The Joint Fires Integration and Interoperability Team helped joint warfighters sharpen their close-air support capabilities at a recent Joint Readiness Training Center exercise.
By Casey E. Bain
(FT. POLK, LA. - Oct. 6, 2009) -- U.S. Joint Forces Command's (USJFCOM) Joint Fires Integration and Interoperability Team (JFIIT) assisted Army, Air Force and Navy warfighters hone their close-air support (CAS) skills during a recent exercise at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) here.
The training, led by JRTC's Operations Group and Green Flag East with support from JFIIT, focused units on improving mission-essential CAS skills used during upcoming deployments.
The Army's 1st Special Forces Group from Fort Lewis, Wash., joint fire obervers (JFOs) from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Ky., Air Force joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) from the 19th Air Support Operations Squadron, Fort Campbell, Ky., and the Navy's Strike Fighter Squadron 11 at Naval Air Station-Oceana, Va., partnered to conduct what one senior pilot called the best pre-deployment training he has ever received.
"This is the best pre-deployment training that we've ever experienced," said Navy Cmdr. J.J. Cummings, commander, Strike Fighter Squadron 11. "I can't wait to get back and tell the other skippers about it so they can take advantage of this exceptional training opportunity."
The training incorporated CAS situational training exercise (STX) lanes so Army special forces soldiers could work closely with JFOs, JTACs, and Navy F/A-18 Hornet fighter aircrews to improve their emergency CAS tactics, techniques, and procedures for patrolling in an urban environment.
"This has been a great opportunity to work with JTACs and CAS pilots just as we will in theater," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Cudlich, 1st Special Forces Group. "This is about as real as it gets until we deploy. Learning how to utilize CAS properly will be vital to our success in theater and this training will go a long way in helping us achieve that goal."
"This has been just like a no-kidding deployment to us," Cummings said. "Being able to practice putting down fire in an urban environment near the proximity of friendly forces is something that makes our entire team better."
JRTC and GFE employ joint assets that provides realistic and rigorous training to replicate operational environments in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"JRTC and Green Flag have done a superb job of enhancing CAS training for the entire joint warfighting team," said Army Maj. Thomas Kokes, JFIIT lead at JRTC. "Our mission is to help integrate those assets and bridge fires-related gaps between the services so they will improve their combat effectiveness while reducing the potential of fratricide and collateral damage when they're deployed."
"Ensuring all warfighters understand the capabilities and limitations of each system operating in the battlespace is crucial," said Air Force Lt. Col. Rhude Cherry III, commander, GFE and the 548th Combat Training Squadron, Fort Polk, La. "We reinforce the right process and best practices from units currently in theater to teach units how to achieve the ground commander's desired effects on the battlefield."
According to Air Force Staff Sgt. Chris Brown, GFE JTAC instructor, the unique opportunity for an Army BCT to plan and execute realistic missions with many of the same assets they will have in theater is crucial to the unit's success.
"We're trying to simulate the battlefield conditions downrange," Brown said. "Part of that is to help teach the BCT how to employ CAS. We want to give them that experience before they deploy. If we're successful in our mission here, then we will see those results when the units get into theater. They will be able to execute their job more efficiently and we'll save lives in the process."
"This CAS training is extremely realistic and replicates what the units will experience in theater," Cherry added. "JFOs and JTACs will pass six to10 nine-line messages to CAS aircraft and fighter pilots will execute10 to 20 lethal attacks. That's in every training period or vulnerability window. That's great training."
The need for BCTs to continue honing joint air-to-ground skills is an important part of training, according to JRTC, GFE, and JFIIT leaders.
"BCTs need to become very familiar with what their JTACs and other joint assets can do to help the maneuver commander execute their mission more effectively," Kokes said. "That training may start here, but it won't end here. It's a set of crucial skills that needs to be practiced continuously."
According to senior leaders at JRTC, the importance of integrating joint assets at the combat training center was more important than it is today.
"You can't just talk about integrating joint assets," said Brig. Gen. James C. Yarbrough, commanding general, JRTC and Fort Polk. "You've got to do it. You've got to do it slow, you've got to do it fast, you've got to do it at night, and you've got to make mistakes. That's how you learn. Units come here expecting to train jointly and it's up to us to deliver."