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Conference addresses air, ground synchronization issues

by Capt. Paula Kurtz
Air Forces Central Media Operations

3/17/2008 - BAGHDAD, Iraq (AFPN) -- More than 100 coalition members met March 3 to 5 at Al-Faw Palace in Baghdad to discuss ways to better synchronize airpower with future ground operations across Iraq.

Dubbed simply the Air Synchronization Conference, the meeting brought together ground operators and planners from the Army-led Multinational Corps-Iraq and its subordinate units, as well as airpower experts from the Combined Air and Space Operations Center and the 18th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Group. Most discussion took place at the secret classification level and fell into one or more of three key focus areas: streamlining the kill chain, optimizing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or force protection.

"This was truly a joint effort...from the planning stages through to execution," said Lt. Col. Matt Isler, an air liaison officer in MNC-I Plans Division and the project officer for the conference. "We worked with the Army from the very beginning of planning and asked what they would like to see included or addressed at the conference."

Day one of the conference opened with a series of short briefings given by experts on various weapons systems. The briefings included detailed discussion of each platform's capabilities, covering everything from communications, weapons, targeting, reconnaissance and electronic jamming, to fuel capacity and loiter time in the airspace. Such a specific level of detail facilitates greater understanding between operators and planners, both in the air and on the ground.

"We needed to establish a baseline understanding of terms and capabilities before going into our breakout sessions so that everyone could talk at the same level on the issues we wanted to address," Colonel Isler said. "And it also allowed operators to bring current issues to the table for discussion -- both problems and best practices."

Once capabilities were understood, discussion and debate shifted to tactics, techniques and procedures, or TTPs, associated with specific types of missions, such as counter-improvised explosive device, counter smuggling and close air support. Whether identifying new processes or adjusting old ones, the goal lay in streamlining practices to enhance interoperability across joint-service and coalition platforms. With more than 168,000 troops in Iraq representing joint and coalition services across a myriad of career fields, it is no small task to ensure everyone is working from the same strategic plan and toward the same set of objectives.

"It was important to understand what each coalition member, service and specialized unit brought to the fight, but it was more important under the banner of this conference to determine how best to bring those capabilities together and maximize the synergy gained through crosstalk and collaboration," said Col. Peter Donnelly, the commander of the 18th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Group and host of the event.

Col. Roger Cloutier, the 3rd Infantry Division deputy chief of staff for operations, spoke to the group on day one of the conference and highlighted the ground commander's perspective by sharing a few vignettes from his time as an infantry battalion commander for Task Force 1-30 at Field Operating Base Normandy in 2005. In one example he recalled an operation in Diyala province where al Qaeda had been using several structures as attack points for coalition convoys. A plan was devised to destroy the buildings using Navy aircraft and Air Force ground controllers working in concert with U.S. Army and Iraqi army ground forces.

"It doesn't get more joint than that," Colonel Cloutier said. The ground forces "couldn't do what we need to do without the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps," he said. "You are critical to the operation, and you are saving lives."

The conference, which is held quarterly, originally evolved in June 2007 while planning for surge operations.

"At the first conference there were 12 coalition warriors from the Air Force and Army who discussed the synchronization and integration of combat airpower for our coalition soldiers on the ground," said Lt. Col. Joseph Katuzienski, the chief of strategic planning at the CAOC.

"We had more participants this time, and we were able to discuss a broader range of issues, but it's still not perfect," Colonel Isler said. "Each time we meet, we find ways to build or improve on what we have."

The meeting is now in its third iteration and interest has grown considerably. In fact, with more than 100 participants, the final day of this conference resulted in three break-out sessions where action officers tackled specific problems related to counter-IED, counter smuggling, and close-air-support missions. Findings ranged from tasks as simple as changing fuse times on specific weapons, to more complex procedural issues.

"Our ISR platforms are optimized for kinetic operations," Colonel Isler said. "How do you take that capability and figure out how to use it to build a nation?"

The Air Synchronization Conference is a step in that direction and many findings from the breakout sessions have already made their way into future plans. "We took the results and pushed them into current planning operations in the Corps," Colonel Isler said. "They should start producing results in as little as one week to two months."

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