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Air & Space Power Journal - Fall 2006

Counterinsurgency Airpower

Air-Ground Integration for the Long War

Col Howard D. Belote, USAF

Editorial Abstract: Unprecedented levels of joint cooperation have occurred in counterinsurgency operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Colonel Belote documents the successes of increased joint coordination in both nations, particularly with regard to improving close air support and ensuring the security and legitimacy of national elections. The author also offers ideas for improving joint training opportunities and enhancing joint doctrine, tactics, and procedures.

IN FEBRUARY 2005, immediately before transferring authority for Multinational Corps-Iraq (MNC-I) to the incoming XVIII Airborne Corps, Lt Gen Thomas F. Metz, USA, wrote a brief note to his counterpart, Lt Gen Walter E. Buchanan III, USAF, the combined force air component commander (CFACC). General Metz highlighted the contributions of airmen from all services to counterinsurgency operations, emphasizing the joint teamwork that led to Iraq’s successful January elections and noting in particular “the prompt and sustained air support our land forces have received.”1 Since returning from Baghdad, General Metz, the commanding general of III Corps, likewise has filled his remarks to military and civilian audiences with examples of joint integration. Both publicly and privately, he mentioned the Navy small-boat company that worked for an Army battalion task force, the Army brigade that worked for a Marine division (MARDIV), and the Marine expeditionary force that worked for an Army corps. Speaking of airpower, he remarked upon the totally purple airspace that covered Iraq, highlighting in particular the stack of Army, Navy, Marine, and Air Force aircraft that filled the skies from the surface to more than 60,000 feet—fixed-wing and rotary-wing, manned and remotely piloted—and the joint terminal attack controllers (JTAC) from the Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force who focused airpower’s effects on the battlefield.2

General Metz’s joint focus should challenge all of us to build on those joint successes. To that end, this article examines how soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines integrated airpower’s contribution to joint fires and effects from the battle for Fallujah in November 2004 through the elections on 30 January 2005. It focuses on relationships that developed among component and major subordinate command headquarters—specifically among MNC-I’s joint fires and effects team, the air support operations center (ASOC), the direct air support center (DASC), and the combined air operations center (CAOC)—and highlights innovations that enhanced airpower’s contributions to counterinsurgency operations. With an eye to the future, this article also examines instances in which the joint team could have integrated more smoothly and offers ideas for improving joint integration in future conflicts.


Integration of III Corps’ habitually aligned 3d Air Support Operations Group (ASOG) into MNC-I’s planning and execution processes proved central to the successful employment of airpower across the joint battlespace. Although the 3d ASOG’s corps tactical air control party (TACP) coordinated airpower planning across staff functions—notably with the intelligence, operations, and plans functions—the lion’s share of airpower integration occurred within MNC-I’s joint fires and effects cell (JFEC). Headed by Brig Gen Richard P. Formica, USA, the JFEC focused lethal and nonlethal fires and effects, conducted effects assessments, managed corps-level information operations, and directed operational targeting—both future and real time. From the ASOC, collocated with the JFEC on the third floor of Baghdad’s Victory Palace, Lt Col Neil Roghair and Lt Col Patrick W. Johnson of the Air Force orchestrated the countrywide close air support (CAS) effort on behalf of both MNC-I and the CAOC at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.3

This integrated air-ground team developed a trust and an interdependence that went well beyond paper relationships. Following doctrine, the ASOG remained within air-component reporting channels, but General Formica incorporated it fully into JFEC decision making. As he explained, “Over time, the corps [deputy effects coordinator, Lt Col (promotable) Joe Gallagher, USA] assumed chief-of-staff-like functions (along with targeting, fire support coordination and the integration of joint fires) and the [dual-hatted ASOG commander / corps air liaison officer (ALO)] essentially served as my deputy. The ASOG [commander] was senior, experienced and the integrator of most joint fires.”4 Significantly, General Formica demonstrated the depth of that cross-service trust in an unprecedented manner when he deployed forward during August’s Battle of Najaf and again during December and January, when he served as the Army Regulation 15-6 investigating officer for the bombing of Mosul’s dining facility.5 In both cases, he left the Air Force colonel in charge as the corps’ joint fires and effects coordinator—proving conclusively his and the MNC-I commanding general’s commitment to jointness and, as discussed below, setting an example for the ASOG and ASOC to emulate in November’s and January’s critical operations.

