Let's All Get On Board With CAS
SUBJECT AREA - General
Title: Let's All Get On Board With CAS
Author: Major E. E. Shoults, United States Marine Corps
Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Thesis: The reoccurring technical and tactical problems associated with
CAS can be corrected through a joint effort encompassing
historical analysis and a cooperative effort.
Background: The history of CAS since World War I has been marked by
tragedy--lives lost, unduly protracted conflict, and victory deferred--because
both air and ground officers have too often failed to benefit as they might
from history. (1:535) Past conflicts validate the demand for CAS. The mission
will always be complex because of competing technologies used in defense and
offense, along with the demand for night and bad weather capability.
Unfortunately, the historical record suggests forces, staffs, and equipment will
not be ready in the future. It indicates a failure to develop the necessary
doctrines of CAS properly to pass on the tactics and techniques, the
procedures, and indeed the attitudes found essential to support ground forces
by Navy, USMC, and USAF aviation. This lack of readiness has, and will, result
in the needless loss of lives owing to fratricide and/or the inability of aircraft
to get bombs "on target, on time."
Recommendation: It is time for a doctrinal focus shift by the air power
enthusiasts. Doctrine is the key to maintaining our warfighting edge over our
opponents. To be understood, doctrine must be kept active by a regular and
repetitious training program. Doctrine rests on experience, but there is
always the danger of viewing experience too narrowly and drawing the wrong
inferences from it. (1:548) Once a rational appraisal has been done of the
decisive impact that CAS has on the total war effort, then the many problems
with training, terminal control, and technology associated with CAS execution
will be quickly identified and corrected through a joint effort.
Thesis: The reoccurring technical and tactical problems associated with CAS
can be corrected through a joint effort encompassing historical analysis and a
I. Historical Perspectives on CAS
A. Early Military Experiences and Conclusions
B. World War 1 Experiences and Conclusions
C. World War 2 Experiences and Conclusions
D. Korea Experiences and Conclusions
E. Vietnam Experiences and Conclusions
F. Desert Storm Experiences and Conclusions
II. Changes Required for Proper Air Power Focus
A. Develop Flexible Joint Doctrine
B. Re-evaluate Training Priorities
C. Train Terminal Control Specialists
D. Solve Technology Problems with Joint Effort
LET'S ALL GET ON BOARD WITH CAS
In the military it is commonplace that interallied and interservice
operations pose serious difficulties in execution. Differences in equipment, in
doctrine, in attitude and outlook stemming from contrasting past experiences
all inhibit harmonious interaction. In no area of interservice operations has
this problem been more pronounced than in the matter of Close Air
Support(CAS). The reoccurring technical and tactical problems associated
with CAS can be corrected through a joint effort encompassing historical
analysis and a cooperative effort. Prior to addressing the execution
deficiencies in CAS, the basic doctrinal premises must be altered by the air
power advocates. Then the problems associated with joint air doctrine, joint
training, terminal control, and interoperable equipment will receive proper
attention and priority. The historical record shows that forces fail to
accomplish missions and Servicemen die because of lack of cooperation and
doctrinal regard. (4:84)
With each new conflict, campaign planners determine the employment
and allocation of available air assets. Without the luxury of an unlimited
supply of aircraft, mission planners must, and do, prioritize the available
sorties. Historically and doctrinally, strategic interdiction takes precedence
over CAS. As the result of the Key West Agreement of 1943, and reiterated in
FM 100-20(Command and Employment of Air Power), the first priority is to
gain the necessary degree of air superiority. The second mission is to interdict
hostile movement into theater. The last task is to participate in the battle area
to the immediate front of the ground forces. This precedence immediately
relegates direct aviation support to the ground forces to the tertiary,
peripheral position in the air component commander's overall planning
The USAF, the primary aviation service, holds to the conviction that the
strategic deep mission is the only viable use of air power. Massive strikes
against the center of gravity and lines of communication of the enemy are the
decisive events of the conflict. CAS will always be unwanted by the USAF.
The job will not be given to the Army lest it create a rival air arm; and it
will not be embraced because it relinquishes the central control of air power.
(2:35) During peacetime, this narrow focus results in the channeling of
resources, equipment, and training to support the strategic mission. Each
conflict highlights the fact that the services are not prepared to conduct CAS.
