Close Air Support receives call for transformation to support counterinsurgency missions.
An international investigation was opened this week concerning the August 26th American led air strike in western Helmand province Afghanistan that reportedly killed 90 civilians, including 60 children. According to U.N. sources who claim to have “convincing evidence” of the atrocity; the attack was the bloodiest example of “collateral damage” during the seven-year campaign in Afghanistan. The air-launched bombs hit an Afghan village after being requested by American Special Forces soldiers and Afghan commandos fighting militants in a nearby village who suspected that Taliban fighters were using it as a rally point.
Since bombing the Taliban from power in 2001, US forces have relied on air sorties and close air support (CAS) weapons effects to compensate for the much publicized shortage of “boots on the ground”. As the militants have reorganized and gained strength, Special Forces have increased the use of CAS bombing including air-to-ground precision guided bombs dropped from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) resulting in a marked increase in civilian deaths.
Operating independently from Afghanistan’s NATO-led peacekeepers, US Special Forces and maneuver units have heavily focused on specialized counter Insurgency (COIN) missions such as cordon and search, weapons cache detection and seizure, insurgent safe-house engagement, ambush point surveillance, sniper and improvised explosive device (IED) detection, insurgent activity pattern monitoring, and convoy over-watch. To succeed, these missions require a “bottoms up” approach to the application of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), specialized situational awareness (SA), improved command and control (C2) procedures for utilizing CAS and improvements in air-launched weapons precision and effects.
Understanding the Air Tasking Order (ATO) Cycle
The principle tactical operations support component responsible for delivering ISR to support COIN operations in US Central Command’s (US-CENTCOM) area of operations (AO) is the combined force air component commander (CFACC). The CFACC operational construct was perfected in the Pre-Gulf war era by the US Air Force to develop the ability to fight at an operational level in support of battle plans under the direction of the combined ground force land component commander (CFLCC) for conventional ground forces scheme of maneuver for corps and divisional units engaging enemy units of similar size fielding conventional weapons. To plan these operations, the CFLCC would request ISR, interdiction, CAS, and a range of other support missions from CFACC, thereby initiating an air tasking order (ATO) cycle based on codified joint doctrine and processed through the air operations center (AOC).
Based on a hierarchical request process, the ATO cycle proved an ideal operational concept for use in a conventional war, but has proven itself inadequate for use in support of COIN operations.
How COIN Operations Differ from Conventional Warfare
COIN operations are best characterized as highly complex, dynamic and often unpredictable – substantially differentiated from conventional operations due to the nature of enemy tactics and weapons. As opposed to modern armies, insurgents do not use traditional military weapons and equipment, initiate a broad array of irregular small-unit actions, and often wear civilian clothes. They do not operate in large organized formations from traditional chain-of-command bases, and often blend in with the indigenous population for protection. Detecting and engaging this enemy differs considerably from engaging conventional war fighters and destroying their weapons systems.
Insurgent missions are undertaken to disrupt coalition operations and create instability. They almost never engage coalition forces in conventional battle, instead using suicide bombers, sniper attacks, ambushes, and IED’s against military and civilian targets to inflict damage. Insurgents also conduct sabotage against water desalination plants, oil pipelines and refining facilities, power lines and generating stations and other high-value infrastructure targets. The aforementioned activities and the smuggling of contraband and weapons from Pakistan, Syria and Iran has created difficult ISR challenges for detecting these types of actions that are quite different than those used in conventional wars.
Precision Guided Weapons Effects: More Lethal, More Available
Just as the war fighter requirements for conducting COIN operations have increased the need for revising ISR and C2 concepts to deliver a more sophisticated SA data set, industry has been tasked with delivering CAS weapons that create new precision and effects outcomes.
Setting the current standard in precision guided munitions (PGM’s) are the Paveway and enhanced Paveway from Raytheon Missile Systems, and the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) series from Boeing Integrated Defense Systems. Paveway and JDAM are essentially guidance kits that are attached to a range of conventional bombs. When these weapons were first deployed, all Paveways were laser guided and all JDAMS used Global Positioning System (GPS) aided inertial navigation system (INS) guidance to hit their targets with a vast improvement in precision. As these weapons proved their value and utility in combat operations, aggressive developments were initiated to create dual-mode PGM’s. Today the enhanced Paveway uses both laser and GPS/INS and Boeing has delivered the Laser JDAM (LJDAM) incorporating a new laser seeker. Boeing has also released a statement concerning work underway on a new active radar-guided JDAM for use against moving targets in all-weather conditions.
