French close air support expert discusses "fundamental changes"

Contributor:  Richard de Silva
Posted:  07/30/2012  12:00:00 AM EDT
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Tags:   CAS

Commander Jean-Marc Brenot is a CAS expert with the French Navy and provides Defence IQ with an overview of the lessons and methods employed by his forces in the field of CAS, with particular emphasis on the ISAF mission, multinational cooperation, and overcoming the complexity of new technologies, including the Navy’s use of IDM and ROVER…

How has operational close air support evolved in the past 10 years from the French Naval perspective – can you provide any specific developments in regards to recent deployments, such as the ISAF mission?

The most fundamental change has been the acceptance and full integration of air power into the Land-Component. Because of experience in Afghanistan there is not a private soldier to a Brigadier who does not understand the value of air power. This has been a significant change. Close Air Support is a key Course of Action on the modern battlefield… it is the cornerstone for integration of air power within a land battle.

In the past, during the first Gulf War, the rate of CAS sorties was less than 20% of the total missions flown. Then during, the second Gulf war, and Afghanistan, the rate of CAS sorties has been 80 % to 90 % of the total.

In the last 20 years the evolution of the battlefield required air power to provide more and more fire support and intelligence support to Western land components. This support was provided at the front line, to provide the infantry with lethal strike and the ability to defeat the enemy quickly.

Therefore, to follow the intent of commanding officers from Western Nations this integration has had to develop into a much more cohesive form between the Air Component and the Land Component. Currently, in Afghanistan a sergeant or corporal could be in charge of this integration.

The soldier, called JTAC, is the key man on the battlefield, when we think of pilots as warriors of the battlefield, they are only [considered that] thanks to this specialist who allows the tactical integration of Air Power on the battlefield.

Many devices during these last 20 years have been built to help in this mission… ROVER which provides VID of the target, Spotmap and the IDM which provide common geographic and space references to the pilots and to the JTAC.

In terms of the technology available for CAS operations, what improvements would greatly enhance a French Naval pilot’s ability to perform with accuracy and without incident?

As said before, during the last 20 years, some devices have been improved to make easier the talk-ons and controls of the aircraft by JTACs.

These devices are supporting the key mission of the JTACs: safety of own troops; safety of pilots; choice of the target.

The French Navy Aircraft are equipped with IDM and ROVER which help French Pilots to safely strike the battlefield in support of the NATO Land forces.

Does the rapid development of technology in regards to CAS operations – laser designation, data transfer, GPS, or whatever else – make training for integrated air/land operations easier or more complex? How do French Naval personnel ensure they are effectively briefed and appropriately confident with the equipment at hand?

You are absolutely right. The Operational Contemporary Environment (COE) on the battlefield is as complex for the pilots as for the infantry. Not only new devices as GPS guided bombs, IDM, ROVER, but the combined maneuvers are also complex. When you integrate air power to strike the enemy, the complexity of the battlefield is increased.

When airpower is tactically integrated in your maneuver, you are obliged to conduct CAS and the joint fires process.

Therefore, in training you need to train your JTACs and your pilots as they will fight. It is difficult to set a live or simulated COE around pilots and JTACs. It is a key point. Therefore, the French Navy pilots are trained by CPM (Centre of Preparation of Mission) which is a warfare centre of the French Navy in charge of joint and combined training.

By the way, basic training will never prepare your pilots to be ready to fight in a modern war. In fact, the French navy is looking to develop realistic training. The problem comes with integrating all this technology and human interface on the battlefield. To do this the French navy will regularly train with French and foreign JTACs. This can only be achieved during fully integrated exercises that include Joint Fires, land maneuver and live weapons dropped from the aircraft.

So on that note, in what ways are joint and multinational operations increasing the effectiveness of CAS operations overall? And from an operator’s perspective, what challenges or opportunities has this provided?

Initially there were some large obstacles to overcome on joint operations. It is hard when individual countries have different Rules of Engagement for different scenarios and the language barrier can also be difficult. It also takes time to build up trust between different nations, JTACs and pilots. Of course this re-iterates my point about joint training before deploying on operations.

Obviously sharing experiences of CAS with partner nations allows for better integration and more effective CAS but we must also remember that Afghanistan is not the war it is a war. The future battle-space may be shaped very differently with allies who maybe do not have the technology that we are able to utilize today.

From the air component perspective, multinational operations like ISAF operations help NATO command to develop interoperability between different air powers as the French Navy, US Navy and others. When CAS is playing integration between air power and land component, it is also playing integration between all airpowers.

In what ways are CAS COA increasing the effectiveness of operations. What challenges or opportunities has this provided?

When developing their Decision Making Process, Land forces commander get the choice to use or not to use CAS.

On the first hand, when as CO or as Commander, you do not commit your air power, the combined maneuver is easier, because there is no conflict about the airspace for combined fires of the artillery and the fires of the airpower. There is no co-ordination to be refined between air power and land forces. But your maneuver and offensives operations will be slowed down every time you will be obliged to seize a stronghold of the enemy. When you do not get CAS sorties on the battlefield it is difficult to beat the enemy without casualties… What would have been the outcome of the battle of Anaconda in February 2002 without CAS support missions of NATO Air power?

In this battle, to give a quick advantage to the US infantry of the 10th Mountain Brigade surrounded by the Taliban, the CAOC decided to engage USAF, US Navy and French Navy sorties. On the first day, in 24 hours the US battalion supported by the three air powers dropped 235 bombs to destroy the enemy.

On the other hand if you decide to permanently engage aircraft above your infantry to give a quick defeat to the enemy, your planning process will always be joint... and therefore more complex!

But, using CAS, you will keep the initiative and momentum on the battlefield and keep the enemy on your foot print. Every time your enemy will try to stop you at the tactical level, he will get an air strike controlled by a JTAC.

Why do you believe it to be important to attend International Close Air Support this year? Is there anything in particular that you are keen to hear from our other speakers or attendees?

Firstly, when you think of the next war, you need to share your ideas and your war processes with other specialists. Secondly, international conferences are a way to be aware of new devices able to improve efficiency of French Navy pilots and aircraft.

Richard de Silva Contributor:   Richard de Silva

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