Prior to 1914 military leaders were chiefly interested in air power
because of the enhanced possibilities it offered in observation and
reconnaissance. Well before the outbreak of WW I, both military and civilian
leaders spoke of a combat role for the airplane. In 1893 Count Zeppelin told the
German Chief of Staff that his airship was capable of attacking fortifications
and troop concentrations. The air-to-ground offensive potential of the
airplane was tested in several small wars before WW I. Aerial bombing in
support of ground operations was introduced during the Italo-Turkish war of
1911-1912. There was also bombing in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913. In those
wars such action was random, and often at the initiative of the individual
The years before WW I saw practical efforts to make the airplane
effective weapons as France, Britain, Germany, and Italy mounted bombs and
machine-guns on aircraft. In the US, the Army's Signal Corps conducted
flight tests to perfect a bombsight and to use machine-guns against ground
targets. As a result of these and other experiments, by the time war came to
Europe in 1914, the airplane had been demonstrated in the US as a valuable
In the first part of WW I, military aviation's only officially recognized
function was to serve as the eyes of the army. By October 1914, officials began
to encourage the offensive use of aircraft. It was over the Western Front that
air power reached its most sophisticated level of development. The early
bombing plane served chiefly as an extension of artillery well behind the
enemy front. Early command relationships between air and ground forces
came largely from the need for air reconnaissance and artillery spotting. As
air power developed and adapted itself to position warfare, its organization
became more elaborate. More centralized control accorded well with the
mobility of air units and facilitated rapid and massive concentration at critical
times and points in a battle.
The first attempts at liaison on the battlefield were plagued by a number
of difficulties, most of them stemming from the ground troops' hesitation to
use signaling devices. As early as April 1916, the French Army issued an
unified set of instructions defining techniques of air-infantry cooperation.
The British, and eventually the Americans, borrowed the French system. The
most ambitious effort in CAS was the German Schlachtstaffeln of 1918. The
German techniques of air concentration at decisive points contrasted
markedly with the British small patrols roving freely in search of targets. The
Schlachtstaffeln were controlled by infantry corps commanders, who were in
the best position to decide their disposition.
At the end of WW I, air support aircraft had 2 categories of targets:
objectives along the enemy's frontal positions, and a whole range of targets
extending 20 miles and more beyond the front. A considerable body of opinion
held that the chief contribution of aircraft should be objectives beyond the
front Enemy reinforcements moving up in column were more visible and
vulnerable than were front line troops in fortifications. Additionally,
objectives behind the front tended to be less defended.
By the time of the Armistice, CAS yielded a number of lessons, many of
which reappeared 20 years later. First of all, aircraft had a significant effect
on the morale of troops in battle. Each soldier felt that enemy aircraft
attacked him personally. The emphasis on psychological rather than physical
damage to the enemy slowed the development of weapons especially suitable to
ground attack. As time went on, the purely emotional reaction to aircraft over
the battlefield tended to decline. Towards the end of the war, both sides had
developed and used antiaircraft guns along the front. As a result of this
changing nature of aerial warfare, CAS became more hazardous and less
successful towards the end of the war. Experiments in centralized command
encountered opposition in the ground forces. As a rule, air staffs tended to see
the benefits of centralized control, while army staffs tended to focus on the
shortcomings. This fundamental difference of opinion would remain one of
the key problems to be resolved in the subsequent history of CAS.
In the years between the World Wars, exchanges between air and
ground leaders tended to be negative in tone. Such conflict was dramatized by
the celebrated "Billy Mitchell Affair." This lack of harmony had a serious
effect on the evolution of CAS. With no common interest in resolving the
problems inherent in ground support, little effort was expended on joint
exercises or on the formulation of doctrine. Another consideration that helps
explain the lack of emphasis on tactical aviation is the preoccupation with
strategic bombing. This rationale left aviation ill-prepared to support the
ground forces at the outbreak of WW II.
When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, the German
Luftwaffe had the most effective CAS system of any of the great powers. Even
so, their system was a recent creation based on very limited combat
experience. For the other belligerents, even less prepared, the first
campaigns posed enormous problems. The basic reason for these early
problems is most air forces entered the conflict armed with doctrine, planes,
and pilots untested in battle.
The Luftwaffe's doctrinal manual, The Conduct of the Air War, showed a
ready grasp of the political and strategic complexities of 20th century warfare.
The document was explicit that the Luftwaffe should aid the Reich's ground
forces. Most German officers seem to have felt that the lives of aircrew and
ground troops, and the successful completion of military operations, was more
important than the narrow concerns of their own service. (1:104) However,
the impression created by this doctrine was that CAS is subsidiary to missions
such as interdiction, air superiority, and strategic bombing. CAS did not
necessarily represent the best employment of air power, but it was a mission
that could render significant help to the ground forces.
