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Early Warning at the Task Force Level

by CPT Larry P. Dunn

A recent CALL Publication (NTC Trends Analysis, No. 97-3, Jan 97) indicated a consistent lack of early warning in the Air Defense BOS. We at the CMTC also observe that same trend. When questioned about the lack of early warning within a task force, ADOs usually say that it's not their problem. They argue that generating early warning information is the responsibility of either the battery or battalion. After all, task-force ADOs don't have ADA scouts at their disposal nor do they run a Divisional Early Warning (DEW) NET.

Contrary to what most task-force ADOs might say, early warning is everyone's job. Fortunately, there are a number of things that task-force ADOs can do to ensure that their task force receives timely early warning, thus improving tracking time for their STINGER and AVENGER crews.

Aerial IPB

The task-force ADO must conduct his own aerial IPB to be successful. A thorough aerial IPB product facilitates generating early warning information at the task force level. The ideal situation is to build the IPB from the battery's product. But the task-force ADO can also construct his own IPB.

Not only is the terrain at the CMTC restrictive, it is also compartmentalized. Ground forces and rotary-wing aircraft alike can take advantage of this terrain to mask their movements forward as they advance toward the task force. The OPFOR has learned to do this well. But the ADO can turn the tables on them with a solid aerial IPB. There are only so many places a MI-24 HIND E can go at the CMTC. And there are only one or two places that a rotary-wing aircraft can enter each compartment or valley.

Step 1. Work with the S-2. Task-force ADOs must always begin by coordinating with the S-2 to determine when and where the HINDs might target the task force. ADOs can also rely on their battery commanders or executive officers for help in identifying possible enemy air Courses of Action (COAs). After the ADO decides on the enemy air COAs, he should identify aerial Named Areas of Interest (NAIs) that will either confirm or deny each COA.

EXAMPLE: During a meeting engagement, the ADO may identify two COAs: (1) the HINDs will fly in support of the Forward Security Element (FSE) along the northern corridor in an armed reconnaissance role; or (2) the HINDs will fly in support of the Advanced Guard Main Body (AGMB) within the central corridor in a tank killing role. The ADO must identify those NAIs that would confirm either one of two COAs as early as possible.

Step 2. Coordinate the coverage of aerial NAIs. The are a number of players that can help.

a. Check with the task-force S-2 to see if any of the task force's ground reconnaissance assets can cover the aerial NAIs. Believe it or not, the S-2 is usually looking at the same key terrain to confirm or deny his own COAs! This is especially true at the CMTC and its compartmentalized terrain. If the S-2 already has that particular NAI covered, then the ADO needs to ensure that the observer receives specific instructions in the Reconnaissance and Surveillance (R&S) Plan to look for threat aircraft as well.

b. Coordinate with the battery commander. Nominate the NAIs not already covered by the task force for coverage by the Air Defense Scouts.

Either way, his NAIs are covered. The ADO will not only get information that will either confirm or deny the different enemy COAs, but will also simultaneously receive timely early warning. This information then enables the ADO to quickly shift his coverage accordingly or activate Local Air Defense Warnings (LADWs) in whatever corridor the air threat is using.

Early Warning Dissemination

The task-force ADO has arranged for timely early warning within his Area of Operations (AO). Now he must make sure it gets to the people who really need it. Unfortunately, announcing "Red Air" on the task force command net is not always enough. Some of the units who really need the information may be distracted momentarily and miss that particular FLASH transmission. They will be caught off guard if the threat comes their way and will surely suffer unnecessary casualties.

Redundancy is essential when passing early warning information. Air defenders must ensure that each priority element receives the early warning information in at least two different ways.

TECHNIQUE: The ADO assigns early warning responsibilities to each of his organic air defense units.

EXAMPLE: When the ADO receives pertinent early warning information, he first passes the information on his own platoon net. Next, he passes that same information on the task force command net as FLASH traffic. This starts the ball rolling. While the ADO is on the task force command net, each BSFV squad passes the same early warning information to their assigned company or team (usually the one closest to them during that particular phase of the battle). Each company or team commander should hear the early warning FLASH traffic twice, once on the task force command net and a second time on his own net. The commander can then assist the air defenders with effective Combined Arms For Air Defense (CAFAD) fires.

Identification Friend or Foe (IFF)

One of the main reasons we air defenders try to emplace a good early warning system is to increase their ability to track and target hostile aircraft.

TECHNIQUE: One of the best tools air defenders have to increase tracking time is the IFF system on both the STINGER and AVENGER weapon systems.

Any aircraft can be interrogated with the IFF system, often before it can be visually identified through the haze of battle or at extreme distances. Nothing can get an air defender more excited that receiving an "Unknown" response from his IFF interrogator! Once receiving the unknown response, the air defender can "spin up" his seeker head and prepare to fire before the aircraft is visually identified. This is an important and useful tool. Yet, after more than 30 months here at the CMTC, I've only seen ONE platoon successfully program its IFF interrogators! Excuses range from not being able to get the IFF tape through their supported task-force signal officers to not being able to get the team's generator to work. Sometimes units deploy without serviceable batteries or say they have no room to pack their programmers, thus rendering their interrogators useless. Sometimes, it's just plain poor training at home station.

The bottom line is that air defenders are unable to program their IFF interrogators in a field environment. They effectively rob themselves of the precious seconds needed to target enemy aircraft that are entering their attack profiles to target a defended asset.


The task-force ADO can generate his own early warning at TF level by developing a sound aerial IPB product. If he covers the appropriate NAIs and identifies threat aircraft deep, he can effectively warn his supported task force and shift air defense coverage appropriately. When he receives an early warning, the ADO must have a plan in place to disseminate the early warning information. But, keep in mind that passing early warning information is everyone's responsibility. Redundancy is the key to success. Finally, as aircraft come into sight, each air defender must be able to interrogate the aircraft using his IFF system. This will give him precious seconds; thus extending the tracking time he needs to engage the target.

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