By Colonel Edwin J. Den Beste and Major Gary M. Servold

This article outlines some of the current trends in Close Air Support (CAS) at the National Training Center (NTC) and the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC). The USAF Air-Ground Operations School (AGOS), in response to Air-Land-Sea-Applications Center's study recommendations, collected trends, lessons learned, and observations from observer/controllers (OCs) at these Combat Training Centers (CTCs). A study team consisting of senior AGOS subject matter experts conducted on-site visits to the CTCs and hosted the ongoing CTC Quarterly Review CAS meetings to gather the current trends in CAS integration. These trends are grouped into four major areas: Liaisons, Integration, Training, and the Theater Air-Ground System.


In any military operation involving forces from different commands, successful and effective liaison between the participating units is a critical factor in mission accomplishment. The same is true between the air assets providing CAS and the U. S. Army units receiving the CAS support. There are two critical liaisons for the coordination, integration, and employment of CAS: the Air Liaison Officers (ALOs) and the Ground Liaison Officers (GLOs). A general observation from the CTCs is that commanders who incorporate and integrate the ALOs and the GLOs into their staff planning processes and activities achieve better results with CAS.

ALO: The ALO is the Air Component Commander's senior air advisor to U. S. Army commanders from corps down to battalion level. The ALO advises these commanders and staffs on the capabilities, limitations, integration, and employment of air power. Air Combat Command Regulation 55-8, Operations, The Air Control System (ADS), Air Support Operations Center (ASOC), and Tactical Air Control Parties (TACP), 4 Jan 93, outlines specific ALO functions and responsibilities inherent as the primary Air Force liaison to the U. S. Army. Bottomline, the ALO is an important cog in the U. S. Army commander's war fighting team. It comes as no surprise that units with a strong and established relationship with the ALO enjoy greater success in CAS employment. During the past year, CTC OCs witnessed situations where battalion ALOs (BALOs) met their supported unit for the first time at the CTCs just prior to the rotation beginning. This lack of prior exposure and interface with the supported commander and staff dramatically affects the close support relationship. The commander and staff lack trust and faith in this newly arrived addition to their staff. This lack of faith sometimes degrades the BALO's valuable war fighting contribution.

Regardless of when the BALO arrives, the moment he sets foot in the TOC, he is another asset to assist in the application of fire power in support of the ground commander.

LESSON: The: message from the OCs is simple. If you want to effectively employs CAS, make sure your key CAS advisor, the ALO/BALO, is part of the team and integrated into the staff: long before the start of the rotation.

GLO: Another critical liaison in the application of air power is the Ground Liaison Officer (GLO), the U. S. Army's liaison to the Air Force fighter wings. The GLO is a combat arms branch officer who serves as the information conduit between the U. S. Army and the supporting CAS unit. The GLO provides the CAS flight crews with critical ground situational awareness that enhances CAS planning and execution. The ground commander and his staff, through the GLO, reap tremendous dividends by exchanging and transferring critical battlefield information that directly impacts CAS operations.

LESSON: Units providing CAS should ensure a GLO is part of their support package from their supporting air wing. Rotational U.S. Army units should identify and use the GLO as a means of relaying critical battlefield information between the CAS requesters and the CAS suppliers.


Even with liaison elements in place, OCs witness improper and disjointed uses of CAS on the battlefield resulting from poor integration. Worst case, this lack of integration results in fratricide. Best case, the lack of integration wastes a critical asset on a low priority target. An often-heard role for CAS is, "Go out there deep, and kill anything you see." Not only is this a deviation from the doctrinal definition of CAS, but it also lacks sufficient integration and targeting details to warrant the employment of such a critical asset. It is also a dead give-away that CAS integration was an afterthought during the scheme of maneuver development. Commanders and staffs that understand the definition of CAS recognize integration as a fundamental component of CAS. CAS is "Air action by fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft against hostile targets which are in close proximity to friendly forces and which require detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of those forces (JCS Pub 1-02, DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, 23 Mar 94)." By definition, commanders and staffs have an inherent responsibility for detailed integration of CAS with the ground plan for movement (maneuver) and fires.