Counterinsurgency Airpower

Focused by the JFEC and ASOC, airpower provided a number of tools for commanders at all levels. The number-one priority, as articulated by the corps commander and echoed in the air component commander’s air operations directive, called for airpower to respond to troops-in-contact (TIC) situations. Consequently, the ASOC continuously monitored the Joint Air Request Net, which linked all battalion, brigade, and division TACPs and, using kill boxes as a common frame of reference, moved air assets around the country in response to developing situations. Knowing that maneuver commanders were disciplined and deliberate in their TIC declarations—knowing that they had weighed considerations of proportionality and military necessity carefully before asking for airpower—the ASOC worked with the CAOC to minimize response time. Ultimately, air-ground teamwork combined with perceptive intelligence work to reduce average TIC responses of 20–25 minutes in the summer of 2004 to six to seven minutes throughout November, December, and January. Furthermore, in the nine months in which III Corps and the 3d ASOG formed the core of MNC-I’s JFEC, the team boasted a perfect record by responding to all 811 TIC declarations. Without a doubt, glitches occurred: communications difficulties hampered some TIC responses, and no one would suggest that such a record would be possible without the complete air dominance the coalition held over Iraq. But every soldier and airman involved in the tasking process from Baghdad to Qatar was justifiably proud of the achievement.

In addition to supporting TICs, more traditional airpower missions involved the application of lethal fires. With both conventional and special operations forces, Airmen conducted time-sensitive targeting operations and preplanned precision strikes; the most unusual of the latter included terrain-denial missions against known insurgent firing positions. Everyone understood that insurgents would desert the positions at weapon impact because they tended to use homemade launchers with rudimentary timing devices, but commanders wanted to prevent repeat uses and perhaps deter less-committed insurgents from using their shoot-and-scoot tactics. In all these cases, the JFEC applied US Central Command’s rules of engagement and ensured that proper authorities sanctioned the use of force.

A number of nonlethal airpower innovations proved far more prevalent than lethal fires, however, and represented the ingenuity and drive of the coalition military establishment. On a countrywide scale, fighter aircraft conducted infrastructure-security missions, simultaneously fulfilling the multinational-force commander’s strategic priority of protecting Iraq’s lifeblood—oil and electrical systems—from insurgent attacks and the CFACC’s direction not to waste fuel, time, or effort in airborne-alert orbits around the country. On a smaller scale, fighter crews conducted nontraditional intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (NTISR) missions on behalf of ground commanders. For example, during a Stryker Brigade cordon-and-search mission in Mosul, F-18s continually updated the JTAC (in the commander’s Stryker) on enemy and civilian movements outside the cordon, allowing the commander to reposition his platoons accordingly. After the combined-arms rehearsal for a 39th Brigade Combat Team (BCT) mechanized operation north of Baghdad, the AH-64 Apache troop commander explained to the visiting ALO how commonplace joint air—attack tactics had become, noting that almost daily they came up on common frequencies with local JTACs and overhead fighters, using the team to develop situational awareness. One battalion commander, Lt Col Tim Ryan, highlighted the immediate impact of non-lethal CAS when he described his experiences south of Baghdad:

On one large operation, I had [an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)] on station early to observe the target area as we approached; we quietly brought in the fast movers at altitude just before we hit the objective and then rotary wing came in after the first door was breached because of their audio signature. On that morning we had several “runners” that [the] UAV or F-16 [identified]; the F-16 sparkled and did an on-the-net handover to the [OH-58D] Kiowas that came in low on the targets and fixed them in place until ground forces could capture them. I was constantly amazed at how precise the grids and [situation reports] from the fast movers were, given their speed and altitude. . . .

