How Should JFACC Fit Into MAGTF?
SUBJECT AREA Operations
Title: HOW SHOULD JFACC FIT INTO MAGTF?
Author: Major Thomas K. Sudbeck, United States Marine Corps
Thesis: From a historical perspective, it is important to
draw the proper lessons from Desert Shield/Storm and realize
that we must change the JFACC name, change doctrine, or live
with the possibility of restricting the Marine air-ground
Background: World War II saw aviation develop to the point
where it became a decisive form of combat all to itself.
During Korea and Vietnam problems surfaced between the
different Services for control of airspace and air assets.
The strategic/theater perspective of the Air Force was far
removed from the tactical perspective of the Marine Corps,
which created problems in the control of close air support
assets. Vietnam ended with the Air Force having the better
arguments because unity of effort had been nonexistent. The
Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed in 1986 to a joint document
called the Omnibus Agreement, which retained operational
control of MAGTF air assets with the MAGTF colander. The
single manager for air term had been changed to joint force
air component commander (JFACC) before Desert Shield/Storm.
Although the commanders involved in Southwest Asia made the
JFACC concept work, the basic problems of airspace control
and tactical air requests are not doctrinally solved.
Recommendation: With the understanding of why the single
manager for air concept did not work in the past, conduct a
joint analysis of Desert Shield/Storm to find out what was
done differently. Once we find out how the personalities of
the commanders in Southwest Asia made the JFACC concept
work, incorporate those lessons into joint doctrine which
utilizes the strengths of each of the Services.
HOW SHOULD JFACC FIT INTO MAGTF?
Thesis Statement. From a historical perspective, it is
important to draw the proper lessons from Desert
Shield/Storm and realize that we must change the JFACC name,
change doctrine, or live with the possibility of restricting
the Marine air-ground team.
A. First war with independent Air Force
B. First true MAGTF
C. Different perspectives of the Services
D. Single manager for air concept
II. After Korea and before Vietnam
A. Nuclear War
1. "Massive Retaliation"
2. Air Force perspective
B. Armed helicopters
1. Army and Marine Corps
C. Kennedy Administration
1. "Flexible Response"
2. Air Force revisits close air support
A. Single manager for air
1. Air Force perspective at strategic level
2. Khe Sanh validates concept?
B. Different perspectives drive procurement
IV. Post Vietnam
A. Service focus
1. Air Force at strategic/theater level
a. Attack helicopters in close
b. Air Force for interdiction
3. Marine Corps at tactical level
a. Omnibus Agreement
B. CINCs as Combatant Commanders
1. Unity of effort stressed
2. JFACC term is created
3. Joint doctrine stressed
V. Desert Shield/Storm
A. Air Force Component Commander as JFACC
1. Commander or coordinator?
2. MAGTF Commander retains OPCON of MAGTF air
B. Airspace Control
1. Marines use Marine Corps system
2. JFACC coordinated
VI. Lessons Learned
A. Commander or coordinator
1. Call him what he is
2. Is it a function or a title?
B. JFACC Staff
1. Needs to be "purple"
C. JFACC Responsibilities/Limitations
1. Specify tactical air request system
2. Airspace control
HOW SHOULD JFACC FIT INTO MAGTF?
At the end of six (6) hours air support
was finally received by the 7th Marines. It
was brought in by a Mosquito (Tactical air
controller airborne (TACA)) who would not
relinquish control of the aircraft to the
forward air controller (FAC) who could see
the target much better than the Mosquito.
After having the fighters make a couple of
passes the Mosquito took the fighters and
went to another target without having
completely destroyed the position.(20:97)
Why did this situation occur? What were the events for
command and control of aircraft which allowed this to
happen? How do we prevent this, without enemy interference,
from happening again? All these questions must be asked and
answered before a full understanding of the joint issue of
Marine air and the role of the Joint Force Air Component
Commander (JFACC) can be answered. By going back to World
War II, Korea, and Vietnam we can see why the current
situation has deep historical roots for the Marine Corps and
Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) doctrine in the joint
environment. From a historical perspective, it is important
to draw the proper lessons from Desert Shield/Storm and
realize that we must change the JFACC name, change doctrine,
or live with the possibility of restricting the Marine air-
Whether you look at it from a strategic, operational,
tactical level or just from the viewpoint of the Marine in
the foxhole, the Marine Corps has invested a great deal of
money and effort to ensure that aviation assets support the
men on the ground. We are moving into a period of us
military history where doctrine is being written at a joint
level and incorporates the military might of all the
services. History is replete with examples of units working
together to accomplish more than the sum of their collective
WORLD WAR II AND KOREA
World War II saw the maturation of aviation as a
decisive type of combat which the United States exploited
through all of the Services. The positive impact that air
had in modern warfare led the leadership of this country to
separate the Air Force as an independent service from the
forces on the ground. However, because of their unique
requirements to be supported from the sea, the Navy and
Marine Corps retained their own organic aviation assets.
