Close Air Support And The Marine Air/Ground Team CSC SUBJECT AREA Aviation CLOSE AIR SUPPORT AND THE MARINE AIR/GROUND TEAM Submitted to Dr. Rudolph V. Wiggins In Partial Fulfullment of Requirements for Written Communications The Marine Corps Command and Staff College Quantico, Virginia Major S. D. Haley United Stated Marine Corps April 2, 1984 CLOSE AIR SUPPORT AND THE MARINE AIR/GROUND TEAM Outline Thesis sentence: In the anticipated antiair high threat environment, successful close air sup- port missions cannot be conducted with- out greatly improving current procedures and techniques. I. Introduction A. Close air support defined B. The objective of close air support II. Close Air Support as it's conducted today A. The Marine Air/Ground Team exercise B. Effects of the threat to close air support aircraft III. The Marine Corps approach A. Close air support doctrine and tactics B. Close air support techniques and procedures C. The three problem areas IV. Proposals A. Navigation aid development B. FAC team restructure and marking round development C. Need for realistic integrated training V. Conclusion A. Close air support needs to be in our arsenal B. We must not be unprepared CLOSE AIR SUPPORT AND THE MARINE AIR/GROUND TEAM Without timely, accurate intelligence and the effective use of all, repeat all, fire support assets available, even the most competent ground tactician cannot hope to defeat the highly mobile and numerically superior forces of our identified threat. As Marines, we must continually strive to understand both our likely enemy and the combat assets available to us. Additionally, we must be bold enough to identify our shortcomings while being innovative enough to correct those shortcomings identified. The purpose of this discussion is to address and resolve those questions that pertain to close air support as a productive member of the modern Marine Air/Ground Team. Any attempt to address this topic must include a short review of the mechanics of providing close air support to the ground commander. Close air support is defined by JCS Pub 1 as: Air attacks 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. The objective of close air support is to harass, neutralize, or destroy enemy ground forces that present an immediate and direct threat to friendly ground forces. Close air support must be integrated with other supporting arms so as to provide the ground commander with a variety of options needed to maintain the initiative and thus accomplish his mission with a minimum loss of life.1 The fundamental doctrine of close air support is to respond to the ground commander's requirements in a timely and effective manner. This concept places emphasis on responsiveness, lethality and integration with the ground scheme of maneuver. Responsiveness is the ability to pro- vide close air support at the time and the place required by the ground commander. This same commander must have ordnance on target when and where such ordnance is needed in order for close air support to be considered a viable member of tne air/ground team. Ideally, close air support should respond in a very short time, accurately deliver a lethal load of ordnance, do so at all times regardless of night or weather conditions, and survive in the most sophisticated air defense environ- ment. Considering the complexity and diversity of today's modern battlefield, the Marine Corps is not totally able to conduct successful close air support missions when and where the ground commander needs them. Therefore, it must be concluded that close air support, as Marines conduct it today, is not a fully productive member of our air/ground team. If the ground commander cannot rely on a high percentage of tasked close air support missions to drop a lethal load of ordnance on a specific target at a specific time, then what use is close air support to him? Many who read this article may feel that what they have just read is blasphemy. On the other hand, many will in- terpet it as being totally realistic. Consider, if you will, the most recent integrated Marine Air/Ground Team exercise that you may have observed or perhaps even been a member of. Try to recall your overall impression of close air support. Unfortunately, many of you will remember that the overall effect of close air support was less than satisfactory. Real and effective close air support is not an area weapon which is delivered at approximately the desired time. Rather it is, or should be, the delivery of lethal loads of ordnance at the time and place required by the ground commander. After reviewing the above, it would appear as if the conduct of destructive close air support missions were no longer feasible. What has transpired in recent years to make close air support so difficult? Are we, as Marines, overlooking important aspects, singly or in consort, which could in fact produce positive results in the conduct of close air support missions? The basic question that needs to be answered is "Can close air support once again be- come a viable player on the Marine Air/Ground Team?" The remainder of this discussion will be directed to analyzing these three questions and offering several recommendations, any one of which would enhance the effectiveness of Marine close air support. Collectively, these recommendations might just be instrumental in the return of a most effective member to the supporting arms inventory of our air/ground team. It should come as no surprise that the primary reason close air support has become less