A major weakness in the US
military is coordinating fire support. Each service has different training, equipment,
procedures, and techniques. In addition, no service has true fire support experts,
just experts in specific fields like naval gunfire, close air support,
artillery, and mortars. This is a problem for military forces worldwide,
and has been written about by many
Major E. E. Shoults' 1993 article: Let's
All Get On Board With CAS
article in the Marine Corps Gazette:
A Revolution in Company Fire Support
30, 2003 article in Aviation Week: Not
So Fast; Battle Of Baghdad Delayed
May 2003 GAO Report: Issues
Hamper Air Support of Ground Forces (pdf)
The solution is a Joint Fire Support Command to establish doctrine, standard procedures, and
standard equipment. It will also run a
school for all four armed services that trains a Joint Universal Spotter (JUS)
to replace the multitude of forward observers and air controllers. A six-month basic spotters course
E-2s will produce experts in
map reading, GPS systems, radio systems, naval gunfire, artillery spotting,
mortar spotting, and close air support. The school will also offer a three-month
advanced "Chiefs" course for career JUS servicemen at the grade of E-6. This course
will also teach the neglected aspect of munitions costs and inventory
management. For example, there is no need to waste a million-dollar Tomahawk missile on a bunker when a Navy 5-inch gun
can destroy it. And if
you only have 200 MLRS loads in theater, you don't waste them on
In the Air Force, young JUS graduates will
begin as terminal attack controllers, then move up to planning cells. In the
Army and Marines, they will begin as platoon spotters, relieving Lieutenants who are too busy to serve as an
spotter whenever the correct forward observer or air controller is not in place.
The platoon JUS will also provide a second radio link and serve as the platoon
guide (e.g. navigator). This is an
addition to current units, but one that has been overdue for
years. A JUS will advance in grade up to the company staff, battalion
staff, and onward. Much of this technical work is now done by officers
with limited formal training. In the Navy, a JUS career will begin with a SEAL
team or on cruisers and destroyers coordinating naval
gunfire, and move up to carriers where they plan air support, then upward to Fleet
Ideally, every new Air
Force JUS will serve as an Army platoon spotter first, and every new Navy JUS
as a Marine platoon spotter, to gain broad experience at the cutting edge.
A typical army company will have three platoon JUSs (E-3 thru E-5s); often one airmen and two soldiers. An experienced (E-6) company-level JUS sergeant
and his (E-5) assistant JUS will ensure the young platoon JUSs can do
their critical job. This "ground tour" for young airmen will
eventually provide USAF squadrons and headquarters with people who understand what's happening on
the battlefield. Ground tours with marines will provide the Navy with knowledgeable
JUS sailors. At the battalion level, an E-8 JUS with two E-7
assistants can ensure expert fire support coordination 24-hours a day. They will replace
semi-trained officers with limited experience while freeing expensively trained
pilots for flight duty. Others have proposed centralizing JUS teams at the
battalion level, which is an issue for the new Joint Fire Support Command to decide.
It is important to award each
JUS graduate a badge to wear on any uniform, like a bursting bomb. This is good for esprit,
and will provide instant respect at headquarters when officers argue that their "community" should
be given a mission. Seniors officers will spot senior enlisted men with
their bursting bomb badge and ask them for input, knowing that man has the
training and experience to know what weapons system is best suited. There is
always friction in joint commands as officers advocate use of their resources
since many do not understand the full range of weaponry available.
Senior enlisted JUSs can resolve disputes and work together to employ the
best weaponry suited for each task. These enlisted experts will also serve
in joint training centers and career schools to ensure the proper joint doctrine
is taught and understood. The Navy and Marines can also use E-7 JUSs to ride in the backseat of F/A-18D/Fs to coordinate air
support. They can also play key roles aboard USAF AWACS, Navy Hawkeyes,
and command helicopters.
An officer JUS class can be
established if any service wishes to establish a JUS career path, however, the
need for a JUS career field for enlisted is undeniable. This may seem like
a logical and simple task, yet disputes will immediately emerge as no service
likes to be told to change or give up authority to establish its own procedures
or procure its own communications equipment. These may seem like petty issues, but it will require some
high-level arm twisting to standardize fire support coordination. It
will be several years before JUS graduates advance in grade and appear in higher
level headquarters. When they arrive, there will be a sudden improvement
in fire support coordination as officers realize that competent experts have
finally arrived with the broad training and experience needed to fight modern wars.
