DASC: The Proper Tool For The Job?
Major Rolf W. Sandbakken, USMC
SUBJECT AREA Aviation
Title: DASC: THE PROPER TOOL FOR THE JOB?
Thesis: The role of the Direct Air Support Center in coordinating aircraft
employment is vital, but placing that function in the Aviation Combat
Element precludes the proper employment of all the supporting arms of the
Marine Air-Ground Task Force.
Issue. Currently the Marine Corps does not have a single, complete fire
support coordination agency. Responsibility for the employment and
integration of supporting arms is split between the Fire Support
Coordination Center (FSCC) and the Direct Air Support Center (DASC). This
division between these two agencies ensures that neither one fills the
requirement for true fire support coordination. The function of a fire
support coordination agency is to provide the ground commander the means
for the complete planning, coordinating, and controlling all his available
fire support. As the system exists today, the commander is unable to
achieve this. The DASC, as a separate agency, not only needlessly duplicates
many of the functions of the FSCC, but prevents the commander from gaining
total integration of supporting arms. With the Marine Corps embrace of
maneuver warfare, the necessity for the focused application of firepower -
fire support coordination - becomes infinitely more important. To achieve
an advantage in relative speed and to control the tempo, a fire support
coordination agency must be fully responsive to the commander, his intent
and the rapidly changing battlefield. The ability to concentrate and
integrate fires whenever and wherever desired allows smaller forces to
maneuver freely and drive the enemy to a point where he can no longer
function as a cohesive fighting force.
Conclusion. To achieve true fire support coordination and the integration of
all supporting arms, the Marine Corps must abandon the concept of the DASC.
The role which the DASC fulfills needs to be placed within the FSCC so that
the ground commander can have the ability to control and employ all the
supporting arms which he has been given.
DASC: THE PROPER TOOL FOR THE JOB?
Thesis Statement. The role of the Direct Air Support Center in coordinating
aircraft employment is vital, but placing that function in the Aviation
Combat Element precludes the proper employment of all the supporting arms
of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force.
A. Unique ability to coordinate fires
B. Dangers of duplication and overlapping responsibilities
C. Need for single, complete fire control agency
D. Two fire control agencies
II. Fire Support Coordination and Maneuver Warfare
A. The importance of tempo
B. Firepower to allow Movement
C. Focusing firepower to fight smart
III. The Current Relationship
A. Division of responsibility
B. The role of the FSCC
1. An advisory and coordinating agency
2. Principle functions
C. The role of the DASC
1. An air control agency
2. Principle functions
D. Problems of the current relationship
1. Overlapping of responsibilities
2. Differing views of the FSCC
3. Physical versus electronic collocation
4. The overburdened FAC
5. The importance of information exchange
6. Manpower questions
IV. An Alternate Solution
A. Will the Marine Corps institute changes
B. Characteristics of an improved system
1. All coordination in the FSCC
2. Self-contained from planning to execution
3. Reduced communications and confusion
4. Information exchange is the key
DASC: THE PROPER TOOL FOR THE JOB?
The Marine Corps' uniqueness is due to innumerable factors. When
viewed as a total military force, the power which most often comes to mind
is its' integral air component. In actuality, the Marine Corps' major strength
is the ability of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) to totally
integrate and coordinate the shock and firepower of its' ground and air
elements. To plan and direct this focused application of combat power in
the execution of the MAGTF's mission requires "centralized command and
decentralized control". Inherent in this concept is the absolute necessity
for the efficient use of manpower, resources, and time.
Duplication of effort in coordination and execution is not only
inefficient, but deadly. While the overlapping of some responsibilities can
provide redundancy and a series of checks and balances, agencies with large
overlapping functions tend to generate disorder and chaos. With the
confusion which will already exist on the battlefield, the last thing the
MAGTF commander needs is institutionally generated "fog" and "friction".
The MAGTF commander is totally responsible for his command:
. . .this is especially true regarding the planning and coordination
of supporting arms fires . . . Success on the battlefield may be
directly linked with the efficient, coordinated employment of
supporting arms . . . This coordination must be accomplished
without adversely affecting the rapid delivery of fire essential to
support tactical operations.1
1 MCDEC, USMC, Fire Support Coordination, FMFM 7-1 (Quantico, 1981),
pp. 1-2, 2-1.
