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Air Support Control In Maneuver Warfare: The Direct Air Support Center Dilemma
CSC 1993
                         EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Title:   Air Support Control in Maneuver Warfare:  The
Direct Air Support Center Dilemma
Author:  Major Clifton E. Washington, United States Marine Corps
Thesis:  Does the Direct Air Support Center, as presently
equipped and employed by the Marine Corps, have the ability to
control and coordinate aircraft in maneuver warfare?
Background:   For decades many in the Marine Corps have questioned
the Direct Air Support Center's (DASC) ability to accomplish its
mission.  With the Marine Corps focus on maneuver warfare and
mobile operations, the question of reliable control of air
support looms even greater for the DASC.  The DASC, as an agency,
is a sound concept.  Its limitations are not in the functions or
tasks it performs; rather, it's in the lack of mobility and over-
the-horizon (OTH) communications.  The Marine Corps is developing
command and control (C2) systems which will solve the mobility
problem and eventually the communications problem.  The Marine
Corps must also address doctrinal changes, including the Tactical
Air Control Party mission and roles, DASC employment (Air Support
Liaison Teams), and control of aircraft in joint operations.
Considering the recent trend in drawdowns and cutbacks, the
Marine Corps solutions will achieve greater success by aligning
future programs to existing hardware/software and ensuring joint
Recommendation:  There are several solutions to the DASC dilemma.
Clearly, the most flexible and feasible at this time is the use
of an airborne C2 platform and employment of doctrinal Air
Support Liaison Teams at the regimental, or higher, fire support
coordination centers.  The Marine Corps should continue
development of mobile C2 systems and OTH communications
Thesis:  The Direct Air Support Center, as presently equipped and
employed, lacks the ability to coordinate and control air support
during sustained maneuver operations.  The solutions to this
dilemma revolve around new doctrine, higher mobility, and
reliable communications equipment for the Marine Air Command and
Control System.
       I.     Fundamentals of the Direct Air Support Center
              A.    Mission of the DASC
              B.    Role in the Marine Air-Ground Task Force
                    1.    Aviation Combat Element Support
                    2.    Ground Combat Element Support
              C.    Functions
       II.    DASC Operational Capabilities
              A.    System Employment Variety
              B.    DASC Configurations
                    1.    TSQ-155V (IDASC)
                    2.    UYQ-3A (Airborne DASC)
                    3.    MRC-110/138 (Radio Vehicles)
      III.    DASC  Employment in Operation Desert Storm
              A.    MEF-DASC
              B.    Air Support Elements
       IV.    DASC Future Requirements
              A.    Increased Mobility
              B.    Over-the-Horizon Communications
              C.    Joint Interoperability
                            by Major Clifton E. Washington, USMC
    Today's Marine Corps tactics focus on maneuver warfare
through mobile mechanized operations.  This concept requires that
all elements, including attached and supporting units, possess
essentially the same degree of mobility.  Maneuver operations are
characterized by mobile combat operations centers and fire
support coordination centers (FSCC) in LVTC-7s, LAV-C2s, or
HMMWVs which displace frequently.  The Direct Air Support Center
(DASC), as presently equipped and employed by the Marine Air
Support Squadron (MASS), lacks the mobility and communications
assets to adequately support sustained maneuver operations.
    Each MASS has the personnel, facilities, and equipment to
field one Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) DASC with the
capability to displace by echelon.  The DASC is the principal air
control agency responsible for the direction of air operations
directly supporting ground forces.  The DASC functions in a
decentralized mode under the command of the Marine Tactical Air
Command Center (TACC), the senior air agency in a Marine Air-
Ground Task Force (MAGTF).  The DASC, when feasible, will
physically collocate with the Ground Combat Element's (GCE)
senior fire support coordination center (FSCC) in order to
coordinate air missions requiring integration with ground force
supporting arms. (2:2-3)  The DASC is the focal point for
immediate air support between the GCE and Aviation Combat Element
(ACE).  To accomplish its mission, the DASC must maintain
communications with tactical air control parties (TACP), fire
support coordinators, aircraft operating in the DASC area of
responsibility, and the TACC, which is the source of MAGTF
    The DASC receives immediate air requests directly from the
lowest elements of the GCE (i.e., battalions, companies,
platoons). These units possess mostly low power radios with
limited range. Therefore, the DASC or an intermediate agency,
such as an airborne tactical air controller, must be close enough
to receive the transmission.  Though the DASC possesses high
power communications equipment in three spectrums (UHF, VHF, and
HF), UHF and VHF radio transmissions require line-of-sight
between antennas for reliable communications.
