Fire And Air Support Center; A New Direction For The Corps
SUBJECT AREA - Operations
Title: Fire and Air Support Center; A new direction for the Corps
Author: Major F.W. Chesney, United States Marine Corps
Thesis: The current structure and relationship of the Fire
Support Coordination Center and the Direct Air Support Center
are inadequate to meet the needs of future for the Marine Corps.
Background: The senior Fire Support Coordination Center (FSCC)
and the Direct Air Support Center (DASC) are collocated in order
that they might best integrate fire and air support assets and
procedures. Their collocation does not serve this purpose
adequately. The two agencies share a mutual goal yet operate in
completely different manners with respect to emphasis on real-
time operations. The efforts of the Air Officer of the FSCC and
the DASC are in many ways duplicative. Under the maneuver
warfare doctrine, the Marine Air-Ground Task Force commander is a
warfighter, not a coordinator. He requires an agency capable of
providing responsive fire and air support, using assets provided
by a joint force. The FSCC does not possess the capability, in
its aviation section, to simultaneously conduct current
operations and future planning. Most of the current operations
capability resides in the DASC. A merger of the two agencies,
backed by automation, can provide the most responsive and
integrated fire and air support.
Recommendation: The Marine Corps should merge the FSCC and
DASC into a single agency, the fire and air support center (FASC).
The merger should include a smaller staff and new facility that
can incorporate computer automation to use automated data
transfer systems to enhance decision-making and fire support
Thesis: Conducting fire support coordination through two
separate agencies, The DASC and FSCC, is not the most effective
method. The MAGTF of the future will be shaped by force
reductions, automation, and maneuver warfare doctrine. Joint
force fire support assets may form a larger portion of the
MAGTF. The Corps must meet these challenges with new ideas and
methods to be successful. Merging the DASC and FSCC into a
single agency is a logical starting point.
I. Fire Support Coordination Center (FSCC)
B. Organization and key personnel
1. Structure of the FSCC
2. Key crewmembers and their roles
3. Communications connectivity
C. Tasks and functions
1. Fire support coordination procedures
2. Tasks performed by key individuals
II. Direct Air Support Center (DASC)
B. Organization and key personnel
1. Structure of the DASC
2. Key crewmembers and their roles
3. Communications connectivity
C. Tasks and functions
1. Air control procedures
2. Tasks performed by key individuals
3. Use of the Tactical Air Coordinator (Airborne)
III. Marine Integrated Fire and Air Support System (MIFASS)
A. Initial Requirement Operational Capabilities (ROC)
B. System problems
C. Operational Analysis
2. Program decision
D. Result of MIFASS program
IV. Marine Corps initiatives after MIFASS
A. Army Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS)
B. High Mobility Downsized (HMD) DASC
V. Other services' procedures for coordinating fire support
with air support
VI. Fire and Air Support Center (FASC) defined
A. Organization and key personnel
B. Tasks and functions
C. Advantages of consolidated agency
The Marine Corps is going through some dramatic changes.
The combination of the New World Order and the Goldwater-Nichols
Act of 1986 is shifting the focus of the Marine Corps towards
employment as part of a joint or combined force rather than a
single service. The Marine Corps of the future will be smaller
and lighter. It may depend more heavily on the Army for tank and
artillery support, and the Air Force and Navy for a greater share
of its air support. The use of joint force fire support assets
will create pressure to integrate their use while maintaining the
same level of responsiveness expected from an all-Marine force.
The very survival of Marine forces may depend on how well the
Marine Corps can perform the fire support integration process.
Fire support integration today is performed by two agencies; the
Fire Support Coordination Center (FSCC) and the Direct Air
Support Center (DASC). Both agencies are voice communications
intensive and rely on manually operated situation display
boards. The Marine Corps of the 21st century will rely heavily
on automation to offset its shrinking size. Maneuver warfare
doctrine is driving the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF)
commander to be a warfighter and not merely a coordinator.
Coordination between the FSCC and DASC will not meet all of the
needs of the MAGTF commander on the battlefield of the future.
The requirements for joint force operations, downsizing,
automation, and maneuver warfare can best be met by combining the
FSCC and DASC into a single automated warfighting facility, a
fire and air support center (FASC).
The FSCC is a command and control agency resident in the
Marine Division. FSCC's are the agencies commanders use to
integrate fire support into their plans. Each echelon of command
in the ground combat element (GCE), down to maneuver battalion,
has an FSCC which includes supporting arms representatives.
Primary tasks include the planning for and execution of fire
Two of the key FSCC members are the Fire Support Coordinator
(FSC) and the Air Officer (AO). The FSC's primary role is to
advise the commander on all issues pertaining to fire support.