But the battle for control of aircraft and airspace was just
The Korean War saw the first true Marine Air-Ground
Task (MAGTF), designated the First Provisional Marine
Brigade. The brigade was composed of an aircraft group, a
regimental combat team, and their respective service support
units. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur needed
reinforcements badly, and the Marine Corps leadership
insisted on keeping the air-ground team together as a single
fighting unit. The basis for the team was the requirement
for air to respond rapidly to requests from ground forces.
To insure the focus of air was on the ground commander's
scheme of maneuver, the Marine Corps had found from
experience that a single commander for both was a necessity.
The US Army had strayed away from rapid responsive air
because they had a heavier reliance on artillery for the
close battle and the use of aviation assets to go beyond the
range of heavy artillery. The newly formed US Air Force was
more than accommodating to this concept because it fit very
well into their thinking of the air war on a level above the
soldier in the foxhole. The Air Force doctrine stressed
unity of effort through a single air commander who responded
only to the theater commander and emphasized strategic
targeting vice tactical air support.
It was during the Korean War when senior Army officers
had the opportunity to use air request systems of both the
Marine Corps and the Air Force. The Marine tactical air
command system proved much more responsive to requests from
ground forces. In the book, Case Studies in the Development
of Close Air Support, Allan R. Millett said, "It was the
kind of close air support Marines expected, but it came as a
revelation to the Army officers who shared the experience."
(4:367) Although the circumstances surrounding the lack of
Air Force support can explain some of their deficiencies, it
still serves to point out where the emphasis of support is
placed between the Air Force and the Marine Corps.
Marine aviation units reverted back to control by an
Air Force commander when relocated to shore facilities. This
also relegated Army units, formerly using the Marine
tactical air command system, to reduced forward air
controllers (FACs) and tactical air control parties (TACPs)
due to Air Force control of theater air. With Marine ground
forces subordinate to Army commanders, the Marine air-ground
team was broken up and reverted to the Air Force tactical
air request system. "This arrangement created so much
conflict between the Services that it was decided the issue
must be settled back in Washington by the Joint Chiefs of
Staff." (4:383) The War in Korea soon became a stalemate and
the ensuing political battles overshadowed the close air
support controversy. Efforts to doctrinally correct
problems with the tactical air request system were abandoned
and the Air Force published Air Force Manual 1-2 which
restated the principal of a centrally controlled air war.
The whole idea of learning lessons from the Korean war was
overridden by a propensity to just get along and not create
any more inter-service fighting. "For all practical
purposes the Army and Air Force had finally found a
consensus by agreeing not to agree on what part close air
support would play in future war."(4:399)
Between the Korean War and the War in Vietnam, the Air
Force put major emphasis on developing and delivering
nuclear weapons. President Eisenhower was determined to
avoid a limited war such as we had fought in Korea. This
attitude persisted to the point where a nuclear exchange was
expected and "massive retaliation" was the planned response.
Therefore, it wasn't a Service driven initiative by the Air
Force to avoid conventional warfare, but a political
decision which agreed with air power theorists.