Small and austere, the Marine Corps can afford neither to squander its'
resources on duplication, nor allow responsibility for fire support
coordination to be indiscriminently piecemealed out to agencies based
solely on parochial concerns. FMFM 1, Warfighting is succinct and to the
point, "In order to maximize combat power, we must use all the available
resources to best advantage. To do so, we must follow a doctrine of
combined arms. Combined arms is the full integration of arms. . ."2 In
order to provide this full integration of all supporting arms, one single
agency within the MAGTF must be fielded which can provide complete fire
Doctrinally, the Marine Corps is working with a system under which
there are two independent fire support agencies, the Fire Support
Coordination Center (FSCC) and the Direct Air Support Center (DASC). While
a close relationship exists between the FSCC and the DASC, the FSCC is the
only agency in which personnel and equipment ". . .to plan and coordinate
air, artillery, and naval gunfire (NGF) support are centralized."3 The role
of the Direct Air Support Center in coordinating aircraft employment is
vital, but placing that function in the Aviation Combat Element precludes
the proper employment of all the supporting arms of the Marine Air-Ground
With the adoption of maneuver warfare, the Marine Corps has an even
greater need for fire support coordination. While not the purpose of this
treatise to delve into the philosophy of maneuver warfare, a few points
2 HQMC, USMC, Warfighting, FMFM 1 (Washington, D.C., 1989), p. 75.
3 USMC, Fire Support Coordination, FMFM 7-1, p. 3-1. (Emphasis
must be discussed. One of the basic premises of maneuver style warfare is
the need to control tempo or relative speed. To quote FMFM 1, Warfighting
again, "Tempo itself is a weapon - often the most important."4 For the
MAGTF "The ultimate measure of command and control effectiveness is
whether [our] force functions more effectively and quickly than the
enemy."5 When we can control the tempo, by movement in space and time,
we begin to shatter the enemy's moral cohesion.
Besides movement, the other essential component of combat is
firepower. A reliance on firepower may seem to be more in the style of
attrition warfare than maneuver warfare:
But in reality, one cannot exist without the other, for fire and
movement are complementary and mutually dependent. It is
movement that allows us to bring our fires to bear on the enemy
just as it is the protection of fires that allows us to move in the
face of the enemy. It is through movement that we exploit the
effects of fires while it is the destructive force of fire that adds
menace to our movements.6
Firepower without control is futile, meaningless and unproductive to the
commander. To be effective, firepower must be massed and integrated with
movement, while " . . . the suppressive effects of firepower are essential to
our ability to maneuver. . . We [must be able] concentrate fires and forces at
decisive points to destroy enemy elements when the opportunity presents
4 USMC, Warfighting, FMFM 1, p. 29.
5 MCDEC, USMC, The Marine Air-Ground Task Force, OH 2 (Quantico,
1987), p. 4-2.
6 USMC, Warfighting FMFM 1, P. 27.
itself and when it fits our larger purpose."7
The de facto admission that we may be outmanned and outgunned puts a
premium on fighting smart. In fighting smart:
. . . the aim is not an unfocused application of firepower. . . Rather,
it is the selective application of firepower in support of
maneuver to contribute to the enemy's shock and moral disruption.
. . [It] is the full integration of arms in such a way that in order to
counteract one, the enemy must make himself more vulnerable to
another. We [must] pose the enemy not just with a problem, but
with a dilemma - a no-win situation.8
In order to place the enemy in this no-win situation, we must place the
employment and coordination of all supporting arms under the control of one
agency. Only in this way can the synergistic effects of fire and movement
The current system for coordination and employment of supporting
arms revolves around two separate and independent agencies - the FSCC and
the DASC. Neither of these agencies are able to act as a supporting arms
integration center by themselves. Although there is an air officer within
the FSCC who plans and integrates air operations with artillery and NGF to
support ground forces, it is the DASC which is charged with the conduct of
air operations in direct support of ground forces. Thus, the MAGTF's ability
to achieve true fire support coordination is dependent upon the coordination
of two agencies. This redundancy in labor and responsibilities for direct air
support operations makes the interface between the FSCC and the DASC the
7 Ibid, p. 59.
8 Ibid, pp. 59-60 and 75.
critical, and weak, link in the integration of air support with other
The FSCC does not exercise command, or perform the actual control or
direction of fire missions. Rather, it is an advisory and coordinating agency
working under the supervision of the operations section of the ground
combat element (GCE). Within the FSCC there are supporting arms
representatives for artillery, naval gunfire, and air to ensure the proper
employment and integration of all arms with the scheme of maneuver.10
The principle function of the FSCC is to provide the commander
assistance in planning, coordinating, and controlling his available fire
support. The FSCC and its supporting arms representatives accomplish this
Providing the commander with advice and recommendations to ensure
the most effective employment of supporting arms.
