Thursday, April 12, 2007

Who Needs Close Air Support?

The Troops. The Marines and Soldiers in the CLOSE fight. Why? Simple, it is one of the most tremendous advantages that troops can maintain - the ability to detect, identify, and surgically destroy opposing forces without making direct contact, or to use aerial assets to reacquire the advantage in battle, or at worst to utilize airpower to break contact with an enemy force. This is obvious, and therefore, Close Air Support exists. Arguably, the Marines have more readily available CAS, as they own and control their own F/A-18s and Harriers. Meanwhile, the Army relies on a complicated and often inefficient system for acquiring the air assets typically pushed their way…the United States Air Force.

Could it be more difficult for our Army leaders to acquire the F-16s, A-10s, and other strike assets required to effectively combat enemy forces? In the Army, the Brigade Commander can control and assign rotary wing (helicopters) to the fight. For example, Apache attack helicopters are theirs, and therefore, easy for the commander to utilize at the time and place where he needs them most. But when that commander needs the power brought to bear by strike aircraft, why must he negotiate these channels.

What if he owned them all, or only had to negotiate his own chain of command to request them? I would argue that not only would his life be easier, but also, the confusion for the pilot in the cockpit and the soldier in the foxhole would be reduced. They would be brothers, sharing institutional values, goals, and mission objectives.

Would it work if the Army owned CAS? Why wouldn't it? The Army currently owns, operates, maintains, and integrates more than 1,000 attack and scout helicopters alone. To do this, they must be more than capable of sustaining a fleet, deconflicting airspace, and most importantly, integrating them on the battlefield. Army leaders are trained at the platoon level on managing and integrating air assets into their missions, and they are competent and effective at doing so. Why is it that not only must all requests for CAS survive the enduring process above, but that they must also be managed by a "blue-suiter" pushed down to the Army battalion level.

If the air over our maneuver forces looks like this now… wouldn't it look more organized if the orders and coordination were all coming from the same command.

I am not making the argument that the Air Force is irrelevant. Most certainly, we must have a branch of our military that wholeheartedly embraces technology, controls nuclear assets, secures air superiority, and performs missions such as strategic bombing and high altitude reconnaissance. Plus, they sure do a great job of training future commercial airline pilots.

In the end, it makes sense to me that we would put the control and command over Close Air Support assets in the hands of the end-user. This is not a new argument, as the Army has begged for the A-10 in years past when the Air Force was prepared to abandon the airframe. Maybe it is an argument that needs revisited.

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