effective is due to the explosive increase in the threat to close air support aircraft. This threat has caused accepted doctrine and tactics to change dramatically. Enemy ground-based air defense systems consist of a variety of weapons deployed in-depth and capable of defending against airborne attack from ground level up to extreme altitudes. Not only are present day antiaircraft defense systems extremely effective, they are also highly mobile. Their mobility enables the majority of these systems to move in close proximity to enemy ground force maneuver elements. The October 1973 Arab-Israeli War provides an excellent example of the high density, sophisticated air defense environment. The Israelis quickly discovered that aircraft tactics and equipment which had been effective in previous conflicts were inadequate against the Arab antiaircraft defensive systems. Of the approximate 120 Israeli aircraft lost in this short conflict, the major losses were suffered by close air support aircraft over, or immediately adjacent to, the forward edge of the battle area. These losses were due to air defense weapon systems and not a result of air- to-air combat.2 The Israeli close air support efforts were challenged by several systems that they had not previously encountered. Specifically, the Russian made SA-2 and SA-3 antiaircraft missle systems employed in static positions and the highly mobile Russian made ZSU-23-4 antiaircraft gun and the SA-6 and SA-7 antiaircraft missile systems. The availability of these type off antiaircraft defense systems throughout the world has forced all close air support tacticians to rethink their approach to close air support operations. Marine Corps tacticians must continue to develop new tactics which will enhance the survivability of aircraft and air- crews while still performing the all important close air support function. It has become increasingly apparent that the develop- ment of aerial tactics which will effectively counter enemy antiair defense systems is a most difficult task. The majority of the worlds larger air forces consider the threat to friendly close air support aircraft so great in the high threat environment that operations can be conducted only at the risk of unacceptable aircraft losses. Their basic method of employing close air support is as an emergency supporting arm when all other resources have failed and the predicted aircraft losses are justified by the situation. In both the recent Israeli/Syrian confrontation in Lebanon and in the United Kingdom/Argentina conflict in the Falklands, almost no close air support missions were conducted. Considering the extensive air operations conducted by all four countries in these conflicts, the almost total lack of close air support could lead one to believe that this mission for aircraft is in fact in the "too hard box". Since Lt. Sanderson's first attempts at dive bombing in support of ground forces in Haiti in 1919, the Marine Corps has devoted a great deal of time, effort and talent to the very complex problem of providing the ground commander with accurate and timely close air support.3 This expend- iture of time, effort and talent must not subside. Rather, we must now develop and perfect a close air support delivery system capable of outwitting the enemies' integrated air defense systems. Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron-1, the Marine Corps Development and Education Command, and Marines throughout the Fleet Marine Forces are continually refining and revising our Corps doctrine and tactics on employment of close air support. The many Fleet Marine Force Manuals (FMFMs), Operational Handbooks (OHs), Instructional Publications (IPs) and supporting courses of instruction provide Marines with the world's most practical approach to conducting successful close air support missions under anticipated battlefield conditions. Current doctrine and tactics for close air support provide the foundation upon which general guidance is applied in Air/Ground Relationships, Command and Control, Offensive Air Support Employment, and Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses. The beauty of our doctrine and tactics is that Marines are working with Marines. We speak a common language and we are striving to achieve a common goal. Once the need for close air support has been identified, our supporting publications provide in-depth detail on how all Marines concerned should proceed until mission accomplishment. Why then, when you look downrange, is there little or no ordnance on target? The answer to this last question will not be found in either faulty doctrine or tactics, but rather in the less than perfect techniques and procedures applied to close air support. Our Corps application of close air support principles is as good as can be expected considering our present equipment and level of training. However, as previously alluded to, the conduct, and therefore the final result, of close air support missions is generally unaccept- able. The reason for this can be placed in three categories; communications, the pilot's inability to acquire the target, and training. Essentially, we need to be able to alert the pilot to a mission, guide the pilot to the target area, aid the pilot in acquiring the correct target and do so at the time it will best support the ground commander's scheme of maneuver. As stated in Marine Corps Aviation: The Early Years, 1912-1940, these are not new problems: Marine fliers found their close support efforts hindered rather