Facilitating coordinated fire support planning by consolidating fire
support requirements from subordinate units.
Assigning targets to the appropriate supporting arm and integrating
fires with tactical operations.
Resolving fire support conflicts arising during planning and execution
9 MAWTS 1, USMC, MACCS Agencies: Functions and Major Equipment
(Student Handout) (Yuma, 1989), p. 3.
10 USMC, Fire Support Coordination, 7-1, pp. 3-1,2.
Responding to reports and requesting supporting arms to attack high
Disseminating warnings, invoking restrictive fire plans including
limitations on trajectories, and promulgating instructions involving
Coordinating the simultaneous use of different supporting arms.
Synchronizing fires to support maneuver elements.
Supervising the execution of supporting arms fires.11
The DASC is the air control agency responsible for the conduct of air
operations directly supporting ground forces. The DASC coordinates the
distribution of air assets assigned by the Tactical Air Command Center
(TACC) for allocation to close air support (CAS), close-in fire support
(CIFS), and assault support. The DASC is the subordinate agency to the TACC
that provides the decentralized control of tactical air operations.12
The principle functions of the DASC are providing the means for
processing air support requests, coordinating aircraft employment with
other supporting arms, and controlling aircraft within the operating area.
The DASC accomplishes these functions by:
Receiving and coordinating ground requests for preplanned and
immediate direct air support.
11 Ibid, p. 4-1.
12 MCDEC, USMC, Marine Aviation, 5-1 (Quantico, 1979), p. 53.
Adjusting preplanned schedules, and diverting airborne assets in
accordance with the priorities of the GCE commander.
Coordinating the execution of air support missions with other
supporting arms through the FSCC to ensure aircraft safety and
Refering all supporting arms conflicts to the FSCC for resolution.
Providing a point of contact for ground units and aircraft to resolve
conflicting priorities and the coordination of efforts.
Serving as the GCE's point of contact to ensure direct air support
Reporting to the FSCC Air Officer all pertinent information received
from aircraft performing direct air support missions.
Assigning control of aircraft to appropriate terminal control agencies.
Assigning general approach and retirement routes for aircraft.
Recording, monitoring, and displaying information on the state of direct
air support missions and advising the FSCC and TACC.13
Although an air control agency the DASC, under certain circumstances, may
perform other coordination functions by:
Requesting that the FSCC implement an airspace coordination area or
13 Ibid, pp. 54-55.
describe trajectory limitations over the target area when friendy
aircraft are endangered by artillery or naval gunfire.
Making recommendations concerning other fire support coordination
measures as they relate to air support.
Requesting that suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) fires be
planned and provided by the fire support representatives in the FSCC
using artillery and naval gunfire.14
From the above description of the roles and functions of the FSCC and
DASC, two major points are clear. First, it is readily apparent that there is
a large overlap in the responsibility for the employment and integration of
direct air support. While " . . . the primary responsibility for planning and
coordinating fire support is in the GCE . . . "15, the DASC as a seperate
agency performs many of the same functions as the FSCC - both receive and
coordinate requests for fire support, resolve conflicts in fire support
requirements, and deconflict air from other supporting arms. But by
doctrine and design:
. . . only the GCE has a FSCC. The FSCC is the single agency in the
MAGTF with sufficient target analysis and communications
capability to plan fires, perform targeting, integrate fires with
maneuver, and accomplish coordination with minimal delay.16
14 USMC, Fire Support Coordination, FMFM 7-1, p. 4-9.
15 USMC, The Marine Air-Ground Task Force, OH 2, p. 5-9.
16 Ibid, pp. 5-9,10.
A clue as to the possible reason for the redundancy in functions may be
found in the differing views of the FSCC. While FMFM 6-1, Marine Division
The FSCC is the installation in which are centralized the
necessary communication facilities and supporting arms personnel
to coordinate air, naval gunfire (NGF), and artillery execution and
FMFM 5-1, Marine Aviation offers the following:
. . . FSCC's are the commander's agencies tasked to stay abreast of
the supporting arms effort and to perform the necessary
coordination. They are the only agencies which combine the
communications and personnel needed to plan, receive, process,
implement, and forward information concerning artillery, air, and
naval gunfire activity.18
A subtle distinction exists between these two definitions. The ground
definition emphasises the FSCC's ability to coordinate execution while the
aviation definition implies that the FSCC is an information conduit which
performs only necessary coordination.