    Since 1976, the ability of the DASC to support sustained MEF-
level maneuver operations has been a concern of the Marine Corps.
There have been numerous attempts to increase mobility and
improve the communications equipment of the DASC through field
expedients and the recently fielded AN/TSQ-155V Improved Direct
Air Support Center (IDASC).  While the IDASC is mobile, it is far
from being maneuverable.*  The key to success for the DASC is
being able to communicate; therefore, siting and placement of the
facility is critical.  The DASC cannot afford to be positioned
    * For the purpose of this paper the term "mobile" means the
    ability to move while retaining the ability to fulfill the
    primary mission/functions of the agency.  The term "maneuver"
    means the movement to place units, material, or fire in a
    better location with respect to the enemy.
behind mountains in defilade or concealed in valleys.  This
limitation makes the DASC vulnerable to enemy fires but
unavoidable due to the present reliance on line-of-sight
    Each MASS possesses and employs three basic DASC facility
configurations:  the AN/TSQ-155V Improved Direct Air Support
Center; the AN/UYQ-3A Airborne Mobile Direct Air Support Central;
and the AN/MRC-110/138 radio configured vehicles.  These
facilities differ in capabilities and limitations.
    The IDASC is an expandable shelter which is transported by an
extended-bed, 5-ton truck (M927/928) and powered by a 60- or 400-
hertz generator.  It is a 17-man system employed during MEF level
operations.  The communications consoles in the IDASC must be
cabled to a second communications shelter (OE-334/TRC) which
houses the radios.  Set-up time for this two-shelter system to be
fully operational is approximately two hours.  Since this system
is not capable of operating on the move, a second identical or
like set of equipment is required in order to displace the DASC
by echelon. Based upon present equipment and personnel
limitations, a MEF-sized DASC begins to lose effectiveness if
displaced more than once every 36 to 48 hours.  The almost
continuous displacements necessary to keep up with the more
mobile FSCC during maneuver warfare would disrupt DASC operations
and degrade communications to such an extent that the DASC could
lose control of the air support situation, thus becoming
ineffective to the MAGTF.
    The UYQ-3A is a transportable communications shelter which is
configured to operate from the bed of a standard 5-ton truck
(M923/925) and powered by a 400-hertz generator.  The UYQ-3A can
also be transported and operated from a KC-130, giving the MAGTF
an airborne command and control platform.  This facility is a
seven-man system which houses its own consoles, radios, and
cryptographic equipment.  Set-up time for this system to be fully
operational is less than one hour.  Note that the UYQ-3A, though
self-contained, is not capable of operating on the move.
Therefore, like the IDASC, a second set of equipment is required
in order to displace this system by echelon.  The UYQ-3A is
normally employed in support of Marine Expeditionary Brigade-
level operations and in the airborne mode as an extension of the
MEF-level DASC during displacement or at critical phases of an
    The MRC-110/138 vehicle configured DASC facility is normally
employed at the Marine Expeditionary Unit level.  This system is
augmented with manpack portable radios to complement the radios
in the vehicle.  This capability allows the system to operate on
the move. The MRC vehicle configuration is the most flexible and
mobile, but because of insufficient high power radios the systems
range is limited. This system is also employed with the Air
Support Liaison Teams which augment lower echelon FSCCs (i.e.,
battalion, regiment).
    The doctrinal DASC displacement concept is as follows:  as
ground units move out of communications range of the primary
DASC, a secondary facility (echelon DASC) emerges to fill the
void created by time/space relationship.  This secondary
facility, whether it be an IDASC, UYQ-3A, or radio vehicles,
assumes interim control until the primary DASC displaces forward
to the new site. Once it is operational, the primary DASC
reassumes control and the secondary facility prepares for a
subsequent echelon to remain close to ground units.  In neither
case is there a DASC racing along with the FSCC, matching it
stride-for-stride.  Physical (face-to-face) collocation with the
FSCC is preferred but it is meaningless if the DASC cannot
communicate with other agencies, especially the TACC.
Collocation and coordination between the DASC and FSCC can be
maintained by radio (electronic) and still allow each agency to
function adequately.
