Close Air Support Emphasized in Afghanistan Military Operations

Contributor:  Defence IQ Press
Posted:  04/01/2010  12:00:00 AM EDT
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The nature of Afghanistan military operations is placing increasing emphasis on close air support.

In Wardak province, a newly-established combat outpost, Joghato, houses a team whose job it is to seek out the enemy and close air support plays a significant role in that.

Army and Air Force troops are working together to coordinate close air support, target the origin of incoming fire to the combat outpost and improve overall security for soldiers on the ground.

As Afghanistan military operations progress into new territory, close air support becomes increasingly important.

"This area hasn't really been ventured into, so there's a lot of insurgent presence here," explained US Army Sergeant Joshua Smith, the fire support non-commissioned office for combat outpost Joghato.

"They like to use schools or clinics to shoot from and we have to be real careful with what we do on returning fire due to these structures," he added.

This strategy used by insurgents in the area places a bigger emphasis on close air support and precision firing for the soldiers conducting Afghanistan military operations in Joghato.

Close Air Support: Training for Afghanistan Military Operations

In a measure of the importance of close air support and the challenges pilots face in delivering this, airmen from the British RAF's 13 Squadron recently headed out to the United States to undergo special training ahead of joining Afghanistan military operations.

The Tornado unit, which is normally based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, is taking part in Exercise Green Flag, an intensive flying programme at the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. The massive desert ranges around this base cover 15,000 square miles of airspace and provide similar conditions to those faced by forces on Afghanistan military operations, particularly in Helmand province.

"We are here to do world-class close air support training with our US cousins, and basically getting the skills and experience levels up on the crews of 13 Squadron," said Wing Commander Howard Edwards, the officer commanding this regiment.

"In the Afghanistan context close air support is vital for UK troops and the coalition troops on the ground," he added, echoing the comments made by Sergeant Joshua Smith.

Flying conditions in Afghanistan are not particularly favourable, which adds an extra challenge for close air support. The mountains can by up to 4,420m high, causing particular problems at night, when pilots are operating on night vision goggles with not much cultural lighting, which means it is very dark.

In preparation for Afghanistan military operations, the pilots are training with troops on the ground—soldiers that will be deployed to the country at the same time as them—so they are able to practice giving them the close air support they need.

Close Air Support: Technology

As this strategy plays a key role in Afghanistan military operations, so too does the technology facilitating it. As well as involving pilots in close air support, the United States military is seeking to use unmanned systems for these efforts.

In January, the Defence Advanced Research Project Agency's (DARPA's) Tactical Technology Office issued a solicitation requesting ideas on the aircraft and command-and-control elements of a Next Generation Close Air Support system. It specified that these should focus only on unmanned systems.

Within two to three years, DARPA could demonstrate a new unmanned aerial vehicle designed to provide close air support for troops on Afghanistan military operations near to enemy forces.

Defence IQ Press Contributor:   Defence IQ Press

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