In the years before the US entered WW II, the major mission of Army
Air Corps(AAC) was the support of ground forces. However, in the 1930s, the
AAC became preoccupied with strategic bombing. By 1941, the US was
committed to strategic bombing. The plan for conducting the air war, Air War
Plans Division Plan Number 1(AWPD-1), emphasized strategic bombing of the
German homeland to achieve victory. In virtually all the joint air-to-ground
maneuvers during 1940, the AAC seemed incapable of undertaking ground
support missions. By the end of 1941, it had become clear that the AAC
conducted operations according to its own concept of air power, without
regard for the needs of ground forces. It remained the doctrine to not attack
targets within the range of friendly artillery. After the Tunisian Campaign,
FM 100-20, Command and Employment of Air Power, was published in 1943.
This manual set the priority for air employment: air superiority, interdiction,
followed by CAS. The manual shaped the way the AAC employed its tactical air
forces for the remainder of the war. This manual was the product of
personalities and experiences gained in Tunisia and the Western Desert by the
Allied air forces.
By the spring of 1944 in the Italian campaign, allied CAS had matured to
the point where command and control, ground FACs, aircraft and armament,
and air-land doctrine required only refinement. The most significant change
was the change made in the air control process. At its heart was a well-defined
procedure for command and control, which was governed by a requirement
for extensive air-to-ground cooperation at all levels. As the tactical air
command and control was regularized, FAC techniques became routine. The
most widely known technique, Rover, was developed at this time. Additionally,
during this period an optimum aircraft arrived in Europe for CAS, the P47D
Thunderbolt. The CAS system advanced in the area of air-land doctrine as well.
Land forces requested air strikes on specific targets, but air commanders
controlled the aircraft. The noteworthy aspect of air operations in the
Mediterranean was that the air forces in this theater pioneered tactical
operations, establishing methods and principles that were of value in all the
theaters of war. (1:225)
The campaign in France presented CAS aviation with the challenge of
performing a variety of operations. The mixed record of CAS in the early
weeks of the campaign raised questions of how effective the training program
had been before D-Day. There were not many large scale regimental or
divisional exercises with aircraft. General Bradley claims in his memoirs that
the US Army and the AAC assaulted Normandy unprepared for effective CAS
because of this lack of training.
Operation Dragoon, the US and French landing in the south of France in
1944, introduced the Mediterranean system of CAS into the European theater.
CAS helped maintain the momentum of the Allied advance. Almost all officers
interviewed after the war agreed that visible CAS raised the morale of the
troops. CAS also contributed greatly to the reduction of enemy artillery fire.
German sources also provide a useful evaluation of CAS. The preponderance of
the German evidence points to the damaging effects of Allied CAS on their
On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the AAC
in the Pacific had no experience with CAS. In fact, the term CAS had no
official existence. CAS was not to be defined completely until after the war
ended. The infant AAC accepted the tactical task of winning air superiority
without question. Once accomplished, however, AAC leaders argued that
interdiction of supplies, reinforcements, and LOCs should take priority over
CAS. The most important factor affecting AAC's disregard of and distaste for
CAS was the development of the doctrine of strategic bombing. Influenced by
Douhet, Trenchard, and Mitchell, many AAC officers became convinced that
strategic bombing would become the decisive element of the war. The War
Department was convinced that the AAC officers opposed CAS primarily
because they feared that it would bring about control of air units by ground
Luzon, January 1945, would see the most extensive CAS in the Pacific.
For the landing, no fewer than 18 escort carriers were assigned to support 2
corps of infantry. In addition, 13 fast carriers provided indirect support
against enemy airfields. Plans for CAS following the amphibious phase were
elaborate. Approximately 85 percent of the sorties flown over Luzon supported
ground forces. The use of FACs to direct CAS was very common during the
Certain conclusions emerge from the Pacific experience with CAS
operations. Air superiority was an absolute requirement. The attitude of the
air commander was a major factor in determining how much CAS the ground
forces would receive. (1:331) Target identification was a major problem in
the 1940s. There was no single complete solution to this target identification
problem. Marking targets with smoke was overall the most effective means.
By 1944 FACs began to talk aircraft onto targets. Air power doctrine never
gave operational control of aircraft to the ground commanders. CAS
procedures used in WW II never threatened the integrity of AAC command.