than helped by their new fast aircraft. Pilots in slow-moving DH-4Bs could locate friendly and enemy posi- tions relatively easily by sight and sound, but aviators of the 30's, often riding in closed cockpits, swept across the lines too quickly to orient themselves. By the end of the decade, both ground and air Marines realized that the solutions to these problems lay in improved radio commu- nication, simplified and mutually understood systems for locating ground targets, and still more intensive joint training, but the imple- mentation of these measures remained incomplete at the outbreak of the war with Japan. The overall problem of communications is not unique to the close air support mission and has been well devel- oped and addressed in professional articles and publi- cations. However, there is one unique aspect of commu- ications associated with the conduct of close air support in a sophisticated air defense environment. Current tactics require close air support aircraft to fly a low altitude ingress to the target at very high speeds in order to enhance aircraft survivability. These aircraft will operate below line-of-sight radio communication capabilities of the forward air controller (FAC). The first time the FAC will normally talk to the mission pilot is when the aircraft "pops" to acquire the target. At this point, there is very little time to assist or direct the pilot in his attempt to locate and identify the target. The low level tactics of the pilot do not allow for lengthy conversations or major course corrections. The lack of radio communications when conduct- ing close air support can result in a failed mission which could be devastating to friendly embattled ground forces. However, communications is not the greatest limiting factor when conducting close air support missions. The pilot's inability to acquire the proper target while employing low level, high speed tactics is the major cause of unsuccessful missions. The visual acquisition of the correct target is extremeiy difficult in a "clean" training area and will only become more difficult in a "dirty" battle area. Simply stated, without the aircraft in a near perfect position at its' "pop" and without the pilot able to acquire the correct target immediately, there will not be any bombs on that target. These two factors, improper "pop" position and the pilot's inability to acquire the correct target, more than any others, limit the ability of the pilot to deliver ordnance on target. To aid the pilot in arriving at the correct "pop" position, an aircraft navigation aid (NAVAID) needs to be developed for employment within Battalion Tactical Air Control Parties (TACPs). The NAVAID developed must be compatible with present aircraft systems, TACAN or ADF; must be high powered to burn through barrage jamming and achieve long ranges; must be directional to counter direction finding and imitative deception; must be easily transportable; must offer a varied range of frequencies or channel selections; and at least two NAVAIDs must be added to the TACPs Table of Equipment (T/E). Employment of these NAVAIDs would be as depicted in figure 1. Click here to view image The NAVAIDs would be employed on high ground to increase the range at which a low level aircraft could receive the transmitted signal. The optimum placement range of 8 to 16 nm from the FEBA will allow the pilot an adequate "run-in" distance and should allow for placement of NAVAIDs in a reliable line-of-sight position. However, if placement on high ground is not possible, an extendable antenna could be included with the basic unit. The directional antenna would require a 90 beam width and a 15 beam height. The beam area proposed would ensure adequate area coverage behind the FEBA, for signal pickup by aircraft. The 90 beam width, 45 either side of a line generally perpendicular to the FEBA, would allow pilots to fly much more precisely to their "pop" point anywhere along a 16 to 32 nm front for each NAVAID employed. The proposed T/E of two NAVAIDs per battalion would allow continuous operations, the ability to echelon forward, and also provide additional options and capabilities to the TACP working for the ground commander. In application, the pilot would intercept the assigned NAVAID radial well behind the FEBA and fly that radial inbound to the assigned NAVAID. The reciprocal of the assigned radial would be the intended ground track from the NAVAID to the "pop" point. The intercept radial, the reciprocal heading, and the distance from the NAVAID to the "pop" position would be applied to the navigation of the final portion of the mission, the leg from the NAVAID to the "pop" point. The information required by the pilot to conduct this mission could easily be included in the Tactical Air Request and thereby reduce the problem of communications between the pilot and the FAC. Employing the described equipment and procedures, there is no reason not to expect a pilot to arrive within 400 meters of the desired "pop" point. Once the pilot has "popped" at the proper location, all that remains to be accomplished is to aid the pilot in acquiring the desired target. Typically, indirect fire weapons using either smoke or WP rounds are used to mark the desired target. This method of marking targets is normally effective for single stationary targets in large open areas. However, it leaves much to be desired for confined areas, moving targets, camouflaged targets, or even selecting one target from several in a general area. The fast