    There are two schools of thought on how the DASC can support
sustained maneuver operations, with numerous variations to each
of these primary concepts of employment.  The first "school"
contends that in order for the DASC to support maneuver
operations, the DASC itself must be truly mobile, i.e., as mobile
as the force it supports.  If this is true, then current concepts
of employment and DASC organization and equipment are deficient.
The second "school" holds that current doctrine governing the
employment of the DASC is sound, and that the organization and
equipment of the DASC is generally adequate enough to support
maneuver operations. The problem in the second school of thought
is the GCE TACPs do not possess the required equipment and need
to develop alternate procedures to communicate
information/requests to the DASC.  Also commanders and staff
planners do not understand the doctrine governing the employment,
and/or the capabilities and limitations of the DASC.
Consequently, commanders "mis-employ" the DASC which
repeatedly results in frustration and perceived failure.
    Both schools of thought recognize inadequacies in Marine
Corps communications for effective command and control; however,
the specific problem at issue is the ability or inability of the
DASC to coordinate and control air during maneuver operations.
    Operation Desert Storm demonstrated a requirement to
establish command and control facilities which are mobile and
capable of displacing every six to eight hours while providing
continuous communications.  This requirement is a result of
maneuver forces being able to advance at rates of five to six
kilometers per hour, out-ranging organic communications
equipment.  Thus the perceived problem and dilemma of the DASC
is, in fact, both mobility and communications equipment
    The Gulf War was unique in that the MAGTF consisted of two
GCEs (1st and 2nd Marine Divisions) supported by one MEF-level
DASC employed by MASS-3.  The concept of employment for
supporting the MAGTF was to position the DASC at the I MEF FSCC
and employ Air Support Elements (radio vehicle configured "mini-
DASC") at each division FSCC.  This course of action was
supportable only by augmenting MASS-3 with equipment and
personnel from two additional air support units (MASS-1 and MASS-
6).  It should be noted that this non-doctrinal concept of
employment would not have been successful if the DASC and ASEs
had not been provided access to satellite communications.  One of
the main tasks of the ASEs was to relay air request for GCE
subordinate units too distant to communicate directly with the
DASC.  The employment of the ASEs was very successful: however,
there were still problems communicating with every TACP 100% of
the time.
    Clearly, this problem must be addressed and solutions must
keep in mind that accomplishment of the mission comes first.
There are several ways for the Marine Corps to solve this
problem.  Most solutions involve establishing new doctrine and
acquiring new equipment.  Three recommended solutions are:
    1.    Develop a down-sized DASC facility which can be
          transported on the back of a M998 (HMMWV), contains
          modular equipment, and has reliable communications
          equipment capable of joint interoperability.
    2.    Develop a doctrinal concept that employs air support
          liaison teams with FSCCs one level below the GCE
          senior FSCC (no lower than regiment).
    3.    Develop an airborne command and control system which
          can accomplish all DASC functions and tasks during
          sustained maneuver operations (24 hours per day).
    The First recommendation, developing a down-sized DASC
facility, is part of a product improvement program for the IDASC
and is currently funded for fielding.  This system, the Hybrid
Mobile Direct Air Support Central (HMDASC), will implement the
hardware and software architecture designed for the IDASC.  The
decision to develop this system using existing hardware and
software will allow the system to be fielded in a shorter time
frame.  It also allows for immediate maintenance support.  The
HMDASC will be reliable, redundant, and modular, capable of
supporting any size MAGTF, based on a regimental size, or larger,
GCE.  The HMDASC system will be housed in a vehicular-mounted
hard shelter, called a standard integrated command post (SICP)
shelter, on the back of a M998 (HMMWV), making the system highly
mobile.  An integrated communications suite of equipment (down-
sized OE-334) using the same hard shelter will also be fielded.
C3I data interfaces in the system will be compatible with other
Marine Corps systems and other U.S. military services for intra/
interoperability.  All UHF and VHF radios will be capable of
frequency hopping and automatic retransmission.
    This new system will certainly answer the mobility problem,
but until over-the-horizon (OTH) communications assets are
fielded the DASC will continue to battle line-of-sight
communications limitations.
    The second recommendation, developing doctrinal concepts to
employ air support liaison teams (ASLT), is a valid and
acceptable alternative which has been used effectively for many
years.  Adopting this concept would allow the DASC to remain in a
semi-fixed position between the GCE and ACE, maximizing use of
key terrain for reliable communications.  This concept would
require limited equipment and personnel augmentation to the MASS
table of organization or table of equipment.  The ASLTs would
operate using existing communications assets.  This concept would
provide greater mobility and flexibility for maneuvering with the
GCE.  The ASLTs should be task organized and attached to the GCE
senior air officer (AO).