When the Air Force(USAF) became an independent service in 1947, the
principles and procedures of FM 31-35 were the basis for tactical air support to
the Army. A series of disappointing joint tactical air exercises in 1947-1950
caused both USAF and Army leaders to call for a revision of this manual. The
major defects came from the performance of the air control system. The
doctrinal effort to correct these deficiencies was published in 1950 as the
Joint Training Directive for Air-Ground Operations. However, neither the USAF
nor the Army accepted it as service policy. The USAF felt the guidance
endangered its control of mission priorities. The Army thought the directive
failed to give ground commanders any real power over tactical air support. With
the outbreak of the Korean War, the Army did not expect integrated CAS, and the
USAF did not intend to deliver it except under certain controlled conditions.
At the beginning of the Korean War, there was confusion, frustration,
and inefficiency amongst the aviation services. Three American air
organizations flew tactical offensive air operations for United Nations
Command(UNC) forces in Korea: the USAFs Far East Air Forces(FEAF), the 1st
Marine Air Wing(MAW), and the USN Seventh Fleet Task Force 77(TF 77). These
aviation forces had differing views on the relative contribution to ground
operations of interdiction strikes and CAS missions. These differences were
based in doctrine, organization, training, equipment, and tactical techniques.
The interservice disputes sometimes obscured the overall contributions of UNC
air operations to the conduct of the war. It took 6 months for the UNC air
operations to show a good degree of coordination. These first 6 months also
focused attention upon the differences in USAF and USMC CAS operations, and
sparked a serious interservice controversy.
The Navy-Marine Corps system for both air requests and air direction
stressed rapid response and decentralized management of CAS sorties. This
system did not involve extensive participation of intervening headquarters.
The USAF had analyzed this system during the roles and missions controversy
of the 1940s. The USAF argued that the Navy system was appropriate for the
assault phase of amphibious operations, but that CAS should not substitute for
In 1951 1st MAW came under control of the USAF Joint Operation
Center(JOC). The USAF's precedence of interdiction over CAS caused heated
debates between Marine and USAF leaders. Throughout 1951, ground
commanders voiced strong criticism over the lack of responsive provided by
the USAF JOC system. Delay times for CAS strikes averaged nearly 2 hours. By
the time of the Inchon landing, US Army leaders were vocal and unrestrained
champions of Marine CAS. The USAF system was openly criticized by General
MacArthur's staff. The Army Chief of Staff filed a formal criticism of CAS
operations with the USAF Chief of Staff. After inquiries, it was determined that
the doctrine in FM 31-35 was sound. The basic problem was that the USAF and
Army had not yet provided trained staffs, control agencies, and
communications systems necessary to make the doctrine work. The 1st Marine
Division withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir tested the Marine CAS system
and found it fully justified in the most demanding of extended ground
Until the end of the war the weight of the air effort remained
interdiction operations. During 1952 only 13 percent of the USAF sorties were
CAS. This number reflected the doubts that the USAF had of the effectiveness
of CAS against the Communists' heavily fortified front with strong antiaircraft
concentrations. By the time the war ended in Korea, the organizations and
procedures developed to provide CAS, while still less than ideal, nonetheless
achieved a high degree of effectiveness. UNC's air success stemmed from the
characteristics of the opposing air and ground forces. The UNC established air
superiority early in the war. The North Korean Air Force had fewer than 200
combat aircraft. Moreover, the mechanized/motorized divisions of the North
Korean Army made excellent targets for air attack. LOCs provided relatively
defenseless targets. UNC ground forces' weaknesses in artillery forced air
units to concentrate on CAS.
After the armistice of July 27, 1953, the major participants in UNC's CAS
operations sent representatives to USAF headquarters in Seoul to examine the
lessons of the war. This Air-Ground Operations Conference discussed all
aspects of CAS, from training to equipment. Army, Navy, and USMC
representatives proposed changes to the air request and air control system.
The air request system had to be decentralized and simplified, especially for
emergency missions. The USAF, while admitting the analysis was accurate,
refused to endorse any deviation from existing doctrine. At the heart of USAF
opposition to any change remained its commitment to interdiction as the
principal instrument of air war. The conference concluded with no joint
doctrine for air-ground operations. The USAF in Korea clung to its traditional
concepts, directing most of its resources to an often costly strategic bombing
campaign against an enemy that presented precious few appropriate targets.
The Korean War might have afforded the USAF some useful hints for
future limited wars. For example, interdiction failed because the Chinese and
Koreans were less dependent on their supply lines than Western armies, and
were extremely clever in sustaining supply lines in spite of the bombing.
