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Pope TACP Airmen integrate Air Support Operations Center during Warfighter exercise

  • Published
  • By Marvin Krause
  • 43rd Airlift Group Public Affairs
Tactical Air Control Party Airmen from the 682nd and 14th Air Support Operations Squadrons integrated a new close air support process for combat operations during the 82nd Airborne Division's Warfighter 14-04 exercise on Fort Bragg, April 7 to 17.

These Airmen provided close air support command and control for a true combined joint team during this WFX, specifically for the 82nd Airborne Division, designated as Combined Joint Task Force-82, to accomplish its assigned mission of forming the nucleus of a Joint Task Force Headquarters along with forces from Canada and Great Britain.

The Warfighter is a command post training exercise, designed and led by the Mission Command Training Program at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, which simulates scenarios units might encounter in war. The exercises are designed to challenge commanders and their staffs to be both tactical and academic in their approach to wartime decision making.

TACP Airmen established and operated a 24-hour Air Support Operations Center during the exercise within the CJTF-82 Joint Fires cell. The Air Support Operations Center is a part of the Theater Air Control System, which is the doctrinal mechanism the Army and the Air Force use to integrate close air support on the battlefield.

"The ASOC is the link between the Tactical Air Control Party Airmen that are aligned with Army divisions and the Air Operations Center that is executing the air effort on behalf of the Joint Forces Air Component Commander," said Lt. Col. Jonathan King, 14th Air Support Operations Squadron commander. "The ASOC prioritizes and de-conflicts current close air support operations. They receive CAS requests from subordinate TACP units in the field, then assign and control Joint aircraft resources to targets."

The ASOC is the primary control agency of the Theater Air Control System for execution of air and space power in direct support of land operations. Its mission is to control air operations short of the Fire Support Coordination Line.

The ASOC coordinates and directs air support for land forces at the tactical level. The ASOC is directly subordinate to the Air and Space Operations Center and is responsible for the coordination and control of air component missions in its assigned area.

Previously, the 682nd ASOC was aligned with XVIII Airborne Corps; however, under the new construct, all ASOC functions are distributed to ASOSs aligned with Army divisions. The 14th ASOS at Pope is in the process of building an ASOC in support of 82nd Airborne Division operations. In the future, the four ASOSs that support each division under the XVIII Airborne Corps will operate an ASOC.

The Air Force is implementing this process to become more agile and effective at joint control and integration of airspace in combat environments. The effort to create and operate an ASOC at the division-level and for the 82nd Airborne Division comes with some issues though.

"Some of the issues we are running into because of this migration are logistics and funding concerns since Air Combat Command is increasing from five to eight mobility teams consisting of 51 personnel each. The move and implementation of additional personnel, training and equipment is a complex task," said Maj. Mark McClay, 682nd Air Support Operations Squadron director of operations.

Another issue is ASOC integration into ASOSs not accustomed to having ASOC personnel.

"This will change the way they do business since ASOC personnel will include new Air Force Specialty Codes, training requirements and qualifications that will be in addition to the ones already present in an ASOS," McClay said.

ASOC integration with Army divisions is also an issue.

"The transition from a division TACP to a full Air Force command and control entity, within the division command post, is a significant change. This means making changes in the structure to include space for additional Air Force personnel and equipment as well as new processes to integrate the different command and control de-confliction systems," McClay said.

The implementation of the migration concept is still in its infancy. Airmen are driving solutions to these issues on the front lines since it's the creativity and adaptability of the Airmen building the Division level ASOSs who are identifying and solving these issues.

"This is why the Warfighter exercise is such a valuable training environment for us. It provides the platform for us to unravel the issues we don't know about yet. It also provides the stimulus to think critically about mission sets and how to employ the capability. It allows us to experiment so we can validate different solutions for tactical problems we experience," King said.

The 82nd, 14th ASOS and 682nd ASOS are working to develop new doctrine and techniques, tactics and procedures locally to guide the employment of the ASOC at the division level, which will be incorporated as joint doctrine for future battlefield operations. The Warfighter further strengthened the bond between the Air Force and the 82nd Airborne Division as a joint team able to rapidly deliver air and ground forces to any combatant command worldwide as part of the Global Response Force mission.

"The ASOC has to be adapted to the mission of the division it supports. For the 82nd Airborne Division, there are significant issues with ASOC equipment and manning constructs that were developed for corps missions. To operate at the 82nd, both have to be light and mobile enough to support airborne operations," King said.

The migration is being accomplished to support the Air Force tenet of decentralized execution. This pushes CAS decision-making, planning, de-confliction and execution to appropriate levels that support division tactical operations. Additionally, as the Air Force transitions to a digital environment, this construct is more responsive to implement and integrate digital CAS operations. This is the future of TACPs for the joint audience.

"TACPs supported the exercise in a variety of ways. For the past four months we have been heavily involved in the planning effort to integrate CAS into the Joint Fires plan. TACPs are part of the 82nd's command staffs from the division down to battalion level. We contribute to the execution phase of the exercise by implementing the Air Tasking Order in the division battle space, advising Army commanders on CAS integration and terminal control of CAS assets," King said.

"They serve as the link between the Army senior tactical element and Air Force AOC for battle execution. The ASOC Gateway system also provides integration between aircraft and TACP data link and digital systems to pass information and increase the situational awareness of all players," King said.

"When the Joint Terminal Attack Controllers in the field are getting fired on, they'll send us a form stating their position and what kind of forces they're being fired on from to this equipment called the Gateway," said Staff Sgt. Alvin Delos Santos, an command and control battle management operations specialist with the 682nd Air Support Operations Squadron. "We'll process that data and then send it straight to the ASOC, so that they can process it and then get aircraft over their heads to support them on the ground," he said.

For the exercise, Delos Santos and his fellow airmen provided an air picture for the ASOC, who pushed it up to the Air Operations Center, so they can see where friendly aircraft and forces are located as well as targets that are being fired upon.

"We have shortened the decision time to identify and attack targets, providing the guys on the ground with a tactical picture so they can see where aircraft are located to support them," Delos Santos said.