The AO is a qualified naval aviator or naval flight officer who
functions as a special staff officer at the Marine Division. The
AO is part of the Operations (S-3) Section at the regimental and
battalion levels. His primary role is to advise the commander on
all issues pertaining to air support.(12:3-7)
Communications connectivity between FSCC's is primarily by
single channel radio. The primary voice circuits are the conduct
of fire net, fire support coordination net, and tactical air
request net. The primary circuit between the senior FSCC and the
collocated DASC is the DASC-FSCC hotline, a wire link.
The FSC's direct responsibilities include organizing,
training, and supervising personnel of the FSCC, preparing the
fire support plan, recommending fire support coordination
measures, and disseminating target information. The FSC acts as
the final arbiter for resolving fire support conflicts.(8:2-3)
The AO's direct responsibilities include coordinating requests
for air support from subordinate units, passing the commander's
air support requirements to the appropriate air support control
agency, supervising/coordinating the activities of the tactical
air control parties (TACP's), and monitoring the tactical air
request (TAR) net in the FSCC for information, or clearance if
required, on requests for immediate air support.(8:2-7)
The DASC is not part of the Marine Division but belongs to
the Marine Air Wing.(3:4-3) It is an air command and control
agency designed to provide the GCE access to his supporting
aviation structure. The DASC provides the means to process
immediate air support requests, coordinate aircraft employment
with other supporting arms, and control assigned aircraft and
itinerant aircraft within its assigned area of
The DASC is task organized in equipment and personnel to
provide connectivity between the FSCC, direct air support
aircraft, and the agencies of the Marine Air Command and Control
System (MACCS). DASC crew size will vary with the size of the
MAGTF and scope of the mission but the functions that the DASC
performs remain essentially the same. The Senior Air Director
(SAD) is the supervisor for the entire DASC crew and serves as
the focal point of all activity within the DASC. The SAD
provides direction which guides the constant information flow
between the FSCC, direct air support aircraft, and MACCS
agencies. The SAD is the primary point of contact in the DASC
for the AO in the FSCC. The interaction between the SAD and the
AO is critical to providing adequate and timely air support to
the ground commander.
As an agency, the DASC is responsible for a myriad of tasks
essential to integrating air support with other supporting arms.
The DASC receives, processes, and coordinates requests for
immediate air support; adjusts preplanned schedules and diverts
airborne assets in accordance with the priorities of the ground
commander; and coordinates the execution of direct air support
missions with other supporting arms. The DASC provides
procedural control of aircraft operating within its assigned
airspace; maintains friendly and enemy ground situation displays
as necessary to coordinate direct air support operations; and
provides aircraft and other control agencies with advisory
information to assist in the safe conduct of flight.(6:4-2) The
DASC accomplishes these tasks through the use of voice
communications and manually operated situation display boards.
There are no radars or other automated information processing
devices in the DASC.
The underlying purpose in collocating the DASC with the
senior FSCC is to provide the ground commander with real-time
access to aircraft in order to provide the most responsive means
to fill requests for immediate air support. The DASC and FSCC
are designed to complement each other in providing all necessary
personnel and equipment required to integrate air support with
other supporting arms and maneuver elements. The FSCC is
supposed to provide the DASC with information on the location of
friendly and enemy forces and fire support systems, including air
defense artillery. The DASC uses this information to provide
direct air support at the most critical time and place on the
battlefield. A crucial aspect of this support for the DASC is
the prevention of fratricide. Maintaining situational awareness
using voice communications and manual situation display boards is
extremely difficult, as recent events during Operation Desert
Storm proved. Maintaining continuous voice communications from a
ground based agency like the DASC can prove equally challenging.
In order to ensure adequate communications and aircraft control
are maintained, the DASC may employ an airborne command and
control platform known as a Tactical Air Coordinator (Airborne)
or TAC(A). The TAC(A) is by definition an airborne extension of
the DASC. The TAC(A)'s primary function is to exercise control
of aircraft in its assigned airspace as directed by the DASC.
The TAC(A) also provides necessary communications connectivity
between the DASC, terminal air control agencies, direct air
support aircraft, and the Tactical Air Command Center (TACC).(3:3-
The DASC-FSCC relationship is unique and in some aspects
problematic. The FSCC is primarily responsible for fire support
planning and execution. At the higher GCE echelons, the emphasis
is on the planning and targeting functions, while at the lower
echelons the focus is on coordination in execution.(7:4-2O) Thus
a dichotomy exists; the senior FSCC is more focused on planning
and targeting for future operations than on directing current
operations, while the collocated DASC is primarily focused on
responding to requests for iminediate air support and supervising
the execution of the current air tasking order (ATO). As the
size of the MAGTF and its area of responsibility grow, the senior
FSCC devotes more time to the planning and allocation functions
of fire support, and less time to supervising execution of
current operations. Because of this focus, the senior FSCC is
less able to provide the DASC with current friendly position and
activity information. The DASC emphasis on real-time operations
is relatively constant regardless of the size of the MAGTF. The
DASC's requirement for friendly situation information does not
diminish as the MAGTF increases in size; however the FSCC's
ability to provide such information certainly does.