On the day before the elections, [an F-15E flight] was focused on the periphery of the objective area since we’d already been on station for about 45 minutes and didn’t need them in an area we already had control of on the ground. They spotted four runners that exited a house outside of our cordon and then they guided ground forces, my crew in this case, on to the targets who were hiding in the reeds under an overhang on the bank of the river. I’d walked in the dark within ten feet of one guy and [the aircraft] sparkled the target right behind me, told the TACP to tell me to turn around; I saw the beam through my [night observation device] and captured the first of four detainees. That was pretty Hooah!6

To be sure, nonlethal airpower amounted to much more than NTISR; when necessary, commanders could “escalate” nonlethal effects. Due to the political ramifications of urban bombs, commanders rarely asked for weapons release with TICs—but they often asked for shows of force to cause insurgents to break contact or prevent crowds from complicating tactical situations. One notable situation occurred in Baghdad in November 2004, as the battle for Fallujah raged just a few miles to the west, when a convoy stopped to deal with a large improvised explosive device just outside a Sunni mosque. Friday prayers had recently concluded, and a crowd estimated at well over 1,000 began marching from the mosque toward the convoy; the ground commander immediately declared a TIC and had the JTAC request a low and loud show of force. The ASOC and division TACP coordinated with the Army’s air command and control for passes well below the coordinating altitude—and after the second low pass from an F-15E, the crowd dispersed, allowing the convoy to continue without incident.


Joint integration of lethal and nonlethal fires and effects faced its sternest test in the battle to retake Fallujah in November 2004—but the 1st MARDIV and its DASC had neither a common doctrinal foundation with the JFEC/ASOC/CAOC team nor a history of exercising with Army and Air Force assets. Doctrinal differences were exacerbated by the placement of Marine expeditionary-force boundaries immediately south and west of Baghdad, creating a seam between the ASOC and DASC directly between Baghdad Inter-national Airport and Fallujah—the busiest, most critical areas of central Iraq. As difficulties arose in the summer of 2004, primarily as coalition forces responded to an uprising of Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia in Najaf, CAOC, DASC, and ASOC personnel created altitude-based coordination measures that proved effective in a small-scale fight. However, no one in the command-and-control chain believed that a fairly low-altitude cap on Marine—controlled air operations would suffice in -Fallujah, considered the site of the densest -urban air operations since those in Hue, South Vietnam, more than 35 years ago.

Led by Lt Col Gary Kling, USMC, the MARDIV’s operations air officer, and Lt Col Patrick Johnson, USAF, the ASOC director, and building on the joint example set within the JFEC, members from all services worked out the solution. Colonel Kling argued effectively that he needed control over the entire air effort around Fallujah. Colonel Johnson pointed out that to manage the air war throughout the rest of the country—to prevent insurgent attacks elsewhere from drawing combat power away from the main effort—as well as adequately support the Fallujah fight and enable the CFACC to fulfill his responsibilities as airspace control authority for the entire area of operations, the ASOC needed complete visibility into the DASC’s fight. Ultimately, after months of painstaking work and carefully cultivated trust, everyone in the chain of command bought into a plan based on the twin pillars of unity of command and transparency—and, as Colonel Kling told US Joint Forces Command’s Joint CAS Symposium of 2005, the execution almost perfectly matched the plan. From the division command post, assisted by an air support liaison team, he orchestrated all rotary- and fixed-wing flights and fires within 15 miles of Fallujah and Ramadi, fires controlled by a mix of Marine forward air controllers, Navy SEALs, and Air Force JTACs within the city.7 Outside that 15-mile circle, the ASOC controlled an air umbrella that responded to 81 TIC situations throughout the two weeks of intense operations, dropping bombs and conducting shows of force from Al Qaim in the western Marine sector to Baqubah to Mosul.

Significantly, the plan was not a lowest--common-denominator compromise; rather, it combined the best aspects of two differing approaches to joint fires. The DASC and the MARDIV’s operations officer for air controlled all aircraft that entered Fallujah but gave the ASOC unfettered access to all its network servers and chat rooms, providing liaison officers around-the-clock and allowing ASOC officers and technicians to move air assets in anticipation of MARDIV requirements. That exemplary multiservice cooperation ensured effective application of lethal airpower and pointed the way to another innovative joint success.