USAF commitment to interdiction in Korea weakened the potential
contribution of CAS. This aggressive policy of an USAF-controlled JOC and
centralized control of air power permeated the doctrine, training, and
leadership of the services prior to US involvement in Vietnam. The
predominance of this thinking demonstrated that the USAF had missed the
political-military lessons of the first limited war of the Cold War era. (13:13)
In the aftermath of the Korean War, American strategists tailored the
armed forces to meet an all-out nuclear exchange. During the era of "Massive
Retaliation," the unbeatable combination of air power and nuclear weapons
had, according to Commander of SAC General Curtis E. LeMay, "ended forever
the era of protracted wars like Korea; in future wars, the decision would be
reached in the first few days." (13:9) General LeMay was particularly
vehement in opposing what he regarded as the artificial and dangerous
division of US air power into tactical and strategic aviation. In particular, he
objected to tying down a substantial portion of USAF aviation in support of
surface forces. The USAF did little about tactical aviation until the early
1960s. The careful attention required to develop limited conventional warfare
and counterinsurgency doctrine, especially with regard to CAS, lapsed in the
all-encompassing strategy of nuclear deterrence. In the early 1960s, the Army
and the USAF struggled to reach some accommodation concerning CAS.
When US forces went into action in Southeast Asia, the USAF found itself
once more unprepared to provide adequate CAS to the ground forces. It seemed
as if a new generation of leaders with little knowledge of the past was going to
fight over the same issues. An official USAF air warfare board clearly
identified the difficulty as a failure to develop sound doctrine. On the eve of
the US buildup in Vietnam, joint Army-USAF doctrine on CAS was nonexistent.
The USAF and the NCA entered the Vietnam war confident in the belief that
superior US military technology could solve any strategic problem. (13:13)
The USAF fell victim to the unswerving commitment of its leadership to the
doctrine of strategic bombing. In North Vietnam there were few strategic
targets. North Vietnam was clearly neither WW II Germany nor Japan. In
1962, the Army set up a Tactical Mobility Requirements Board to examine
aviation support issues. Among other things, the board recommended that
commanders of field armies possess operational control over their air support.
Within 1 month, the USAF created the Tactical Air Support Requirements Board
to address the Army's findings. The USAF board advocated a joint concept
wherein all aviation would remain under control of the USAF.
Faced with differing views, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara
ordered a joint Army-USAF examination of CAS. Despite some agreement on a
few issues, the joint group could not reach an accord either on command and
control issues or the type of aircraft used for CAS. The Army wanted
decentralized control. The USAF insisted on centralized control of all aviation
assets. Until the US ground troop buildup in 1965, problems continued to
hamper the delivery of timely and effective CAS. One USAF study found that
the response time for CAS requests prior to 1965 averaged 90 minutes, and that
only one half of all requests were met. Weaknesses in CAS included
cumbersome control procedures. Additionally, American aircraft were ill-
suited to fight an extended conventional war. Few American strike aircraft
could bomb in bad weather or at night.
In April 1965, the Army and USAF Chiefs of Staff signed a Concept for
Improved Joint Air-Ground Coordination. The Agreement formalized
procedures for the apportionment and allocation of tactical air resources. The
USAF agreed to assume responsibility for the required communications
equipment and to provide FACs to Army battalions. By 1966, the Tactical Air
Control system provided for planning, coordinating, directly, and controlling
tactical air operations. In 1968, General Westmoreland implemented the USAF
as the single manager of all air operations. The Army, Navy, and USMC all
took exception to this new policy. The USAF felt that an air component
commander should have the flexibility to adjust air resources among the
tactical arena of counter air, interdiction, and CAS. This shift to the single
air manager system caused controversy at the highest levels.
At the heart of obtaining an effective CAS system in Vietnam was the
FAC. The FAC advised the ground unit commanders on tactical air operations,
had to be familiar with all required communication for CAS, and controlled air
strikes near friendly positions. By 1970, more than 800 FACs were operating
in Vietnam. The search for an aircraft for the FAC mission led inevitably to
question the development of a specially designed FAC aircraft. The special
conditions existing in Vietnam served to intensify the debate over developing
an aircraft solely for CAS. Eventually the OV-10 Bronco proved ideally suited
for the task.