Additionally, as the MAGTF grows in size it becomes further
removed from the forward edge of the battle area (FEBA). While
this may not adversely affect the FSCC, the increased distance
from the FEBA makes it more difficult for the DASC to maintain
direct communications with the forward air control (FAC) parties
that generate requests for immediate air support. One of the
pillars of the Marine fire support system is the air request
network. The TAR net links all cognizant parties, including the
FAC, FSCC's, DASC, and TAC(A). The FAC sends a request for
immediate air support which is monitored by the FSCC at each
echelon. Silence on the net indicates consent for the DASC to
process the request and fill it using aircraft instead of some
other supporting arm.(4:4-1)
As far back as 1976, the Marine Corps recognized a need for
integrating the DASC and FSCC. In that year, a Marine systems
acquisition research council convened and formally raised the
issue of combining the DASC and senior FSCC into a consolidated
fire and air support center (FASC).(2:6) The Marine Corps
acquisition program to develop a FASC was known as the Marine
Integrated Fire and Air Support System (MIFASS). The initial
requirement document, a required operational capability (ROC),
was drafted in 1976. The initial ROC described the FASC in terms
of integrating the tasks and functions of the DASC, FSCC, and
fire direction center (FDC). In 1979, Headquarters Marine Corps
modified the ROC to incorporate the tasks and functions into a
single consolidated agency.(2:6) The intent of the 1979 revised
ROC was to create an agency with the requisite staff organization
and operating procedures that could perform the functions of the
DASC, FSCC, and FDC from a single agency using a real-time
display/information processing system (MIFASS).(9:2)
The MIFASS program was historic in its attempt to
incorporate air and ground fire support planning and execution
into a single agency. Up until MIFASS, the ground and air sides
of the Marine Corps had pursued independent research and
development projects for the command and control of their
respective communities. Participation in MIFASS was mandated by
Headquarters Marine Corps, but not universally enthusiastic.
Proponents were supportive of MIFASS as a replacement for the
DASC and a better merger of the functions of the DASC and the
AO of the FSCC. Critics saw MIFASS as too large and complex an
agency. Many favored an alternative Army program known as the
Army Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS). AFATDS was
touted as a smaller, lighter, more effective and affordable
modernization program that would provide the automation necessary
for better fire support integration, without merging the DASC,
FSCC, and FDC.
The MIFASS program ran into significant problems early on.
MIFASS lacked a program manager and the Marine Corps kept
changing the program requirements. The shelters that housed the
system were too large and cumbersome and proved inadequate for a
tactical environment. The microprocessor that ran MIFASS was too
small to accomplish all of the tasks that MIFASS was designed to
perform. The computer hardware was old, inflexible, and had
limited growth capability. The real show stoppers for MIFASS
were poor program management and inadequate automation hardware.
After seven years and more than $127 million, MIFASS was
terminated. Some subsystems, notably the communications control
panel (CCP), communications van, and the battery computer system
(BCS) worked well, but MIFASS failed its operational analysis in
early 1987 and was cancelled without an operational test and
The demise of the MIFASS program produced different results
for the concept and equipment associated with MIFASS. The FASC
concept was never validated and has laid dormant ever since.
Some of the equipment was used in spin off programs. The
communications suite and CCP workstation became the foundation for
the Improved DASC (IDASC); a replacement DASC program initiated
when MIFASS failed. The BCS was extracted from MIFASS and
purchased as a stand alone item to automate Marine artillery
FDC's. The Digital Communications Terminal (DCT), which was not
a component of MIFASS but was closely allied with the system, has
seen use by FAC and artillery forward observer (FO) teams, and
the Low Altitude Air Defense (LAAD) Battalion.
After MIFASS, the Marine Corps tracked the development of
the Army AFATDS program and adopted the Army ROC for AFATDS in
February of 1991. The AFATDS program can support a variety of
fire support functions including fire mission processing, fire
planning, and fire support operations. AFATDS is comprised of
several different nodes. FAC and FO teams will use a hand-held
digital communications device similar to the DCT. FSCC's, FDC's,
DASC, and the TACC will receive a laptop sized Lightweight
Computer Unit (LCU). The LCU will assemble information and
provide the user with options for fire support including
artillery, mortars, naval gunfire, or air. While choosing an
option, the user can simultaneously direct the efforts of his
AN/TPQ-36 battlefield surveillance radars in their counter
battery role. Information on the user's LCU is automatically
transmitted to all other AFATDS terminals, providing real-time
radio relay. AFATDS computers are flexible, easy to
use, and can accommodate system growth. AFATDS LCU's will
replace the BCS in the FDC.(1:33) In addition to its other
information capabilities, AFATDS will provide real-time friendly
position location and activity information in order to assist in
fratricide prevention. AFATDS offers the capability
for automated information dissemination and provides user prompts
to aid in decision-making. AFATDS can be a tool to provide the
DASC with real-time information feed and a communications link to
the FAC through its built-in relay capability. AFATDS is not a
portion of the IDASC program.