Meanwhile , the Army was hard at work developing their
own air vehicles, specifically armed helicopters, with an
emphasis on conventional warfare. The Air Force viewed this
as an acceptable sequence of events and the perspective of
the two Services grew further and further apart. This
division seemed destined to result in a collision of ideals
President Kennedy's administration revitalized the
concept of flexible response and the Air Force began to
emphasize the close air support role once again. The
emphasis however, was still placed on centralized control of
all tactical air units to ensure the attainment of air
superiority, the primary mission of air power. Army studies
during the late 50's and early 60's reaffirmed the need for
aircraft and systems designed specifically for the close air
support mission. Along with the systems for close air
support, the two Services (Army and Air Force) attempted to
develop joint doctrine, but were successful only in agreeing
that close integration was required. The largest gap in
perspective was in the area of command and control. The Air
Force wanted a single manager for theater operations and
strategic goals while the Army wanted more decentralized
control of air assets to support the ground force's scheme
The Marine Corps looked to the battles being waged over
the tasking of air support and pressed even harder for
Marine air working in support of Marine ground forces. The
lessons learned from the Korean conflict were still very
fresh on the minds of both pilots and ground forces within
As U.S. involvement in Vietnam expanded, the inter-
service problems were initially overshadowed by limitations
in working through Vietnamese ground and air forces. When
the Army experienced limited air support for their units,
they looked elsewhere for the necessary support. "Between
1960 and 1965, the Army doubled the number of helicopters it
owned and used them as organic fire support platforms."
(4:455) The Air Force felt the Army was trying to slice off
a portion of the Air Force's responsibilities, and the
ensuing arguments developed into a roles and missions debate
up to the congressional level. This also had an added
benefit of forcing the Air Force to try and correct
responsiveness problems within their tactical air request
With the Air Force view of infringement by the other
services, they emphasized more and more the need for a
single air manager in Vietnam. Meanwhile, the Marine
forces, commanded by Lieutenant General Robert E Cushman,
operating in the northern part of South Vietnam (I Corps),
had airspace control in their sector. This arrangement was
working extremely well until enemy engagements began
increasing in 1967, and General William Westmoreland began
sending additional ground units to support the Marines.
A situation had now developed where Air Force and
Marine aircraft were providing a majority of the air
support, but were using two different systems for tactical
air requests. The resultant effort produced ineffective,
inefficient and unsafe air support. This condition forced
General Westmoreland to place all Marine aircraf t under the
operational control of an Air Force officer. However, the
Marines were given authority for emergency calls of air
support without going through the tactical air control
center (TACC) of the Air Force.
When the Battle for Khe Sanh began, the single air
manager system was approved, but had not been fully
implemented. Throughout a majority of the battle, the
system in place was very responsive and air support was the
deciding factor in the Marines ability to hold Khe Sanh.
Credit must also go to General Westmoreland for deciding to
support the Marines at Khe Sanh with whatever air support
Although Khe Sanh appears to validate the single air
manager concept, the system was fully implemented only days
before the siege was completed. From a historical
viewpoint, it may have had as much to do with the fact that
the North Vietnamese were already pulling out of Khe Sanh
when the concept was being integrated. Nonetheless, the
system was in place and Marine ground forces became just
another user of theater air vice part of an Integrated team.
The Marine Corps carefully documented the
performance of tactical air resources under
the single air-manager system. Their
statistics indicated that, between January 1
and March 10, 1968, only 5 percent of
immediate requests by Marine ground
commanders were filled by diverting aircraft.
In just one week (April 5-11, 1968) under the
new system, however, that figure soared to 77
percent. On April 20, 1968-"a typical day"-
Marine ground commanders submitted 172
planned requests; of these, 64 received
approval, but 31 targets were attacked as a
result of extensive last-minute diversions.
Thus, for Marines, the single manager for air
resources brought extra burdens without more
efficient close air support. (4:461)
FROM VIETNAM TO CURRENT SYSTEMS
In discussing the development of close air support and
the command and control of aviation assets, it is
interesting to put into focus where the different Services
stood on these issues. The Army and Marine Corps had placed
a great deal of emphasis and money on systems which could be
employed against the enemy, yet close to friendly forces.
The approach to this capability to concentrate on artillery
for the Army and to continue development of accurate all-
weather close air support for the Marine Corps. Non-
availability of air support, for the Marine Corps, had come
to be the exception rather than the rule. Both Services saw
the utility of the armed helicopter and advances in that
area led to effective firepower with a great deal of
The Air Force had developed doctrine from a strategic
viewpoint, where theaters and campaigns were their level of
combat. Priorities were established from a theater
perspective and their training and weapon systems were
reflective of that perspective. Gaining air superiority,
attacking strategic targets, suppressing enemy air defenses,
and air interdiction were all missions that came before
close air support. The focus for the Air Force went much
deeper onto the battlefield than to directly support the man
in the foxhole because that area is where they believed
their capability would have the greatest impact on the
Clausewitz writes in his book, On War, that education
during peace is the key to success in war. We must develop
our background and base of understanding for our own
Service's doctrine in order to fully understand our place in
the overall support of our national defense strategy. Also,
it is incumbent on us, as Marine officers, to understand our
sister Service's background and doctrine to ensure harmony
in joint operations. It is unlikely that the Marine Corps
will be committed to a large operation without being part of
a joint, or combined venture.