Election Support

As the battle for Fallujah wound down, the Marine expeditionary force focused on conducting civil-military operations and rebuilding a devastated city; the 1st Cavalry Division’s Black Jack Brigade conducted follow-on operations in the villages surrounding Fallujah. Almost simultaneously, MNC-I shifted its planning focus to support of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq and election preparations. As the corps and its major subordinate commands concentrated on security of election materials and middle- and outer-ring protection of election sites (the Iraqis handled all inner-ring security), all the while responding to a surge of enemy activity in and around Mosul, air strategists at the CAOC offered an innovative approach based on their experience with Combined/Joint Task Force 76’s joint-fires element in Afghanistan: air presence.

According to Capt Joseph A. Katz, USA, the task force and CAOC planners had three goals in mind: to “provide security to Coalition Forces . . . instill a sense of instability and insecurity in anti-coalition militia attempting to disrupt election safety and participation; and provide a sense of security and support to local nationals as they prepared to participate in their first-ever democratic voting experience.”8 Shortly after the successful Afghan elections, a CAOC team led by Maj Ioannis Koskinas, USAF, attempted to gather more than the existing anecdotal evidence, hoping to determine the effectiveness of air presence and support development of an air-presence plan for Iraq in January. The team ran into skepticism, however, both from the ASOG commander, who asked for more data before buying into the concept, and from a few Multinational Force-Iraq and unified-command-level battle-staff officers who accused the CAOC team via e-mail of trying to create a mission for the air component.

As it turned out, the only soldier whose vote counted was already two or three steps ahead of the air-component planners. When advised by skeptical analysts to keep aircraft out of sight and out of mind during elections, General Metz aggressively stopped the briefing and exclaimed, “Absolutely not. I want them low—I want them loud—I want them everywhere! I don’t completely understand it, but this population responds to airpower, both fixed- and rotary-wing . . . so get the air out there.”9 Thereafter, the CAOC/JFEC/ASOC team wasted no time merging such clear top-down guidance with the bottom-up situational awareness resident at brigade- and division-level fire support elements (FSE) and TACPs. The major subordinate commands designated villages, drew air-presence routes, and directed overflight altitudes based on maneuver commanders’ desire to deter or reassure, depending on the local situation. The CAOC positioned tanker assets to support those routes and surged air presence in the week leading up to the successful election.

As with the Afghan case, little data exists to prove or disprove the effects of air presence. Most evidence is anecdotal, as was the report from the 3d Brigade, 1st Infantry Division’s tactical operations center in Baqubah: “Tell the guys in [the joint operations center] that from the 3 BCT grunts’ perspective, air presence works. Our Iraqi Army counterparts really like the fighters overhead.”10 Even without the data, however, the election-support plan represents a near-perfect blend of multi-component, operational-level planning with boots-on-the-ground, tactical-level understanding. From battalion to corps to CAOC to carrier air wing, the joint team came together to innovate and set conditions for success on 30 January.


Clearly, the integration of MNC-I’s JFEC with the ASOC and corps TACP represents a huge step forward in the joint application of lethal and nonlethal effects—as does the effective working relationship between MNC-I’s headquarters and the CAOC. (Although not a subject of this article, the battlefield coordination detachment at Al Udeid played a critical role, with its commander, Col James Waring, USA, and his key staff representing their parent component as effectively in Qatar as did their Airman counterparts in Baghdad.) Similarly, the MARDIV/corps/air-component relationship, evidenced in the DASC/ASOC transparency and teamwork, demonstrated how effectively our separate service doctrines can be mined for common ground. Finally, the teamwork of lower-level TACPs and FSEs across the country replicated the higher-level relationships; by election time, air support operations squadrons had become as totally integrated at brigade and division level as had the parent group with the corps. The ASOG commander traveled extensively during his tour, visiting Battlefield Airmen at 21 forward operating bases and paying courtesy calls on battalion and brigade commanders and staffs. Everywhere, commanders and operations officers told the same story: “I grew up not trusting CAS because at National Training Center exercises and Warfighters [corps- and division-level readiness inspections] it was too hard to coordinate and never where or when I needed it. But here, every time I asked the JTAC to get air—every time—you guys answered the call.”

