by Benjamin Newell
Air Combat Command Public Affairs
3/6/2015 - JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. -- Representatives
of each military service, joint warfighters, and civilian experts came
together to discuss the future of Close Air Support at an Air Combat
Command-command hosted summit at the Pentagon, March 2-6.
Dubbed "Future CAS Focus Week", the event served as a joint forum for
more than 60 participants and senior leaders to discuss the current
state of the CAS mission and existing and potential challenges, future
requirements and capability gaps. CAS is an attack by military aircraft
against enemy ground forces who are in close proximity to friendly
"We gathered the best minds in the joint arena to take a deep look at
close air support," said Gen. Hawk Carlisle, commander of Air Combat
Command. "Our objective is to establish a way ahead that ensures close
air support capabilities meet warfighter demands today and are
sustainable into the future."
The Chief of Staff of the Air Force directed the Focus Week, a tacit
recognition that budget and operational concerns are forcing the
services to reassess how they organize, train and equip and that it is
more important than ever to take the time to assess the current state of
the critical CAS mission. As the lead command for the Combat Air
Forces, with a role of ensuring the right platforms and CAS experts in
their cockpits, ACC was the natural choice to execute the event.
"We have flown CAS missions since World War I," said Col James Meger,
Commander of ACC's 355th Fighter Wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base,
Ariz. "It's part of our DNA and commitment to our joint teammates and it
will be part of our mission for another 100. We have built a strong
CAS culture with our pilots and our Joint Terminal Air Controllers. CAS
entails a highly trained force to protect our friendly forces and hunt
down and kill our Nation's enemies."
In addition to representatives from each of the services, attendees
included members of the Joint Staff, U.S. Special Operations Command,
the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the Rand Corporation.
Most important, attendees included representatives of the ground forces
that benefit from CAS and the air crew and JTACs who ensure its
application on the battlefield.
"Inter-service collaboration is essential in order to determine the way
forward for effective CAS in the future," said Marine Corps Major Dustin
Byrum, Air Officer Department Head, Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics
Squadron One, Yuma, Ariz. "As a Marine pilot and Forward Air Controller
I have supported Air Force and Coalition JTACs as well as been
supported by Air Force aircraft. We have to be able to operate in a
joint environment. Having all of our joint partners together to talk
about fire support allows us to incorporate the views and capabilities
of each service."
That point was echoed by Col. Jeffrey Burdett, ACC's Assistant Deputy
Director of Requirements here, who noted that collaboration was critical
in the face of changing threats.
"The enemy changes and we change," Burdett said. "While the joint
community conducts close air support better than ever before, the
current experience [i.e. operating in relatively uncontested airspace]
has degraded our ability to operate in more demanding environments. In
concert with our joint service partners, we developed an understanding
of where the Air Force should focus its future resources to best support
the CAS mission."
Focus Week participants were divided into three groups. One group
included experts in past CAS operations, who provided details on what
the services have learned during more than a decade of continuous combat
operations. A second studied the current state of CAS capabilities. The
final group looked at emerging threats and how the services could
factor those threats into training, tactics, procedures, and doctrine.
Collectively, the groups approached their discussions from the
perspective that CAS is broader than any particular platform.
"It's critical for those who follow our current operations to understand
that CAS is not a mission defined by a single aircraft," said Rollin
Dixon, ACC's Deputy Chief of Flight Operations. "We want to pull in all
the experts to really look at how we will continue performing this
mission, regardless of the platform we're using."
That point was echoed by the Honorable John McHugh, Secretary of the
Army, who at a Defense Writers Group breakfast last month said that
added that "...from the Army side, we view it [the CAS mission] as
absolutely critical. What a Soldier wants to see, and what the command
structure of the United States Army wants to have happen, is when
circumstances on the battlefield require, we have explosive ordnances on
the enemy position. What platform the Air Force chooses to utilize in
that is a matter for their discussions and decisions."
Due to the classified nature of the discussions, recommendations won't
likely be made public. However, the fruits of these discussions may be
changes that will impact the course of CAS training and execution for
"We sat down with all our joint partners, our customers, to ask them
what they wanted and what they thought about the future of CAS. From
there we melded recommendations to ensure all aspects of the Air Force's
CAS mission continue to develop and are improved by technology and
joint interoperability," said Meger. "Most important we provided
recommendations to ensure the appropriate weight of effort was placed on
the mission and that the Air Force CAS culture is not just preserved
but that it advances."