Some of the specific procedures and tactics associated with CAS
operations helped change the conduct of the war in Vietnam. The
development of the TAC system, evolution of the gunship, and the arming of
the FAC aircraft accelerated the response time to air requests. In addition,
the development of flare operations assisted in night CAS. However, these
procedures, tactics, and doctrine for the employment of CAS fueled debate over
the proper use of air power long after the Vietnam war was over. (1:445)
The next major employment of air power was Desert Storm. The air
campaign was planned by BGEN John Warden. He employed his concept of
"concentric circles," first targeting the inner most circle: NCA, C3I
capabilities, and air defense networks. Only later were the outer rings of the
military forces in transit or at the front targeted by air power. US Central
Command air component commander's plan for the air campaign in support of
Desert Storm was remarkably similar to the concepts, objectives, and details
articulated in AWPD-1. (4:86) A concentric ring theory of national structure,
relative value of targets, national vulnerabilities, and vital centers of
gravity was used to count, organize, and prioritize targets. BGEN Warden did
depart from air power orthodoxy in his recognition that the air campaign can,
and should, be tailored to the realities of the situation: the nature of the
enemy, the political and military objectives at stake, and the capability of US
The USAF, with the preponderance of air assets in theater, assumed the
role as the Joint Force Air Component Commander(JFACC). Joint aviation
doctrine, which is a restatement of USAF doctrine, set the employment priority
for all aviation assets in theater. This doctrine of centralized control and
execution allows for maximum control but minimal flexibility. This lack of
flexibility works to the detriment of responsive CAS. The USMC's approach of
decentralized execution allows for quick and decisive employment of air
power. The USMC's focus on air support in proximity to Marine ground forces
engaged with the enemy, is what differentiates the Marine air power
perspective from that of the USAF. (6:70) This doctrinal divergence between
the services resulted in the USMC having to create workarounds during Desert
Storm in order to provide CAS.
During Desert Storm, a Joint Targeting Coordination Board(JTCB)
coordinated component target requirements. Then a list of priority targets
was developed for inclusion into the daily ATO. Without joint direction, the
ground commanders soon felt voiceless in the overall targeting process, since
from their perspective air operations were concentrated on strategic targets
without an appropriate weight of effort against ground targets. The allocation
of CAS resources was also an issue, as it has been since WW II. In Desert Storm,
there was a general excess of sorties available. As a result the JFACC never had
to address problems over priorities. However, priorities should be situation
dependent, not doctrinally defined. To hold otherwise is to prematurely
foreclose options that can accomplish the mission at a lower cost in ground
Conflict arose between the JFACC and MARCENT as to how to manage
airspace lying beyond the FSCL. JFACC and USAF doctrine view the FSCL as a
restrictive control measure. All aircraft and ordnance used beyond the FSCL
must be coordinated and approved by the JFACC. In contrast, the Army and
the USMC both view activities beyond the FSCL as nonrestrictive. Resolution
of this issue and standardization of joint air control procedures are critically
important in maintaining the responsiveness of Marine air. (6:71)
One of the most significant USMC criticisms of the JFACC in Desert
Shield/Storm was that the JFACC was reluctant to shift phases of the war from
strategic targeting to battlefield preparation. The effect of an interdiction
strike is indirect, delayed, and long-range, and thus difficult to measure
against the losses and frustrations of the ground commander. (1:538) Another
JFACC issue that drew criticism was the unresponsive nature of the AT0
process that drove Coalition air operations. Because of the inability to change
or add missions to the ATO, MARCENT ACE developed what came to be known as
workarounds. Third MAW wrote generic strike packages into the schedule
rather than target-specific packages, all in an attempt to retain flexibility.
Fixed-wing CAS in the Persian Gulf took a lot of improvising in
command, control, communications, tactics, and tasking to make it work.
There were services differences and command, control, and communications
difficulties that were never tested by a coherent, capable, determined enemy
response. Those who design the air forces and concepts for the 21st century
will succeed only to the extent that they understand that Desert Storm as
paradigm could prove as intellectually pernicious as did Korea and Vietnam as
anomalies. (13:19) Targeting and control were much improved by Joint
STARS and ABCCC, but neither system was designed to provide precise control
of CAS. (6:68) Acquiring targets from fast jets in combat was as much of a
problem in Desert Storm as it had been in previous conflicts. In practice, it
turned out that most societies, even Iraq, can withstand much greater
punishment than the air power enthusiasts thought. One clear lesson of
Desert Storm is that while air power provided the technical capability to
bypass the castles, sooner or later you have to engage the enemy's army on
the ground. (13:17)
As a result of the deep interdiction campaign in Desert Storm, myopic
air enthusiasts have even suggested that strategic air power alone is the
dominant force in all wars. To allocate the limited aviation assets to press the
deep battle, at the expense of CAS, works well as long as the enemy keeps his
forces and equipment massed in large concentrations. If he keeps his combat
power operationally dispersed until arrival on the battlefront, deep
interdiction will have minimal effect on the enemy's ability to bring
formidable forces to the tactical arena. Moreover, if the opponent has no
sophisticated C3 capability, then deep strikes will find few targets that merit
the expense or effort. Korea and Vietnam are 2 examples of this lack of
lucrative strategic targets.