Second, whereas the FSCC with its' Air Officer is an agency of the GCE
and operates within the Combat Operations Center, the DASC as an air
agency is divorced from immediate and intimate knowledge of the GCE's
concept of operations. All the publications state that the DASC should be
collocated with the senior FSCC, FMFM 5-1, Marine Aviation going so far as
to say " . . . both agencies, where possible, should be collocated in the same
17 MCDEC, USMC, Marine Division, FMFM 6-1 (Quantico, 1978), p. 15.
18 USMC, Marine Aviation, FMFM 5-1, p. 213.
operating facility."19 Over time this physical collocation has subtly
changed into "electronic collocation". With radio the only means of
information exchange the DASC lacks knowledge of the rapidly changing
situation and thus is unable to correctly allocate close air support, assign
helicopter routes, coordinate air support with other supporting arms, or
divert aircraft in accordance with the priorities of the GCE commander.
The current air/ground command and control interface is shown in
Figure 1. The heavy coordination (and communication) requirements
between the FSCC and DASC and their various subordinates is immediately
apparent. While the FSCC and the DASC may be able to overcome these
hurdles, the ultimate user - the battalion forward air controller (FAC) - has
the most difficult time. The FAC, as a member of the GCE, works with the
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19 USMC, Marine Aviation, FMFM 5-1, p. 53.
FSCC and the DASC. He requests immediate air support through the DASC
(with the FSCC listening), requests preplanned air support through the FSCC,
coordinates other supporting arms through the FSCC (DASC not informed),
while trying to integrate the whole with the ground operation.
The figure also points out clearly that the DASC is the hub of the air
support process and interactions among the supported ground units and the
TACC, with the FSCC and FAC as the other participants in the process. This
places the supported ground unit commander, who requests and/or approves
all air missions in his area and who is ultimately responsible for the
integration of air with ground fire and maneuver, in a difficult position. The
commander, who has the complete responsibility to ensure fire support
coordination and who has the best agency to ensure this coordination (FSCC),
is dependent upon another agency which is not under his control.
There are other problems with fire support coordination as it is
currently practiced. The DASC can only provide procedural control of direct
air support missions. This means that the DASC "sees" aircraft with its'
radios. While this may not be a severe limitation in itself, when combined
with the necessity of the DASC to have the complete, accurate, and current
status of all the ground maneuver elements and other supporting arms
activities it becomes a major problem. To overcome this handicap the DASC
must maintain a constant dialog with the FSCC, physically or electronically,
to allow air support to respond to the ground commander's needs, permit
proper coordination with all supporting arms, and assure aircraft safety and
noninterference with other fires.
Lastly, an area which will take on increasing importance in the future,
manpower. Whereas the number of personnel within the FSCC and DASC
individually are insignificant, they are a duplication of manpower we can ill
afford. At the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) level, both the FSCC and
DASC are manned from existing Tables of Organization. While not a function
of this paper, a restructuring of both division and wing organizations would
be necessary to determine exact savings to be gained in manpower. A one-
for-one reduction might not be possible, but it is clear that certain
redundant personnel could be eliminated.
With the aforementioned deficiencies, why does the Marine Corps
perform fire support coordination under this split system? Nothing in the
literature explains the origin of the current configuration. The bottom line
is whether the Marine Corps will continue to operate with the system we
have today, or institute radical changes to improve and centralize the
integration and coordination of supporting arms into one agency.
While not specifically admitting the need to eliminate the DASC and
place its' functions with all other fire support coordination functions in the
FSCC, the Marine Corps has recognized the possibility that the future may
bring changes. FMFRP 14-5, Marine Air Command and Control System
Operational Concept (MACCS 2000) acknowledges that "A significant
redefinition of some of the specific tasks, tactics, techniques, procedures,
training, structure, and organization may be required."20
Any alternate structure to replace the existing system would have to
ensure that it combined the current functions of both the FSCC and the
DASC, eliminated redundancy, and provided the ground commander with a
fire support coordination agency solely under his control. Figure 2 is a
model of such an alternate air/ground command and control interface. This
model places all of the direct air support coordination under the Air Officer
within the FSCC. Aircraft would still be allocated by the TACC, but once
20 MCCDC, USMC, Marine Air Command and Control System Operational
Concept (MACCS 2000), FMFRP 14-5 (Quantico, 1989), p. 3.
allocated, the FSCC (through the air section) would be able to control,
employ, and divert them to ensure their integration with other supporting
arms and the maneuver elements.