These great leaps forward did not occur without stumbles, however. Joint teamwork at lower levels sometimes took a while to develop because of the poor integration of CAS into training and exercises. As Col Michael Formica, USA, commander of Black Jack Brigade, explained, “In my first few months in country, I rarely put air into my plan—this was because we did not understand how it could assist us in a counter insurgency fight—then I saw the incredible results in Fallujah and in our follow-on operations. After that, in our North Babil operations and election prep, I never left without my JTAC and always requested air to support our operations.”11 To use a baseball analogy coined by Col Arden Dahl, former commander of the Air Force’s joint air-ground operations group, Colonel Formica and his peers used CAS like a relief pitcher but later realized they needed CAS in the starting lineup. Future exercise designers must capture that lesson and ensure that soldiers and airmen together understand the processes to integrate air effectively from the opening pitch.

Those battalion- and brigade-level seams became especially evident inside the close urban environment in Fallujah. The key players at the 1st MARDIV, MNC-I, and ASOG worked for weeks to solve the top-level DASC/ASOC problem, but they failed to identify doctrinal disconnects between Marine regimental and battalion air officers and their Air Force -counterparts, waiting until late in the game to assemble the 29-man Air Force team that accompanied the heavy Army units into the city. As a result, some members of the Air Force team did not arrive in Fallujah until after the MARDIV’s air-coordination meeting. More importantly, not understanding the Marine Corps’ reliance on its battalion air officer, the ASOG commander allowed one Air Force element to employ without an enlisted battalion air liaison officer (EBALO). In interviews, Marine pilots indicated that they missed the oversight and situational awareness a qualified EBALO would have provided during check-in briefs. Perhaps a few interservice scrimmage games would have created sufficient familiarity to avoid those misplays; in the future, we should demand that we practice together.

The aforementioned interservice seams highlight a final area for improvement: the collection and study of joint lessons learned. In the weeks after Fallujah, both the Air Force and Marine Corps sent teams to record what had happened—but neither team saw enough players to capture the complete story. The Air Force team traveled primarily to Al Udeid; hampered by travel restrictions, it sent only two interviewers to Baghdad for only one day, thereby missing most of the JTACs, the ASOC, the corps TACP, and the JFEC personnel most deeply involved in planning and executing air support for the Fallujah operation. The Marine Corps Center for Lessons Learned sent personnel to a Marine air wing debrief at Al Asad Air Base, where they recorded the aforementioned disappointment at the lack of an EBALO but spent no time trying to determine the root cause. Instead, they published an unsupported analysis suggesting that some Air Force JTACs’ unfamiliarity with the ground scheme of maneuver proved that the Marine Corps trained its forward air controllers better than the Air Force trained its JTACs.

Unfortunately, as our services move toward interdependence, neither of these single--service approaches has much utility. To capture the Fallujah experience accurately, we should have had a multiservice team interview key players from all services simultaneously—players like General Formica, Lieutenant Colonel (promotable) Gallagher, Colonel Kling, and Colonel Johnson, who had common goals but differing perspectives and who together could have shed light on the foundations of our joint successes as well as the causes of our missteps. In the future, our service-specific -lessons-learned teams should pool their efforts, travel together, and blend those differing perspectives into a comprehensive whole.