With historical reflection, all the services will realize that CAS is a
viable, necessary, and cost-effective application of air power. To perform CAS
requires centralized control and decentralized execution. The preferred
method of control of air power is dependent upon the mission that is assigned
to the aviation element. Once the fundamental importance of centralized
control of air assets is understood by both air and ground officers, then the
solution lies in perfecting the organization and procedures. The tragedy has
been that each time the services have constructed a solution, the system has
been abandoned and largely forgotten as soon as the conflict is over. (1:535)
With a firm doctrinal understanding, the JFACC will realize that this flexible
execution does not result in the loss of command and control over the theater
air assets. Once air superiority is achieved, the strategic deep and close
battle will receive equal shares of the total air campaign effort. Joint air
power doctrine will encompass the historical reality of the necessity for CAS.
Once the doctrinal focus is redirected, then the finer points of CAS execution
will be solved in an atmosphere of cooperative effort.
Corresponding to the de-emphasis on the necessity for CAS, comes the
resultant lack of interest on training and equipment. The USMC devotes less
than 5 percent of the fixed-wing training sorties to CAS. The other services
devote even less of the available training time to this mission. It is a rare
occurrence to have joint and/or combined CAS training. Even in peacetime,
CAS is a challenging and demanding mission. Add in night and bad weather,
and CAS can task saturate even the most experienced aviator. Only through
constant training can a pilot be relied upon to perform effective CAS. This
lack of training emphasis is somewhat unsettling for a ground commander
who is trusting lives to the ability of the CAS aircraft to deliver ordnance in
proximity to his position.
A re-evaluation of aviation training priorities across the services will
result in more emphasis on conducting joint CAS exercises. The USAF or USN
can support Marines during Combined Arms Exercises. The Marines can
provide CAS to a USAF, USN, or USA operation. More joint CAS training will
result in more effective air power employment in the joint future. Joint air-
to-air training has been conducted for years. It is time that air-to-ground
training receives the same emphasis and priority.
The Forward Air Controller(FAC), the terminal controller, is a vital link
in the effectiveness of CAS. This FAC is an aviator with varying degrees of
experience and expertise in the control of CAS aircraft. With the confusion of
battle, the FAC has limited time to influence the impact and decisiveness of the
hits on target. This coordination and timing takes repeated training between
the target marking agency, the FAC, and the CAS aircraft. Too often CAS is
ineffective due to a breakdown in communication, coordination, or
proficiency. A Marine FAC knows little of the capabilities and requirements
of other service aircraft to conduct joint CAS. Each service has its own
training program to designate an individual as a FAC. This training is service
and aircraft specific, with little joint interaction. A solution to this
disparity is to establish a joint combined arms controller school. With equal
emphasis on all DOD aircraft, as well as artillery and naval gunfire, this
school will produce joint terminal controllers. Combining the individual
service schools will save on training costs. Additionally, a joint school will
ensure standardization in knowledge and tactical employment of fire power. This
joint training program will ensure future FACs are capable of controlling all
aircraft in the dynamic CAS mission.
Presently, all the services take an aviator out of the cockpit for 1 to 2
years to perform as a FAC. This tasking includes both helicopter and jet pilots.
After a short training program, with minimal actual CAS control, the aviator is
designated a FAC. For a jet pilot trained to the CAS mission, this is usually a
smooth transition. For the helicopter pilot, this new environment can be
confusing and overwhelming. By the time he feels comfortable as a FAC, he is
heading back to the cockpit. The rationale that only an aviator can be a FAC is
based upon the premise that he is familiar with the mission. CAS is a
demanding mission that takes proficiency from both the pilot and the FAC.
A more viable system is to train non-aviators as a Joint Combined Arms
Controller(JCAC). As a primary MOS, this JCAC would be able to devote all his
time and energy to become a naval gunfire, artillery, and CAS terminal control
expert. Remaining in the specialty will allow the JCAC to gain years of
experience and expertise across the field of combined arms employment. This
fire support controller would be a targeting expert, able to quickly assess what
supporting fire needs to be employed on a particular target. The British
practice in WW II of using Army officers, rather than pilots, as FACs was
highly successful. Additionally, this system was successfully demonstrated
with artillery officers as Aerial Observers in the OV-10 aircraft.
With high regularity, command, control, and communications(C3) is the
direct cause of the breakdown in the delivery of effective fire support.