Another post-MIFASS initiative was the IDASC program. The
IDASC was a replacement for the 1960's vintage DASC equipment.
IDASC uses the communications suite and CCP operator consoles
from MIFASS. IDASC is not configured for AFATDS, but does
contain a DCT interface, and the capability to incorporate a
Position Location Reporting System (PLRS) or Global Positioning
Capability (GPS) capability. IDASC will be capable of some
automation linkage with the Advanced Tactical Air Command Central
(ATACC).(1O:16) Under the IDASC umbrella, a new DASC variant
known as the High Mobility Downsized DASC ([HMD]DASC) is being
produced.(13:1) The (HMD)DASC is designed to use the existing
communications assets and operator workstations of the larger
IDASC, reconfigured and downsized to be transported by the High
Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV). The (HMD)DASC
will retain all of the operational capabilities of the full
IDASC. Operator consoles may be operated from the back of the
HMMWV or remoted into any shelter. This capability gives the
(HMD)DASC the ability for a variety of configurations and
operating facilities. The (HMD)DASC comes equipped with a
shelter; a rapid assembly tent.(13:5) The (HMD)DASC will also
incoporate selective portions of the software applications
package of the ATACC and the Air Force's Contingency Tactical Air
Control System Automated Planning System (CTAPS). These two
programs will allow the Marine Corps-to provide a Joint Force Air
Component Commander (JFACC) capability and a means to automate
puslishing or receiving a joint ATO.
FASC is the senior fire and air support coordination agency
of the MAGTF. The facility and its associated equipment belong
to the MAGTF command element. Personnel are sourced from the
Marine Division and the Marine Air Wing. It is organized to
provide personnel for operations sections controlling current and
future operations. Key personnel such as the FSC, AO, and SAD
retain their present position and responsibilities. The tasks
and functions of the FASC include all those functions separately
performed by the FSCC and DASC, plus any new tasks required to
integrate joint forces fire and air support assets. Combining
the DASC and FSCC into one facility offers a number of
advantages. The DASC provides the current operations cell for air
support. The SAD and AO work as a team, with the AO
concentrating on planning and the SAD focusing on execution.
Using computer automation and consolidating situation displays
and TAR net operations enhances responsiveness and reduces
personnel requirements. The DASC portion of the facility can tap
into the FSCC communications structure to provide redundant and
near real-time communications with the FAC parties through a
combination of FSCC communications nets and a device like the
MIFASS failed because of its physical size and poor computer
hardware. Programs like IDASC and AFATDS give the Marine Corps
the tools to automate the DASC and FSCC and merge the facilities.
Digital communications provide the means to connect automated
data transfer devices. Modular workstations and laptop computers
can provide greater productivity from smaller facilities. Real-
time information sharing for all echelons of command promotes
safety and responsiveness. Using joint fire support programs
like AFATDS will make it easier to integrate Army support forces
(tanks and artillery) into a MAGTF.
When combined with the ATACC and CTAPS programs, the FASC
will provide the MAGTF commander with unprecedented real-time
access to the TACC, JFACC, and joint force fire and air support
systems. FASC can tie together the requester, direct support
aircraft, and air command and control agencies, including the
TAC(A). FASC can provide the commander with the planning and
execution support he needs to perform as a warfighter.
As MAGTF's become more austere and operate more frequently
in a joint force environment automation will be the key to
complete interoperability. The FASC can incorporate the
automation systems being developed by the other services to
provide seamless operations. ATACC, AFATDS, CTAPS, and the
(HMD)DASC are all in the early stages of development. FASC can
merge with them under a single architecture that can stretch from
the infantry company FAC through the TACC to the JFACC and tie
them to direct air support aircraft. Computers provide the key
to empower the entire command and control structure with real-
time information flow and decision-making aids, alleviate the
shortcomings in the DASC-FSCC relationship, and be the conduit
for more responsive fire support. It is time to put the failures
of MIFASS in the past an reconsider the FASC concept.
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System.1, Marine Corps Gazette, 76(December 1992), 32-33.
2. Klein, Steven, et al. A Comparative Study of MIFASS and
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