The Way Ahead

How can our services perpetuate these successes and correct the missteps? The answer is simple: train the way we fight by exercising the complete theater air control system and Army air-ground system (TACS/AAGS). On paper, the CAOC and ASOC are already connected with TACPs, FSEs, and the Army’s command and control of the air at all levels, as well as with Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft and control and reporting centers—but all of them never practice together. In fact, no formal training unit exists for ASOC personnel; air operations center (AOC) personnel have a formal course that does not involve ASOC operations in its final exercise; and AOC Blue Flag exercises do not involve ASOCs. So AOC personnel have to learn about the ASOC’s robust role after arriving in--theater. Similarly, Army personnel see only an AOC response cell in their corps- and division-level exercises. Deconflicting ground- and air-delivered fires in congested space is tricky business, and the impending proliferation of remotely piloted aircraft will exacerbate the problem. Future air-ground teams must not approach this as a pickup game. They must practice together, develop the game plan together, and execute together.

The first step should involve creating ASOC formal training and nesting it within AOC -formal training, so all air-component players who influence air-ground integration understand TACS/AAGS interconnections. Next, in the joint world, we should link AOC Blue Flag exercises with corps-level Warfighter or mission-rehearsal exercises. Although doing so would require innovative scenarios allowing both services to blend their training objectives, it would link three-star component commanders and their staffs in a training environment, thereby building a stronger foundation for joint success. Later training innovations might include multiservice exercises that fully exploit ASOC/DASC/CAOC synergies.

To ensure that our services start every joint game together, perhaps the Army, Marines, and Air Force should break some joint glass and force some interdependence upon themselves. We require deeper and more effective cross-component representation at every level (to advocate courses of action, our liaison officers should have full access to decision makers), and General Formica’s example of trust in MNC-I’s corps ALOs suggests one way to achieve it: trade leadership billets in the AOCs and corps staffs. Install a soldier as chief of strategy or chief of plans in each AOC, and install an airman in a similar position in each corps. The devil will be in the details: the services must select officers well versed in ground and air schemes of maneuver, and both the Army and Air Force personnel communities must see to it that officers who serve in these liaison roles maintain viable career paths (joint service should expand rather than contract leadership opportunities for aircrew members and fire supporters alike). Such a bold move would be worth the personnel turbulence. By investing real authority in sister-service personnel, senior ground and air commanders can focus every plan on the joint team’s strengths. Most importantly, the presence of effective joint leadership at the component level guarantees that every game starts with all the stars in the lineup.

At the same time, a focus on junior officers could help the Air Force develop its future stars. At the outbrief for Joint Urban Warrior ’06, a multicommand urban-warfare experiment, Maj Gen Mike Worden, USAF, asked participants how to most effectively integrate airpower at battalion level. Can we improve on the current situation wherein senior JTACs serve as enlisted battalion ALOs? EBALOs learn planning and liaison skills at seven-level school but never have the opportunity to immerse themselves in fighter, bomber, attack, and reconnaissance tactics that young aircrew members have. We could best infuse significant airmanship in battalion-level planning by resurrecting the BALO program, wherein A‑10 pilots attached themselves to maneuver units during their first or second flying tours. In a resource-unconstrained world, opening a BALO program to the majority of airframes and crew positions would expose battalion commanders and staffs to a wide range of airpower capabilities; in turn, it would expose a wide cross section of aviators to ground schemes of maneuver—albeit at significant cost.

Current funding and manpower limitations, however, make significant changes in battalion-level integration unlikely. To improve tactical-level air-ground integration, the Air Force must look one level higher, highlight the role of the brigade ALO, and place top performers in that role. In the current environment, brigade ALOs—usually junior captains—get anywhere from two to nine months of training and then deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan as the senior Air Force representative to a colonel who commands 5,000 soldiers. The ALO’s ability to advocate makes or breaks airpower’s contribution in a large battlespace—historically, though, Airmen have shunned brigade ALO duty.12 If the Air Force wants effective integration at the grassroots level, it should assign its up-and-comers as ALOs—precisely as the Marines do.

