At the Air Force Warfare Centre at Nellis Air Force Base just outside Las Vegas, Nevada, lessons learned supporting ground troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are being shared with the aviation community and incorporated into the training as quickly as they’re developed.
Meanwhile, the centre’s operational arm, the 57th Wing, is helping to train warfighters to take maximum advantage of air assets available to support them, as well as airmen who operate directly with them in the combat theater.
“When you look around the warfare center, it is hard to think of what really isn’t connected to today’s fight in some shape or form,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Stanley “Ted” Kresge, Air Force Warfare Center commander. “The entire institution is responding to what is going on, and how it can better support the troops on the ground.”
The 561st Joint Tactics Squadron is the most forward edge of that effort. Its members regularly deploy into the combat theatre to identify emerging tactics, techniques and procedures, as well as gaps in warfighter support.
“We form teams of experts across mission areas and travel to Iraq and Afghanistan to interview people at war, sit down and have discussions about what’s working, what’s not working, what’s going on, and [asking], ‘What have you learned since you have been here?'” Kresge said. “They’re not only trying to find out what is working, but also what is not working, then to close the book and do something about it with a feedback cycle.”
The teams report their findings back to the schoolhouse to incorporate into its programmes, which provide the world’s most advanced training in weapons and tactics employment to combat air forces officers.
The warfare center shares these lessons with the Air Force aviation community, as well as Army and Marine Corps leaders, during regular joint forums. But another popular venue, the Web-based “Community of Practice,” reaches out to a broader population with a real-time tactics exchange. The forum is by far the most-viewed network on the Air Force Knowledge Now portal.
“Folks can get on there and prepare their training plan before they go to the [combat theater],” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Russell J. Handy, the 57th Wing commander. “It gives them the opportunity to learn first-hand what is going on over there, and what they need to train for differently.”
Meanwhile, as the warfare centre’s operations arm, the 57th Wing supports this effort through tactics development geared to the evolving threat.
For example, the wing helped to identify the best ways for the F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft, designed as a long-range interdiction platform, to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and close-air support missions in the current fight.
Also, training on the massive Nevada Test and Training Range here, it tested tactics used to provide reconnaissance and close-air support in conditions found in the combat zone. The wing came up with techniques for tracking high-value targets riding in fast-moving vehicles, “skipping” bombs deep inside tunnels serving as insurgent hiding grounds, and increasing the precision of strikes in busy urban centers without causing collateral damage.
Currently, the wing is focused heavily on taking better advantage of digital tools such as the remote operated video enhanced receiver, or ROVER, to improve coordination between ground troops and Air Force support elements, Handy said.
“What we found over the years is that there is a lot more efficient and better way to pass information than just jumping on the radio and talking to each other,” he said.
Far better, he explained, is enabling front-line forces to receive streaming video directly from both manned and remotely piloted aircraft. Digitally aided close-air support tools provide the same operational picture to ground commanders, the on-the-ground joint terminal attack controller and aircraft pilot, he explained.
“Every time you hear better or different ways of doing things, we’re on top of it,” Handy said. “It’s all about how to most quickly and efficiently support those troops on the ground.”
As the 57th Wing advances new tactics, techniques and procedures, the Air Force Warfare Center works to get them out to the Air Force community as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, the wing also helps to train ground troops to take maximum advantage of air support available to them.
It provides air support for ground forces about to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq during their mission rehearsal exercises at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, and the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
A detachment based at the Army Fires Center at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, trains joint fires officers operating at the platoon level to coordinate close-air support, when needed.
In addition, the wing provides advanced training for airmen who working directly with ground troops in the combat theater, with an increasing focus on training more joint terminal attack controllers who typically work at the corps level to coordinate close-air support.
“We are rapidly expanding that programme to meet the demands in the area of responsibility, and looking for better and more efficient ways to train,” Handy said.
Ultimately, he said, the mission comes down to increasing the Air Force’s effectiveness in supporting ground troops in harm’s way. “It’s all about being able to find out that there is someone in trouble on the ground, and as quickly and efficiently as possible, help that soldier on the ground,” he said.
The joint effort – ground forces supported by air assets – brings a capability exponentially larger than what either ground or air forces could provide alone, he said. “I’ve never seen the joint relationship any stronger,” he added.