The maneuver commander is responsible for CAS integration. The force field artillery commander serves as the maneuver force commander's fire support coordinator (FSCOORD), performing the dual FSCOORD mission of integrating all available fire support and providing field artillery fires. Normally, the FSCOORD operates through a fire support element (FSE) that is part of the fire support cell at each U. S. Army command echelon.

The fire support cells also include liaison elements from the Air Force Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) headed by the ALO; the S3 Air; and, if Navy or Marine Corps air support is available, a brigade air and naval gunfire platoon from the air and naval gunfire liaison company (ANGLICO). U. S. Army aviation units' liaisons, electronic warfare support elements (EWSEs), mortars and other assets may be part of the FSE and fire support cell. The FSE is the central clearing house for planning, coordinating, and synchronizing CAS along with all other categories of fire on surface targets.

The fire support cell, with the FSE as its hub, is the primary staff element to assist the commander in exercising his responsibility for CAS integration. Through the fire support cell's coordination and integration, it ensures the commander receives the maximum benefit from CAS at the critical time and place on the battlefield. Through this detailed integration, the fire support cell is able to prevent CAS fratricide. In short, based on the commander's guidance, the fire support cell focuses on the who, what, where, when, and the how concerning CAS employment on the battlefield. The cell applies the Decide-Detect-Deliver (Assess) targeting methodology to determine targets and establish priorities.

LESSON: The planning process for CAS is performed concurrently with the development of the ground scheme of maneuver. Concurrent CAS planning will help prevent CAS from becoming only an add-on, separate player after completion of the plan. A quote from General Patton says it best:

"If the band played a piece first with the piccolo, then with the brass horn, then with the clarinet, and then with the trumpet, there would be a hell of a lot noise, but no music. To get harmony in the music, each instrument must support the others. To get harmony in battle, each weapon must support the others. Team play wins."


U. S. Army Doctrine: There is a variety of definitions of CAS in U. S. Army doctrine that differ from JCS Pub 1-02. FM 100-5, Operations, Jun 93, page 2-19, states: "Close air support (CAS) missions support land operations by attacking hostile targets close to friendly forces. " The discussion of CAS omits the need for detailed integration. FM 71-123, Tactics and Techniques for Combined Arms Heavy Forces: Armored Brigade, Battalion Task Force, Company Team, Sep 92, defines CAS as "air attack on hostile forces that are in close proximity to friendly forces. " It further states: "For best results while avoiding mutual interference or fratricide, aircraft are kept under 'detailed integration ' (part of the Air Force's TACAIR control system). " Most CAS definitions do not clearly address the need for detailed integration with fire and maneuver per the joint definition of CAS. What's the answer? Use the joint definition of CAS, and focus more attention on the CAS integration in our doctrine and TTPs. An update of FM 10-26, The Air-Ground Operations System, Mar 73, would also help in focusing our doctrine on the CAS integration with fires and maneuver on the battlefield.

Air Force Doctrine: Air Force Manual 1-1, Mar 92, Volume 1, Basic Aerospace Doctrine of the United States Air Force, outlines the Air Force's framework for understanding how to apply CAS. Understanding the Air Force doctrine will greatly enhance our CAS operations. This doctrine states: "Close air support is the application of aerospace forces in support of the land component commander's objectives.... Close air support produces the most focused and briefest effects of any force application mission; consequently, close air support rarely creates campaign-level effects. Although close air support is the least efficient application of aerospace forces, at times, it may be the most critical by ensuring the success and survival of surface forces. "

  • Close air support should usually be massed to apply concentrated combat power.
  • Close air support should create opportunities.
  • Close air support should be planned and controlled to reduce the risk of friendly casualties.

The often-used practice of distributing a little CAS to each unit results in piecemealing forces and is inconsistent with the doctrinal employment. Mass CAS to create a window of opportunity. This will help prevent the necessity for CAS in the survival of forces role.

LESSON: Commanders and staffs identify points and times on the battlefield where CAS is critical to the success of the mission or survival of forces. Remember, the sorties you receive are not always available at the same time. CAS, focused on the critical target, at the key point and time, integrated with the ground scheme of maneuver and fire plan, can carry the day.

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