The Marine Corps uses a ground-liaison tour as a stepping-stone to weapons school, ensuring that lower-level ground commanders get the best airpower advice available. According to Col Lawrence Roberts, USMC, commander of Joint Forces Command’s Joint Fires Integration and Interoperability Team, most of the graduates of the USMC Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course do a tour of 12–18 months as ground forward air controllers (GFAC)—equivalent to battalion or brigade ALOs—en route to that school: “To ensure the ground community is well represented by aviators, and to ensure the training cadre of the squadron is well represented by aviators with ground experience, those considered for weapons school must achieve the GFAC wicket first or a career-level school like Expeditionary Warfare School (EWS) . . . GFAC being the preferred prerequisite, EWS a suitable alternative.”13

Although the Air Force may not be ready to have its weapons-school selectees do a 12-to-18-month tour at an Army post en route to Nellis, AFB, Nevada, it should at least assign second-assignment mission commanders or aircraft commanders to these critical billets. Doing so would instantly improve the quality of advice given to Army commanders and simultaneously build a bench of well-rounded future Air Force commanders. Flying squadrons deserve leaders with joint vision and experience—and Battlefield Airmen, division commanders, and corps commanders demand commanders of air support operations squadrons and ASOGs who can orchestrate the full range of airpower’s capabilities.

Finally, after planting jointness more deeply into war-fighting headquarters at all levels, the services should optimize their approaches to fire-support coordination—primarily by redefining standard coordination measures to match current practice. A memorandum from James A. Thomson, president of RAND Corporation, to Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld included lessons for conducting major combat operations, the second of which focused on integration of air-land operations: “Changes need to be made in the traditional linear approach to the coordination of air and ground fire support. A nonlinear system of ‘kill boxes’ should be adopted, as technology permits.”14 To be sure, the traditional idea of a fire support coordination line is irrelevant in counterinsurgency operations and had no value in Iraq in 2004—kill boxes formed the common frame of reference for tasking air assets. Looking to the future, as the RAND memo argues, “kill boxes can be sized for open terrain or urban warfare, and opened or closed quickly in response to a dynamic military situation.”15

As an executive summary for the secretary of defense, this memo goes into no further detail. Within four months, however, the Air Land Sea Application Center published Field Manual 3-09.34, Kill Box Multi-Service Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures [MTTP] for Kill Box Employment, 14 June 2005, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense commissioned a joint test and evaluation of the new MTTP. Although the test is in its earliest phases, the first joint-test-and-evaluation experiments (attended by the author) suggest that the new document has not fully captured the intent of the RAND memo.

Kill boxes are to be opened and closed by exception to focus air-delivered fires in specific areas rather than to integrate air and surface fires across the battlespace. Furthermore, the MTTP relies on a traditional approach of supported/supporting relationships regarding the critical question of who opens and closes kill boxes. Test-team members, led by Col Gary Webb, USAF, the test director, are exploring improvements to the MTTP—and they might benefit from RAND’s research. The new MTTP leaves authority in the supported component’s hands, but RAND analysts have suggested an innovative, interdependent approach. In a study entitled Beyond Close Air Support: Forging a New Air-Ground Partnership, Bruce R. Pirnie and others foresee mutually enabling partnerships between fire-and-maneuver commanders in which “the most appropriate commander [has] the requisite authority to accomplish his assigned tasks” and in which “Army and Air Force staff-level officers working together in the ASOC would open and close [kill boxes] as needed” because “to an increasing degree, especially for the Army’s light forces, maneuver and air attack will enable each other, and they need to be thought out together.”16 The JFEC/ASOC experience in Baghdad suggests that this is possible, and the rules of engagement for weapons approval offer an overarching principle for kill-box management: risk assessment.

Quite simply, the commander most able to assess and mitigate political and military risk should control a given kill box. In a counter-insurgency fight, the ground commander will always be responsible for managing the political fallout of joint fires, and in a close fight he or she will add the risk-to-troops factor to the equation—so maneuver commanders should control those kill boxes. In deep operations, however, the air commander will often have more visibility on the political risk of bombing. Furthermore, the air commander almost always will be better positioned (with important input from the special operations component) to determine the military risk of a mission. In all these cases, a joint collocated team—just like the team from the third floor of Victory Palace—should manage the process on behalf of the responsible commanders.


