnership.

The study is balanced and comprehensive, underpinned by diree assumptions. First, experiences in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan indicate an anemic air-ground partnership. Second, the Army's transformation plan correcdy recognizes the changing nature of warfare, and the Air Force agrees in principle with the plan, provided that the tenets of airpower are maintained. Third, enemy land forces (regular or irregular) constitute the critical target set. To defeat those forces, we need to improve the air-land partnership to field a more flexible and capable air-ground team that leverages each other's unique capabilities. If the reader accepts these assumptions, the study expertly reveals significant issues that both services must address through new doctrine, organization, tactics, and procedures to ensure the successful implementation of the Army's transformation plan.

By detailing recent batdefield trends, the study reveals the parochial seams that exist between the Army and Air Force, which, if not corrected, will inhibit the Army's plan. Placement and use of the fire support coordination line during Operation Iraqi Freedom represents just one example of this seam. The audiors correcdy argue for replacing this antiquated line with an area concept such as kill-box interdiction, and their description of the latter as practiced during Operation Allied Force and Iraqi Freedom apdy explains why this method of coordinating air and ground operations is superior to traditional control measures.

The authors use the Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom case stuthes to address organizational and doctrinal issues that inhibited mutually enabling air-ground operations. However, they should have delved deeper into the Iraqi Freedom case study. The air-ground architecture of I Marine Expeditionary Force's area of responsibility (AOR) demonstrated a potential way ahead for such operations. The study as written leaves readers to draw their own conclusions. In my case, I identified lack of trust as the most critical element inhibiting mutually enabling air-ground operations in V Corps' AOR. The study's description of why kill-box interdiction proved difficult there but succeeded in I Marine Expeditionary Force's AOR is compelling. …

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