Joint and coalition warfighters improved close air support skills during an exercise led by U.S. Joint Forces Command's Joint Fires Integration and Interoperability Team and the U.S. Air Force's Air Combat Command at a Florida training complex.
By Casey E. Bain
(AVON PARK, Fla. - Sept. 21, 2010) -- Joint and coalition warfighters improved close air support (CAS) skills during an exercise led by U.S. Joint Forces Command's Joint Fires Integration and Interoperability Team and Air Combat Command (ACC) at Avon Park Air Ground Training Complex recently.
Atlantic Strike 10-02 trained warfighters to find, fix, track, target, engage and assess fixed and moving ground targets.
"Atlantic Strike is the quintessential air-to-ground training exercise that provides joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs), joint fires observers (JFOs) and aircrews with the skills they need to effectively work together to achieve both lethal and non-lethal effects on the battlefield," said Marine Corps Maj. Jabari Reneau, JFIIT's Atlantic Strike exercise director. "This training will ultimately improve our combat effectiveness while reducing the potential of fratricide and collateral damage during combat operations."
The exercise's key outcomes included fostering trust, increasing confidence and building relationships between key members of the air-to-ground team essential to coalition forces' continued success today and tomorrow, according to U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. David L. Goldfein, ACC director of air and space operations, Langley Air Force Base, Va.
"Those important relationships are being forged here just like they must be on the battlefield when you can look your comrade in the eye and know you can count on each other," he said. "That's what Atlantic Strike provides our warfighters."
More than 240 participants, CAS subject matter experts, observers and support personnel participated in the exercise, including representatives from all four U.S. services, Canada and Slovenia.
"Atlantic Strike gave us an excellent opportunity to work with the U.S. military and other partners," said Canadian Forces (CF) Capt. Jonathan Cober, instructor, CF Forward Air Control Cell from Camp Gagetown, Oromocto, New Brunswick, Canada. "Our primary purpose at this exercise was the opportunity to look at the digital CAS technologies used here and to practice key air-to-ground linkages with some of our most important partners."
An added advantage of Atlantic Strike was its ability to focus on training audience needs, according to senior leaders at the exercise.
"One of the strengths of Atlantic Strike is it is scalable and still able to focus on specific (training) objectives," Goldfein said. "We're 100 percent focused and committed to the current fight as we keep an eye on the next threat. We know to accomplish that task we must be good joint partners, and this exercise is an example of that commitment."
The exercise improved joint air-to-ground training of Air Force and Marine Corps JTACs, Army JFO teams, the Air Support Operations Center, and aircrew by incorporating intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets with real-time, full-motion video to replicate a realistic and stressful combat environment similar to operations in Afghanistan.
"Our primary goal was to get as many controls of live CAS aircraft as we could," said Senior Airman Benjamin Schmidt from Detachment 2, 1st Air Support Operations Squadron, Baumholder, Germany. "Atlantic Strike gave us the opportunity to work with a variety of aircraft and the entire air-to-ground kill chain just like we will in combat. This is as about as real world as it gets for us, and it will ultimately help us perform our mission downrange."
During Atlantic Strike, JTACs and JFOs trained on critical CAS tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) during several-real-world scenarios, including convoy, cordon and search, counter sniper, counter ambush, and counter improvised explosive device operations during both day and night.
"For an exercise that primarily focuses on improving CAS skills for all participants, I think they've got it about right," said Army Maj. Nathaniel Edwards, fires support officer, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas. "The experience we gain by integrating our JFOs with this joint and coalition training audience will pay dividends on the battlefield where it matters most."
"One of our key challenges is to figure out how we can conduct sustainment training to maintain the certification of our Army JFOs," he added. "Atlantic Strike offers a superb, realistic, live training venue where we can provide our JFOs with the experience they need to hone their skills, keep them up to date on current CAS TTP, and have them better prepared to support the maneuver force during stressful combat conditions."
To enhance training, the exercise leveraged several air platforms and capabilities including Air Force B-52 Stratofortresses and F-16 Fighting Falcons, Marine Corps UH-1 Iroquois and AH-1 Cobra helicopters, and a surrogate unmanned aircraft system.
"One of our goals was to provide the training audience with a variety of air assets much like they will see in theater," Reneau said. "We owe them the best training experience before they deploy, and we believe Atlantic Strike is an important part of their go-to-war training."
Atlantic Strike also enhanced the training experience by using video downlink technology. Using equipment like the Remotely Operated Video Enhancement Receiver and VideoScout, enabled JTACs and JFOs to view near-real-time video from airborne sensors.
"The value of this exercise is it allows our personnel to look at new TTP, technologies, and best practices from theater to be better prepared when called upon," Goldfein concluded. "We've got to stay one step ahead of the enemy, and Atlantic Strike helps us to do exactly that."