While these “smart” bombs have brought unprecedented precision to the CAS mission, their use with conventional 500 lb., 1000 lb. and 2000 lb ordinance often creates unacceptable collateral damage – akin to using a sledge hammer to kill an ant.
PGM USED IN COIN OPERATIONS
A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft flies over Afghanistan in support of CAS operations. U.S. Air Force F-15, A-10 Thunderbolt II and B-52 Stratofortress aircraft are providing close-air support to troops on the ground engaged in rooting out insurgent sanctuaries and support networks. The F-15 crew and fighter are deployed to the 336th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron in Southwest Asia from the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. DoD photo by Master Sgt. Lance Cheung, U.S. Air Force(Released).
A U.S. Air Force airman assigned to the 332nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron arms an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft by removing the safety pins at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, on June 18, 2008. The F-16 pilots provide close air support to ground forces during combat missions all over Iraq. DoD photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter, U.S. Air Force (Released).
U.S. Air Force Pilot Capt. Kerry Kane performs preflight checks on precision guided munitions loaded on an F-15E Strike Eagle at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Strike Eagles fly radar suppression and radar-jamming missions for Operation Northern Watch, which is the coalition enforcement of the no-fly-zone over Northern Iraq. Kane is attached to the 494th Fighter Squadron at RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Vince Parker, U.S. Air Force (Released).
U.S. Navy Airman Miguel Torres, Petty Officers 2nd Class Damon Thomas, Mike Catron and Petty Officer 3rd Class Jason Arroyo move carts loaded with GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided and GBU-38 global-positioning-system guided bombs to an F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). Eisenhower is deployed in support of maritime security operations in the Arabian Sea. The Navy aviation ordnancemen are attached to Strike Fighter Squadron 103. DoD photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Miguel Angel Contreras, U.S. Navy (Released).
Petty Officer 3rd class Joshua Silva attaches a stabilizer fin to a GBU-16 Paveway II 1,000-pound laser guided bomb loaded on an F/A-18C Hornet aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) underway in the Persian Gulf. Silva serves as an aviation ordnanceman assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 105. DoD photo by Petty Officer 3rd class Craig R. Spiering, U.S. Navy (Released).
Reducing Collateral Damage
As civilian casualties have piled up, military planners have engaged industry with contracts for developing small diameter bombs (SDB’s) that maintain duel or multi-mode precision on smaller war-head munitions. Boeing was selected in 2003 to build the SDB 1 for the USAF (the GBU-39). Today a Raytheon led group is competing with a joint Boeing and Lockheed Martin team to produce the SDB 2, the second phase of the small diameter bomb program. The next generation design will combine the GPS-guided gliding weapon with a multimode seeker for applications against moving targets such as vehicles and small naval vessels. A sole source award to the winner is expected in September of 2009.
Boeing has also developed an upgrade to the GBU-39 to further reduce collateral damage in the blast zone footprint. Using the current 250 lb. SDB, the Focused Lethality Munition (FLM) warhead uses a carbon fiber shell incorporating a multiphase blast explosive fill that reduces bomb fragmentation effects.
Other noteworthy international industry developments in the PGM arena include the French SAGEM GPS/INS and infra-red (IR) guidance modular air-to-surface weapon; Rafael Israel’s Whizzard, Lizard 2 and the IR guided Opher; and the Russian GLONASS satellite guidance KAB-500S-E PGM glide bomb.
Implications for the Long War and Beyond
The detection and destruction of conventional targets, a protracted advance planning process, and ISR support to operational–level commanders associated with conventional theatre war have been made obsolete by the asymmetric threats presented by insurgent tactics. Today’s military planners are facing a new “bottoms up” intelligence collection paradigm where Brigade and Battalion level intelligence sourcing often starts with human intelligence (HUMINT) and is of highest value to mission planning and execution. This localized G2 will now need to flow upward to Division and Corps level aggregators (the inverse of ISR data-flow in conventional war). At the same time, the arrival to the battle space of increased precision multi-mode all-weather low collateral damage PGM’s will begin to provide the CFACC with CAS more suitable effects for COIN operations.
By developing an integrated operational methodology specifically suited to the unique requirements of COIN, CFACC will enable new ISR and PGM usage models that will benefit current operations in South West Asia and future conflicts brought on by militant state and non-state actors intent on establishing the caliphate in the long war to come.
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