September 30, 2002
Officers: Air Force Policy Left Ground Troops High And Dry
General, senior officer say units need more personnel to call in munitions
By Sean D. Naylor, Times staff writer
The Army general who ran Operation Anaconda and one of his senior
fire-support officers are taking issue with Air Force practices they say
allowed enemy targets to escape destruction and deprived soldiers under fire
of badly needed close air support. In particular, they say, the Air Force's reliance on precision-guided bombs
created several problems for troops on the ground in Anaconda, the March
battle in Afghanistan's Shah-e-Kot Valley. The comments come at a time when
Army leaders are fighting a rear-guard action in Washington against what
they see as the Defense Department's trend toward over-reliance on
precision-guided munitions in shaping the future U.S. military.
Their arguments are laid out in two articles in the September-October issue
of Field Artillery magazine, the official journal of the Field Artillery
Center and School at Fort Sill, Okla. The first article is an interview with
Maj. Gen. Franklin "Buster" Hagenbeck, the 10th Mountain Division
who was in charge during Anaconda. The second article, "Afghanistan: Joint
and Coalition Fire Support in Operation Anaconda," was written by Lt. Col.
Christopher Bentley, Hagenbeck's fire support coordinator during the operation.
It sometimes took "hours" for the Air Force to deliver close air
soldiers on the ground, Hagenbeck told Field Artillery. Once a request for
close air support had been passed to a jet by an Airborne Warning and
Control System aircraft, it took the Air Force 26 minutes to calculate the
desired mean point of impact, which is required to ensure the bomb hits the
target, Hagenbeck said.
After that, the aircraft had to get into a busy airspace management scheme
before it could attack the target and deliver the bomb. "Aircraft were
stacked up to the ceiling" and could only be flown in a few at a time, he
told Field Artillery. "It took anywhere from 26 minutes to hours [on
occasion] for the precision munitions to hit the targets.
"That's okay if you're not being shot at or the targets aren't
Hagenbeck told Field Artillery. But often U.S. troops were under fire, and
the targets were "fleeting." When al-Qaida forces on resupply missions stopped their sport- utility
vehicles in one place long enough, "the fixed-wing aircraft would slam
them," Hagenbeck told the magazine. But, he said, that didn't happen often
"We really worked to find ways to kill fleeting targets the first three or
so days," he told Field Artillery. "Honestly, we weren't that
But getting the jets on station quickly enough was only part of the problem.
All too often, according to Hagenbeck and Bentley, even when a jet was
available, Air Force rules prevented it from coming to the aid of soldiers
who needed its support.
"We have a huge procedural and training issue we've got to work through
our Air Force friends," Hagenbeck told Field Artillery. The problem, as he explained it, is that the Air Force refuses to drop
precision-guided munitions unless the strike has been called in by an Air
Force ground forward air controller or an Air Force enlisted terminal attack
controller. But there are not enough of these personnel for one to be placed
in every Army unit that might require close air support. This particularly
was the case in Anaconda, Hagenbeck told Field Artillery.
"This war became platoon fights separated by distances in very rugged
terrain with too few ETACs to go around," he said.
Even infantry units with an airman to call in strikes, he said, can easily
lose that critical capability during combat. "What happens if the ETAC is injured and has to be medevaced [medically
evacuated] or is killed?"
"We needed as many ETACs and GFACs as we could [get] on the ground, and the
Air Force doesn't have them now, and they probably won't have them in the
foreseeable future," he told Army Times.
The solution, according to Hagenbeck and Bentley, is to train and certify
the Army's forward observers - who call in artillery and mortar fire - as
"universal observers," able to call in any Army or Air Force
munitions. "Our FOs must be certified as ground forward air controllers," Bentley
in the article. "This may be a sore spot with the Air Force, but I believe
it to be nonnegotiable."
For his part, Hagenbeck said while it may be a "sore spot" among
counterparts in the Air Force, it was not a point of discord between Army
and Air Force generals. "Conceptually, we're all in agreement that it needs
to happen," Hagenbeck told Army Times.
In the meantime, the Army must do a better job of integrating Air Force
tactical air control party personnel - the EFACs and GFACs - into ground
maneuver units' training and operations, according to Bentley. "We cannot continue to operate with an add-on conglomerate of Air Force
personnel, especially during combat operations," he writes. "We must
and fight as a team."
The Air Force did not provide an official to discuss the issues raised by
Hagenbeck and Bentley before Army Times' deadline.
Hagenbeck and Bentley also touched on other procedural problems that
surfaced with the Air Force during Anaconda.
Bentley criticized the need to coordinate what strike aircraft would be
needed over the battlefield 36 hours ahead of time, as part of the air
tasking order process.
