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by MAJ Guy V. Rudisill, G-3, Third U.S. Army

Kuwait became host to possibly one of the largest close air support exercises (CASEX) held during peacetime training. Aircraft from the United States, Great Britain, and Kuwait flew 45 missions, a total of 84 sorties, during the 19-hour exercise.

It was the idea of former Deputy Commanding General of the Third United States Army/ARCENT, Maj. Gen. Robert R. Ivany, to conduct exercise ROLLING THUNDER. The mission for the close air support exercise, as outlined by the Deputy Commanding General, was to train coalition forces in the planning, coordination, and execution of close air support (CAS) to demonstrate its effectiveness, and to identify areas requiring improvement among members of the coalition force.

Some of the training objectives during the CASEX were:

  • Demonstrate effective employment of CAS assets.
  • Integrate all coalition assets.
  • Provide a training opportunity for the Special Operations Forces combined support teams and the Kuwaiti Ground Forward Air Controllers.
  • Verify day and night visual target identification measures to prevent fratricide of coalition forces.
  • Rehearse procedures for designating targets at night.

The C/JTF-KU staff worked closely and diligently with the Air Support Operations Center (ASOC), the Kuwaiti Air Force, and Joint Task Force-Southwest Asia (JTF-SWA) service members. In addition, the remaining units that deployed for Operation DESERT THUNDER were still capable of conducting training at their respective local training areas to ensure that the sorties flown would meet the above training objectives. These ground forces were centered on the 3rd Infantry Division and selected units of the Kuwaiti Land Forces.

Marine Capt. Trever A. Laws, a forward air controller,
provides final control and clearance to a CAS aircraft.

Planning for the CASEX took nearly two months. The C/JTF-KU staff, along with the ASOC, JTF-SWA, SOCCE/CST, 3rd Infantry Division, Kuwaiti Air Force, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, NAVCENT, Office of Military Cooperation-Kuwait, and the Kuwaiti Ground Forward Air Controllers, participated in the planning, rehearsal, and execution of the CASEX.

The CASEX was broken down into five phases:

  • Close Air Support Seminar
  • CASEX Rock Drill
  • Communications Rehearsal
  • After-Action Review (AAR)

Close Air Support (CAS) Seminar

The CAS seminar was held at Camp Doha, Kuwait, and was attended by over 200 coalition soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. The established purpose of the CAS seminar was to discuss tactics, techniques, and procedures for effective CAS operations. All branches of the services provided a speaker to discuss and answer questions concerning their role in close air support operations in general, and close air support operations within the Kuwaiti theater of operations. At the end of the 4-hour seminar, there were exhibits for the audience to view and operators available to answer questions. The exhibits included, among other things, the Ground-Vehicle Laser Locator Designator, night-vision goggles, SATCOM radios, and IR pointers.

Kuwaiti Air Force Capt. Al-Zanki Kallil (on radio) rreads out the "nine line" to a pilot.
Kuwaiti Army 1st Lt. Al-Hujey Nasser (left) and 1st Lt. Soud Al Shehab, along with
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Rob C. Tilley and Staff Sgt. Kevin M. Short, listen in.

Rock Drill

The Rock drill, a 3-hour walk-through of the exercise, was attended by over 50 coalition members. The exercise was meticulously examined to ensure all personnel knew what to do during the exercise and that it would be executed safely.

Communications Rehearsal

All participants were in place at their respective training areas and conducted an internal communications exercise to establish communications with range control. The ASOC, located within the C/JTF-KU headquarters building, conducted the communication exercise by establishing communications with all participants.


After re-establishing communications with all participants, the first sorties flew in accordance with the air tasking order. As the aircraft entered Kuwaiti airspace, they contacted the ASOC who, in turn, diverted the aircraft to one of the local training areas. The ground forward air controllers at the local training areas then took control of the aircraft. After completing their mission, the aircraft checked back in with the ASOC before returning to their home base. During the day and into the night, sorties were flown from several air bases within Kuwait and from the aircraft carrier USS STENNIS CVN-74, stationed just off the coast of Kuwait.

A Kuwait Air Force F-18 flies overhead during the CASEX.


  • The most critical lessons learned were the methods of marking and identifying targets. Because the coalition joint task force does not always fight with similar equipment, the need for distinguishing between friendly and enemy forces became the number one priority. Many factors were taken into consideration when producing this data to include the method of marking targets, visibility (day vs. night), height of aircraft, and type of visual equipment.

  • The results illustrated in Diagrams 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 1-5, 1-6, and 1-7 indicate which method of marking was most effective based on time of day and weather conditions. During the day, combat identification panels (CIPs) were placed on the vehicle's front left and right and on the rear; the VS-17 panel was placed on the rear. During night operations, the CIPs were placed in the same locations as in the day, but the strobe light was placed on the vehicle's top and rear. The test vehicles included an M1A1 Abrams tank, M2A2 Bradley fighting vehicle, M113 armored personnel carrier, M35A2 truck, and the M998 HMMWV. The KLF brought in the M84 tank, Warrior, and the BMP2 and 3.

    Various identification methods were applied to the vehicles that were driven around a specific course, presenting different views to the observation vehicles and aircraft. Ground-to-ground observation, both in daytime and nighttime, occurred at 1,500 meters and 2,000 meters, respectively. The air-to-ground systems observation, both during the daytime and nighttime, occurred at various altitudes (up to 300 feet) and at distances ranging from 1,000 meters to 5,000 meters. Observation methods used were the naked eye, binoculars, night-vision goggles, thermal sights, forward-looking infrared, day video, and television. Even with the latest tests and continuous training, the one obstacle which seemed to be a hindrance was having all the same recognition devices within the coalition. Because of the continuously changing battlefield, the compatibility of equipment and identification systems needs to be well thought out before engaging in coalition warfare.

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