Emphasis on joint training, combined with JCAC expertise on the ground, will
quickly identify and correct any shortfalls using a cost sharing cooperative
effort. All the services will have a common interest in solving the joint fire
support employment problem. Any joint employment communication
deficiency will get priority in the DOD budget. The task of those who must
prepare the nation for a future war is a matter of matching the characteristics
of the planes selected for CAS to the environment by the prevailing level of
technology in aircraft. (1:547) The battlefield grows in lethality, depth, and
tempo. The attack jet aircraft characterized by speed, range, and flexibility
has not seen its last CAS mission. (3:41) However, a CAS aircraft is expensive.
A fixed-wing CAS aircraft that can cope with the threat, accomplish
the mission with accuracy in adverse weather or darkness, and has
the communications, navigation, and pilot workload-reducing sys-
tems necessary to rapidly and flexibility integrate into the battle is
the most expensive fighter one can buy. (3:35)
As Alfred A. Cunningham stated, "The only excuse for aviation in any
service is its usefulness in assisting troops on the ground to successfully
carry out their operations." (6:66) No one would argue the top priority for
aviation is to gain and maintain air superiority. This allows freedom of action
for the ground commander, while impeding the enemy's actions. Deep interdiction
is also important, if the enemy concentrates his forces and equipment in the
rear area prior to battle. Joint operations will normally have an USAF JFACC
to coordinate the overall employment of the air combat arm. Doctrinally, the
USAF relegates CAS to the tertiary position in the competition for limited
assets. This approach to air power employment has a direct and detrimental
impact on training emphasis and equipment procurement.
The history of CAS since World War I has been marked by tragedy--lives
lost, unduly protracted conflict, and victory deferred--because both air and
ground officers have too often failed to benefit as they might from history.
(1:535) Past conflicts validate the demand for CAS. The mission will always be
complex because of competing technologies used in defense and offense, along
with the demand for night and bad weather capability. Unfortunately, the
historical record suggests forces, staffs, and equipment will not be ready in
the future. It indicates a failure to develop the necessary doctrines of CAS
properly to pass on the tactics and techniques, the procedures, and indeed the
attitudes found essential to support ground forces by Navy, USMC, and USAF
aviation. This lack of readiness has, and will, result in the needless loss of
lives owing to fratricide and/or the inability of aircraft to get bombs "on
target, on time."
It is time for a doctrinal focus shift by the air power enthusiasts.
Doctrine is the key to maintaining our warfighting edge over our opponents.
To be understood, doctrine must be kept active by a regular and repetitious
training program. Doctrine rests on experience, but there is always the
danger of viewing experience too narrowly and drawing the wrong
inferences from it. (1:548) Once a rational appraisal has been done of the
decisive impact that CAS has on the total war effort, then the many problems
with training, terminal control, and technology associated with CAS execution
will be quickly identified and corrected through a joint effort.
1. Cooling, Benjamin F., Editor, Case Studies in the Development of
Close Air Support, 0ffice of Air Force History, USAF,
Washington, DC 1990.
2. Davis, Dale R., "CAS Revisited: Doctrine, Tactics, and Technology."
Marine Corps Gazette October 90: 34-36.
3. Garrett, Thomas, "CAS: Which Way Do We Go?" Parameters
December 90: 29-43.
4. Hastings, Eric E., Book Review, "Case Studies in the Development
of Close Air Support." Marine Corps Gazette March 92: 84-
5. "Marine Air: There When Needed." Naval Institute Proceedings
November 91: 63.
6. Motz, Dwight R., "JFACC: The Joint Air Control Cold War
Continues." Marine Corps Gazette January 93: 65-71.
7. Schmidt, John W. and Williams, Charles L, "Disjointed or Joint
Targeting?" Marine Corps Gazette September 92: 67-71.
8. Smith, Peter C., Cas, An Illustrated History, 1914 to the Present.
Orion Books, New York, 1990.
9. "Strategic Air War in the Gulf: Conflicting Views." Aviation
Week and Space Technology January 27, 92: 61-65.
10. Sweetman, Bill, "CAS, Fighters High, Helicopters Low."
International Defense Review November 92: 1077-1081.
11. US Marine Corps, Marine Corps Combat Development Command.
Letter: 3000/WF 12E, The joint Force Component
Commander and Command and Control of Marine Air-
Ground Task Force Aviation, Quantico, 1989.
12. Werrell, Kenneth P., "Air War Victorious: The Gulf War versus
Vietnam." Parameters Summer 1992: 41-54.
13. Zienke, Caroline F., "Promises Fulfilled? The Prophets of Air
Power and Desert Storm." Institute for Defense Analyses
January 92: 1-19.
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list