Since the control of helicopters is so complex and
focused in the close battle area, the Air Force does not
seek control of these assets from the Army or the Marine
Corps. Therefore, the authority of the JFACC has evolved
into a contest between the Air Force and Marine Corps
because both have aircraft capable of operating in the close
battle as well as the deep battle areas.
To define the problem even further, it is a battle over
who has control of the airspace and why. The Air Force, by
focusing at the strategic level of war and theater
campaigns, has developed systems which allow for control of
aircraft over great distances. The Marine Corps, however,
has focused more at the tactical level of war for the
control of aircraft.
This brings us to Southwest Asia and the Persian Gulf
War. General Norman Schwarzkopf was the overall commander
of all U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf. He had designated
his Air Force Component Commander, Lieutenant General
Charles Horner, as the Joint Force Air Component Commander
(JFACC) with responsibility for coordinating air operations
in support of the campaign to liberate Kuwait.
JFACC is a functional designation given by the Joint
Force Commander (Schwarzkopf), but it is not a doctrinal
designation of command. The definition of command, from JCS
Pub 1-02 (Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms),
defines many areas which do not apply to the billet held by
LtGen Horner (JFACC) in the Persian Gulf.
Command. The authority that a commander in
the military Service lawfully exercises over
subordinates by virtue of rank or assignment.
Command includes the authority and
responsibility for effectively using
available resources and for planning the
employment of, organizing, directing,
coordinating, and controlling military forces
for the accomplishment of assigned missions.
It also includes responsibility for health,
welfare, morale, and discipline of assigned
The JFACC's responsibilities, according to JCS Pub
3-01.2 (Joint Doctrine for Theater Counterair Operations),
will be assigned by the joint force commander. Normally,
these responsibilities would include, but not be limited to,
planning, coordination, allocation and tasking based on the
joint force commander's apportionment decision. Normally,
the JFACC will be the Service component commander who has
the preponderance of air assets to be used and the ability
to assume that responsibility. For Marine tactical air, the
employment of forces will be in accordance with the Omnibus
Agreement of 1986 which states, in part:
The Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF)
commander will retain operational control of
his organic air assets. The primary mission
of the MAGTF air combat element is the
support of the MAGTF ground element. During
joint operations, the MAGTF air assets will
normally be in support of the MAGTF mission.
It is imperative to understand that this arrangement applies
only to MAGTF air assets in counterair operations. The
joint force commander still exercises operational control of
all assigned forces and may employ them as he sees fit in
order to accomplish his mission.
Under the command of Lieutenant General Walter Boomer,
Commanding General I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), the
Marines in Southwest Asia eventually had control of the
airspace over the I MEF area of responsibility. However,
the JFACC integrated and coordinated all the fixed wing air
in theater through a joint air tasking order, which Marine
air had to be incorporated into. The resulting control of
aircraft and targeting thus developed into an integrated
combat arm capable of assisting the Joint Force Commander in
accomplishing his mission.
On the surface, it appears that the design of the air
campaign should be the model for all future command
relationships and is full validation of the JFACC concept.
As for validation of the concept of unifying air assets to
support the ground campaign, the JFACC concept was a
complete success and proves the value of air to the ground
units it supports. However, the command relationship that
existed is not the panacea we are all looking for.
The JFACC process of having one single
manager has its limitations, as does every
system. It does not respond well to a quick-
action battlefield. If you're trying to
build a war for the next 72 to 96 hours, you
can probably build a pretty good war. But if
you're trying to fight a fluid battlefield
like we were on, then you need a system that
The JFACC process can't do that if
you're talking about command. If you're
talking about general control or, more
important, if you're talking about
coordination, which is really what the
commander-in-chief (CINC) wants, along the
correct course of action and in accord with
his guidance, then that's exactly what the
process did out there in the battlefield.
The overabundance of air support in The Gulf War
ensured aircraft availability for close air support at all
times. But, what happens when the aircraft are not
available and the competition for limited assets becomes
strained? Do we go with a system designed with emphasis at
the strategic level? Or, do we go with a system designed
with the tactical level of war in mind? And, who makes the
decision for which system will be utilized?