This configuration is completely self-contained from planning through
employment. The Air Officer in the FSCC can " . . . participate in the
preparation of the overall fire support plan by integrating the coordinated
air plan with the coordinated fire plans of artillery and naval gunfire."21
He can receive air requests, both preplanned and immediate, from lower
eschelons. All supporting arms coordinators and terminal controllers,
earthbound and airborne, work under the Air Officer. All are members of the
GCE and are intimately familiar with the ground concept of operations. Once
direct air support aircraft are passed to the FSCC they remain under one
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21 USMC, Fire Support Coordination, FMFM 7-1, P. 3-7.
system to ensure that they are responsive to the GCE commander.
In addition to the benefit of combining all fire support coordination
responsibilities within one agency, there are numerous other advantages
inherent in this arrangement. Communications requirements would be
reduced with only one agency needing tactical air request, helicopter
request, tactical air observation, and tactical air direction nets. There
would be no confusion by supporting arms controllers (FACs, artillery
forward observers, and naval gunfire control parties) or ground commanders
as to which agency to send requests for air support, whether preplanned or
immediate. Aviators flying in support of the GCE, and aircraft transiting
the area, would check in directly with the air section of the FSCC.
The OH 2, The Marine Air-Ground Task Force is clear, "Information is
the key to effective fire support coordination."22 With his immediate
access to all the information in the FSCC and COC, the Air Officer would be
able to pass any vital intelligence the pilot might need. Information which
falls into this catagory include the current situation, friendly positions,
intelligence on enemy formations and air defense locations, routing to avoid
friendly fires, and any other information which may have changed since the
pilot's last brief. This requirement (often ignored in the system as it exists
today) is important if the pilot is to successfully compete his mission of
providing air support, and for his safety and the safety of the ground forces.
From pilots, the FSCC would receive information on the status of missions,
bomb damage assessments, and immediate intelligence on enemy activities.
With radio circuits for ground maneuver and supporting arms units all
terminating in the COC/FSCC, elements would have multiple communication
paths to enhance the flow of information.
22 USMC, The Marine Air-Ground Task Force, OH 2, p. 5-9.
The time has come for the Marine Corps to provide the MAGTF a
streamlined, efficient, and single fire support coordination agency. One that
allows the commander to plan the " . . . collective and coordinated use of
indirect weapons and armed aircraft in combat."23 One that ensures a
timely response on a fluid battlefield and allows the focusing of the
appropriate types and mix of firepower to create situations which the
MAGTF can exploit. And while not ignoring the fact that the aviation combat
element (ACE) can act as a seperate maneuver element, when providing air
in support of ground operations the GCE - not the ACE - is responsible for
the control, integration, and employment of all supporting arms: artillery,
naval gunfire, and air.
23 Ibid, p. 5-9.
U.S. Marine Corps. Warfighting, FMFM 1. Washington, D.C., 1989.
U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Aviation, FMFM 5-1. Quantico, 1979.
U.S. Marine Corps. Assault Support, FMFM 5-3. Quantico, 1979.
U.S. Marine Corps. Offensive Air Support, FMFM 5-4. Quantico, 1979.
U.S. Marine Corps. Close Air Support and Close-In Fire Support, FMFM 5-4A.
U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Division, FMFM 6-1. Quantico, 1978.
U.S. Marine Corps. Fire Support Coordination, FMFM 7-1. Quantico, 1981.
U.S. Marine Corps. The Marine Air-Ground Task Force, OH-2. Quantico, 1987.
U.S. Marine Corps. Control of Aircraft and Missiles, OH 5-8. Quantico, 1988.
U.S. Marine Corps. Fire Support Coordinator's Guide, OH 6-2A. Quantico,
U.S. Marine Corps. Marine Air Command and Control System Operational
Concept(MACCS 2000), FMFRP 14-5. Quantico, 1989.
U.S. Marine Corps. MACCS Agencies: Functions and Major Equipment (Student
Handout). Yuma, 1989.
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