    This augmentation of equipment and personnel will allow for
better integration and coordination of tactical air operations
with other supporting arms.  The ASLTs are composed of MOS 7208
(air support control officers), MOS 7242 (air support operations
operators), and MOS 25XX/28XX/59XX (communications personnel) all
originating from the MASS.  Along with performing their primary
duties, the 7208s could function as assistant AOs.  As assistant
AOs, 7208s could provide relief for the AO as watchstanders in
the FSCC.  This concept has been successfully exercised during
operations with the 1st Marine Division.  The 7208 officers are
very knowledgeable in air command and control, capabilities of
close air support, close-in fire support, and assault support
aircraft, and communications.
    This concept of placing DASC elements in the FSCC has been
around for quite some time.  The concept remains valid but,
because of cancellations of programs such as the Marine
Integrated Fire and Air Support System (MIFASS), applying the
concept has depended on command personalities.  Under this
concept, the current FSCC and DASC functions are virtually
combined into a fire and air support center.  This organization
would provide stability and continuity for the maneuver
commander.  The ASLT concept is a workable solution for DASC
employment during maneuver operations using assets available
    The third recommendation, developing an airborne C2 system,
has been staffed through the Requirements Division's C4I Branch
(WF11A) at Quantico, Virginia.  The Requirements Branch has
drafted a Mission Need Statement for the Replacement Airborne-
Mobile Direct Air Support Central (RAMDASC).  This system must be
capable of supporting MEF or larger operations when the expanse
of the battlefield and operational tempo has a detrimental effect
on line-of-sight communications.  The RAMDASC system must use the
same hardware that is used in the HMDASC.  Hardware will consist
of small, rugged computers from the Marine Corps Common Hardware
System, which is currently under development.  The communications
suite for the RAMDASC must provide four UHF, two VHF, and two HF
radios, at a minimum.  All UHF and VHF radios must be capable of
frequency hopping and automatic retransmition.  Future aircraft
developments or modifications to support the RAMDASC must be
commensurate with this requirement.
    The RAMDASC will use the same software that will be
implemented in the HMDASC.  All C3I data interfaces must be
compatible with other systems and subsystems of the Marine Corps
as well as with other U.S. military services.
    The RAMDASC concept offers a flexible solution for DASC
employment during maneuver operations.  One critical hurdle is
dedicating air assets to transport the RAMDASC for sustained
operations.  During Operation Desert Storm, KC-130 assets were
dedicated to transporting the UYQ-3A airborne DASC on a 24-hour
basis with minimal problems.  Therefore, if the requirement is
valid, air assets will be made available.  The RAMDASC system
could also be tasked to coordinate and control deep air support
missions.  The RAMDASC would equal the capabilities of the Air
Force Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center (ABCCC)
used extensively in the Gulf War.
    Much of the uniqueness of the Marine Corps is the bond
between its ground and aviation arms, because integration of
tactical air with other supporting arms is essential to the
success of the GCE mission.  The ability to reliably request,
coordinate, and control air support is critical.  The DASC is not
"broken" and it provides a viable service.  Its only dilemma is
in its employment and equipment capabilities/limitations.
Although the Marine Corps is on its way to rectifying the
numerous problems which have plagued MAGTF air control operations
for decades, the Corps may have taken too long in "getting
there."  The continued draw down in forces and cut backs in
funding are indications that time is not on the side of the
Marine Corps.  Direction must be given from the top down to
effect these needed changes today, for tomorrow may be too late!
1.    FMFM 5-1, Organization and Function of Marine Aviation.
      Headquarters United States Marine Corps, Washington D.C.:
      Government Printing Office, 27 March 1992.
2.    FMFM 5-4A, Close Air Support and Close-In Fire Support.
      Headquarters United States Marine Corps, Washington D.C.:
      Government Printing Office, 10 June 1988.
3.    FMFRP 1-11. Fleet Marine Force Organization 1992.
      Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington D.C.: Government
      Printing Office, 2 March 1992.
4.    Melton, Captain Edward L. "The DASC in a Mechanized
      Environment," Marine Corps Gazette February 82: 26-27.
5.    Stivers, Major K.H. "Using (and misusing) the DASC," Marine
      Corps Gazette May 81: 7-8.

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