General Horner, as the JFACC, exhibited a positive
attitude and seemed to approach the situation with the
philosophy that it does not matter what you call it - just
get the job done and win the war. His personality, and the
personality of the other commanders in Southwest Asia, made
that scenario very successful. But, do we want to
incorporate doctrine which depends on personalities for
success or do we indoctrinate lessons that historically have
proven successful? The Marine Corps has a tactical air
request system, which provides responsive tactical air
support to the ground forces. Therefore, let us not give
the choice of systems to another Service, with a different
focus on where the battle is fought.
WHAT TO DO WITH LESSONS LEARNED
We have already taken a look at the success of the
JFACC concept, but how do we ensure the MAGTF commander has
the proper system to fight in the joint environment? One
answer to that question is seemingly very simple. All that
needs to be incorporated is a change in the JFACC name.
Instead of calling the designated individual a "commander",
call him a "coordinator." The term coordinator fits the
responsibilities/limitations of the JFACC much better than
the term commander. So, why not call him what he really is?
Any authority the JFACC possesses comes from the joint
force commander and he exercises that authority through
coordination with the Service component commanders. The
JFACC is therefore working for the joint force commander,
not one of the Service components and he is coordinating all
air assets available to the joint command to ensure unity of
effort. The definition of coordinating authority, from JCS
Pub 1-02, seems much more fitting to the JFACC responsibili-
ties than that of a commander.
Coordinating Authority. A commander or indi-
vidual assigned responsibility for coordinat-
ing specific functions or activities involv-
ing forces of two or more Services or two or
more forces of the same Service. The com-
mander or individual has the authority to
require consultation between agencies in
volved, but does not have the authority to
compel agreement. In the event that essen-
tial agreement cannot be obtained, the matter
shall be referred to the appointing authori-
In today's vernacular, the coordinator is called Joint
Force Air Component Commander. In Vietnam and Korea he was
called a single manager for air. If we change the title
from commander to coordinator we will describe his function
better, but we may create more arguments than we prevent.
It is incumbent on us to understand what has made for
success in the past, put the successful formula into the
doctrine, and not rely on personalities to ensure synchro-
nized power projection. We must do what is right for the
In order for the JFACC to synchronize his available
assets, and fully exploit all capabilities, he should have a
staff that is joint in nature. By having representation
from each of the Services, the JFACC would be assured of not
favoring any one Service over the others. This joint staff
would be impartial to both the tasking of available assets
as well as the airspace required for mission accomplishment.
Although this staff may be an additional burden on the
existing combatant commander's staffs, it would go a long
way toward insuring the best solution is employed to fully
integrate all the forces available to the joint force
To ensure the proper system is employed for Marine
forces, we need to develop integration of the Marine Corps
system into the Air Force system. In this way, both Servic-
es would be able to fight the battle they are designed to
fight and will be complementary in creating a synchronized
The last solution, that could alleviate some disharmony
between the Services, would be to specifically state the
primacy of the Marine tactical air request system for Marine
units. The responsibilities and limitations of the JFACC
are already specified in joint publications, but they do not
address this very base problem. The Omnibus Agreement of
1986, already incorporated in joint doctrine, addresses
Marine air sorties, but does not address the tactical air
request system. By specifying that the Marine system will
be used by the Marines, and they will be given the requisite
airspace to conduct close air support, many problems would
When all is said and done, do we have a doctrine which
is understood by all the Services and incorporates the
lessons learned from previous conflicts? History has given
us many examples of how air power can be a major force
multiplier, if applied properly and in coordination with
ground force operations. The Marine Corps and the Air Force
have gone about projecting air power from different
perspectives, tactical versus strategic. However, differing
perspectives does not mean the two Services cannot be
complementary in a joint military operation. An
understanding of the real reasons why Southwest Asia was so
successful must be investigated with history as the
backdrop. If we comprehend the reasons, from past wars, as
to the inter-service contests of air control and
coordination, we will be able to doctrinally put the
solutions in place to prevent a repetition of mistakes.
Without being parochial to any one Service, take the lessons
learned from Southwest Asia, define the responsibilities and
limitations of the JFACC more specifically, and ensure the
Marines have a responsive tactical air request system with
the control of airspace necessary to conduct close air
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