Saturday, February 28, 2009

354th FS hones CAS skills, capabilities at Green Flag East

by Staff Sgt. Jake Richmond
355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

An A-10C from the 354th Fighter Squadron fires 30mm rounds from its GAU-8 cannon during moving-target strafe training at Green Flag East, a close-air support exercise in Louisiana. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jake Richmond) Hi-res

2/27/2009 - DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Members of the 354th Fighter Squadron returned today from their two-week participation in Green Flag East, a permanent-party exercise contingent at Barksdale AFB, La. The ongoing exercise is specifically designed to train flying units that perform air-to-ground combat.

The 354th FS attended GFE in preparation for their upcoming Air Expeditionary Force window.

"The training at Green Flag East relates directly to the missions CAS aircraft perform in Iraq and Afghanistan today," said Lt. Col. Michael Millen, 354th FS commander. "Green Flag is considered a must-do before an AEF spin-up, and it's been excellent training for the Bulldogs."

The purpose of the exercise is to train pilots together with Joint Terminal Attack Controllers and Army ground forces at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. And, thanks to unique agreements with three local governments and the existence of a one-of-a-kind simulated village, units can conduct that training in four separate urban environments.

Maj. Brendan O'Brien, the director of operations for Barksdale's 548th Combat Training Squadron, said pilots and ground troops use real people and vehicles in the cities of Oakdale, Leesville and Deridder, La., to mimic the process of accurately locating and tracking enemy and friendly forces - in an area with active roads and occupied buildings - all the way up to the moment when the target would be engaged with weapons.

The fourth location, aptly named "CAS Town," is located on military-owned land within restricted air space. There, contracted employees act like good guys and bad guys, and JTACs are tasked with identifying them correctly. Then, pilots have to avoid the simulated friendlies and other collateral damage, while the "enemies" are visibly firing simulated weapons at the aircraft. The village is also complete with strategically placed pyrotechnics, which ignite as soon as the imaginary munitions hit their target.

Even though no bombs are dropped and no bullets are fired, Colonel Millen said it still provides an immensely important and distinctive training arena for a difficult part of the CAS mission.

"Our focus here is almost entirely on urban CAS, and it's not easy," he said. "Cities are busy places, and trying to find and track the bad guys among thousands of non-combatants is difficult."

And it's not just the environment that presents the challenge. The GFE exercise planners, like Major O'Brien, constantly work to develop demanding training scenarios that reflect what warfighters are seeing downrange.

"Every time a unit comes in (to Green Flag), we pick the brains of the guys who recently came back from a deployment," Major O'Brien said. "Those guys have seen it up close and personal, and they help keep our training fresh and relevant."

Another part of the deployment training is getting pilots, JTACs and ground forces working comfortably in unison with new digital equipment being used in real combat zones - specifically, the new Tactical Air Control Party, Close Air Support System.

"This was the first time we've had a full unit of A-10Cs with digital capability working with JTACs and ground forces using TACP CASS," Colonel Millen said. "It's really perfect training to help our pilots get familiar with the kinds of combat situations they'll see on their deployments and help develop the tactics they'll be using."

Without TACP CASS, a pilot responding to a troops-in-contact, or TIC, would have to wait until he was in radio range of a JTAC to get much of the information necessary to conduct CAS. Using TACP CASS, JTACs can now digitally send crucial details to the cockpit before the pilot arrives at the engagement.

"A pilot can be en route to a TIC and have very good situational awareness on friendly and enemy positions and ground commanders' intent," said Capt. Andy Pitts, a former F-16 pilot who's now the operations officer in charge for GFE. "Before, pilots didn't really know the situation until they arrived."

Staff Sgt. Tyler Woodson, a JTAC assigned to the Georgia Air National Guard's 165th Air Support Operations Squadron, was also participating in GFE. He said "it's nice to give pilots a good picture of what's going on without having to say much -- and that has noticeable benefits in the fight."

"The technology really makes it easier," Sergeant Woodson said. "From the time the aircraft checks in with us to the time munitions hit the ground is a lot faster than before."

He said he and his fellow JTACs were making the most of their time to learn new and better ways to work with the air component of the CAS process, especially since they all have the same goal.

"There's nothing like the opportunity to go out and give guys on the ground the help they need," he added. "To know in your heart and mind that good guys are going home because you did your job right...that's why we do this."


An A-10C from the 354th Fighter Squadron fires 30mm rounds from its GAU-8 cannon during moving-target strafe training at Green Flag East. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jake Richmond) Hi-res

An A-10C from the 354th Fighter Squadron approaches a target and prepares to fire 30mm rounds from its GAU-8 cannon during training at Green Flag East. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jake Richmond) Hi-res

Two Joint Terminal Attack Controllers coordinate a close-air support attack as an A-10C from the 354th Fighter Squadron, dropping flares, approaches to perform moving-target strafe training during Green Flag East, an exercise in Louisiana for flying units that perform air-to-ground combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jake Richmond) Hi-res

Rounds from an A-10's 30mm GAU-8 cannon impact the ground during moving-target strafe training, a part of the Air Force's Green Flag East exercise in Louisiana. Davis-Monthan's 354th Fighter Squadron participated in GFE for two weeks to enhance their close-air support tactics and capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jake Richmond) Hi-res

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