moving, low flying pilot requires a precisely placed and easily distinguishable mark on the target. To accomplish this requirement, it will be necessary to restructure the Forward Air Control Teams. The Forward Air Controller, (FAC), needs continuous control over a direct fire weapon capable of marking targets up to 2500 meters to his front. He should also have direct control over an indirect fire weapon capable of marking targets in excess of 2500 meters. These weapons and their assigned crews need to be made a permanent part of each FAC Team in the Marine Corps. Additionally, new marking rounds need to be developed. The main battle area in the future will be extremely busy with smoke and WP rounds used in large quanities. It will be impossible for a pilot in a fast moving aircraft to dis- tinguish his assigned target. An entire new series of bright- ly colored smoke marking rounds and a high candle power ground burning flare would greatly enhance the FAC's ability to guide the pilot's eyes to the target. Remember, target acquisition is the one greatest limiting factor when con- ducting close air support operations. Regardless of whether or not a NAVAID is developed that will assist the pilot in finding the proper "pop" point and FAC Teams are equipped with the weapons and rounds to aid pilots in target acquisition, the question remains, "Will close air support regain its status as a viable member of our air/ground team?" Close air support will certainly be much closer to rejoining the team, but it still won't be the complete team player. In order to achieve full status as a team player, one must be closely associated with the other members of the team. You must not only play by the same rules, but you must exchange ideas, educate one another, and understand each other's strengths and weaknesses. On today's air/ground teams the players that should make close air support happen are not effective team members, but are instead individual specialists. Each specialist is highly capable of performing his own individual function in separate practice sessions, but when required to perform in an integrated exercise the results are somewhat lacking. These specialists quickly learn that they don't possess the knowledge or the experience to integrate their speciality with those of the other specialists. In actuality, the lack of integrated training and coordination in the close air support effort is responsible for our failure to produce the desired results of "bombs on target" when and where the ground commander wants them. Although the new equipment and types of marking rounds suggested will greatly enhance the success rate of close air support missions, the only way to achieve high success rates on the modern battlefield is by continuous, integrated train- ing. To survive in battle, the air/ground team must train the way it's going to fight. The SEAD Operations Handbook states it best: Regardless of how well doctrine and proce- dural publications are written, different inter- pretations will be made. Further, the guidance in such publications can never be complete. Only by training can the different interpretations of this handbook be identified and reconciled. And, only by training can the reader learn those subtleties of application which are commonly included under the heading of judgment and experience. We must put close air support back into the Marine Air/ Ground Teams arsenal. This requires that we plan together, work together, and train together or our doctrine and tactics will be nothing more than well written publications. The time for our Corps to start is now. We simply cannot afford to be unprepared for the outbreak of war. As it is often alluded to, the next conflict will be a come as you are affair. All of the good intentions that have not been de- veloped and/or implemented will not impress our future enemy. We advertise ourselves as a modern Marine Air/Ground Team of which close air support is an important member. Let's give this player the attention he deserves and return a much needed supporting arm to the ground commander. FOOTNOTES 1Crow, Major Myron W., USAF, The Development of Close Air Support, June 1968 2U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Reference Book 100-2, Volume 1, The 1973 Middle East War, August 1976 3Johnson, Lieutenant Colonel Edward C., USMC, Marine Corps Aviation: The Early Years 1912-1940, August 1977 BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. Crowd Major Myron W., USAF. The Development of Close Air Support, June 1968. 2. Johnson, Lieutenant Colonel Edward C., USMC. Marine Corps Aviation: The Early Years 1912- 1940, August 1977. 3. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. The 1973 Middle East War, August 1976. 4. U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Development and Education Command. Fire Support Coordination, FMFM 7-1, Quantico, 1983. 5. U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Development and Education Command. Fleet Marine Force Aviation, IP 5-7, Quantico, 1983. 6. U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Development and Education Command. Marine Aviation, FMFM 5-1, Quantico, 1979. 7. U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Development and Education Command. Marine Close Air Support CAS Handbook, OH 5-4, Quantico, 1981. 8. U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Corps Development and Education Command. SEAD Operations Handbook, OH 5-4.2, Quantico, 1984.
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