The ATO is "the best mechanism available to coordinate the hundreds of
and mechanical pieces involved in getting air on station, but it is
conversely inflexible and not well-suited to support a nonlinear,
asymmetrical battlefield," he wrote. "The ATO must be flexible enough
change aircraft and munitions packages as the intelligence picture changes
by the minute. Increasing the flexibility of the ATO cycle is imperative to
responsiveness in today's" operational environment.
In his article, Bentley suggests that perhaps the Air Force was reluctant to
take steps that would lead to better close air support. "In some cases, the inabilities of aircraft to break self-imposed [Air
Force] altitude restrictions, slow their strike speed down or strafe the
battlefield (the latter in the case of bombers) restricted these aircrafts'
abilities to deliver timely munitions in close support of troops on the
ground," he wrote.
Hagenbeck also warned against being too impressed by the numbers that get
thrown around whenever air campaigns are discussed. "A ground force commander does not care about the number of sorties being
flown or the number and types of bombs being dropped and their tonnage," he
told Field Artillery. "Those statistics mean nothing to ground forces in
combat. All that matters is whether or not the munitions are time-on-target
and provide the right effects."
Hagenbeck told Army Times that he was not "pointing a finger at the Air
Force" with these comments.
"It's easy to understand numbers, and I think we all often fall into those
kinds of traps," he said. Nevertheless, the general said, "To tell me that we flew this many sorties
and dropped this many bombs, in and of itself, doesn't tell me that it's
been effective in the war fight. It doesn't tell me where the bombs
Hagenbeck and Bentley were not completely dismissive of precision-guided
bombs, the best known of which is the Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM.
"The JDAMs were terribly effective against fixed targets," Hagenbeck
Army Times. "If we were receiving fire from a cave, if we knew there was
going to be a delay [before the close air support arrived], we could
continue suppressive fires with our mortars and machine guns, and then they
could put a bomb inside the cave. What was more difficult for us is if there
were fleeting targets on the ridgeline. ... Then the JDAMs were not
In those instances, it was better for the jets to strafe the target area
with cannons. The best close air support aircraft for these missions were
the Army's AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and the Air Force's A-10
"Warthog" ground attack aircraft during the day, and the Air Force
Operations AC-130 Spectre gunship at night, according to Hagenbeck and
"The most effective close air support asset we had was the Apache, hands
down," Hagenbeck told Field Artillery. "The detainees later said the
were the most feared weapons on the battlefield - the helicopters were on
top of them before they knew what was happening. The Apaches came as close
to 'one shot, one kill' as you can get."
Both officers also had high praise for the Spectre gunship. "Its
effectiveness was amazing," Bentley writes. "The enemy began referring
as the 'Spitting Witch.'" He advocated giving each of the Army's four light
infantry divisions a squadron of AC-130s, or at least making the aircraft
available for "all light infantry training and military operations around
Hagenbeck also made the following points in Field Artillery:
**He didn't consider bringing in 105 mm howitzers "because I knew we could
accomplish the mission without them." The 10th Mountain and 101st Airborne
(Air Assault) divisions, each of which contributed troops to Anaconda, are
armed with 105 mm towed howitzers, but none was deployed to Afghanistan. Hagenbeck told Army Times he did not know who made the decision not to
deploy them, but he acknowledged in Field Artillery that even if he'd had
them available in Afghanistan, he wouldn't have taken them into the battle
on the first day, because he had too few CH-47 Chinook helicopters to carry
them and his infantry force. However, he also told the magazine that an organic ground-based indirect
fire capability is "indispensable" for the close fight.
**The U.S. troops might not have had artillery, but al-Qaida certainly did.
U.S. forces destroyed five Soviet-made D-30 122 mm towed howitzers that the
enemy used to fire on a joint attack by Special Forces troops with Afghan
allies in the early hours of the battle's first day, and also on the
infantry force's helicopter landing zones, Hagenbeck told Field Artillery.
U.S. forces found several others in caves, Hagenbeck said. He told Army
Times he did not know whether the enemy guns inflicted any casualties.
**American surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft found it very difficult
to identify al-Qaida troops and their cave complexes around the valley. "It
took 'boots on the ground' to find the caves," Hagenbeck told Field
Artillery. "The shadows alone precluded our discovering a cave until our
soldiers were almost on top of it." The enemy moved in small groups of three to five fighters, making them
to spot. "During the daylight, we watched them on the Predator,"
told Field Artillery. "At night, when these groups heard a Predator or
AC-130 coming, they pulled a blanket over themselves to disappear from the
night-vision screen. They used low-tech to beat high-tech."