General Metz is not alone in his enthusiasm for the current partnership between ground power and airpower. At the Joint Fires and Effects Seminar at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 2005, a number of speakers emphasized the interdependent relationship between fire and maneuver. The RAND memo to Secretary Rumsfeld highlighted the “increasing inter-dependence of air and ground forces,” noting in particular how “air operations reduced substantially the costs and risks of ground operations” in Iraq.17 Recent events demonstrate that jointness has taken root even more deeply in current operations. Army and Air Force personnel in Baghdad cemented their partnership in MNC-I’s JFEC and ASOC; the trust and closeness they developed grew to encompass all the players involved in focusing joint fires and effects within Iraq. The Marines’ DASC, Baghdad’s ASOC, and the CAOC in Qatar jointly managed an air war that facilitated success in Fallujah; the CAOC in turn led a process that worked through the JFEC and tactical-level FSEs to maximize airpower’s nonlethal influence on Iraqi elections.

Because many of these elements had never practiced together, they stumbled occasionally, and soldiers, sailors, marines, and Airmen should work together to correct those deficiencies. As RAND’s memo argued, “fixed wing aviation should be better integrated with ground forces by increasing the realism and frequency of joint training.”18 At the same time, the services can work to create a more-effective joint lessons-learned process, develop innovative joint-assignment policies, and adjust newly developing fire-support doctrine—all to ensure that future commanders understand how maneuver and fire enable each other so they can start every joint game with top players in the lineup.

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1. Lt Gen Thomas F. Metz to Lt Gen Walter E. -Buchanan III, letter, 9 February 2005.

2. III Corps presentation. Slides available from the Office of the Commanding General, III Corps, Fort Hood, TX.

3. For more detail on the organization of the JFEC, see Patrecia Slayden Hollis, “Part 1: Joint Effects for the MNC-I in OIF II” [interview with Brig Gen Richard P. Formica], Field Artillery, May–June 2005, 5–9, http://sill-www.army.mil/famag/2005/MAY_JUN_2005/PAGE5-9.pdf.

4. Ibid., 7–8.

5. Army Regulation 15-6, Procedure for Investigating Officers and Boards of Officers, 30 October 1996.

6. Lt Col John T. Ryan, former commander, 2d Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, to the author, e-mail, 19 May 2005. The term sparkled refers to a marking technique visible through night observation devices.

7. Lt Col Gary Kling (presentation, Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Norfolk, VA, 11 May 2005); and idem to the author, e-mail, 19 May 2005.

8. Capt Joseph A. Katz, “Afghanistan: The Role of ‘Show-of-Presence’ Aircraft in the First Democratic Elections,” Field Artillery, January–February 2005, 15, http://sill-www.army.mil/famag/2005/JAN_FEB_2005/PAGE15-17.pdf.

9. Author’s notes from the briefing, ca. 10 January 2005.

10. 3d BCT / 1st Infantry Division TACP to MNC-I ASOC, electronic chat, 30 January 2005. Logs on file at 712th Air Support Operations Squadron, Fort Hood, TX. Quotation is unclassified, but database and logs are classified Secret.

11. Col Michael Formica to the author, e-mail, 25 May 2005.

12. See Colonel Formica’s comments above. Significantly, Colonel Formica had a highly experienced lieutenant colonel serve as his ALO during November’s Fallujah operations. He then took two Air Force captains under his wing for follow-up operations.

13. Col Lawrence Roberts to the author, e-mail, 18 April 2006.

14. James A. Thomson to Donald H. Rumsfeld, memorandum, 7 February 2005.

15. Ibid.

16. Bruce R. Pirnie et al., Beyond Close Air Support: Forging a New Air-Ground Partnership, RAND Report MG-301-AF (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2005), 86, 83, 85, http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2005/RAND_MG301.pdf.

17. Thomson to Rumsfeld, memorandum.

18. Ibid.


Col Howard D. “Dave” Belote Col Howard D. “Dave” Belote (BA, University of Virginia; MBA, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; MAAS [Master of Airpower Art and Science], School of Advanced Airpower Studies; MS, National War College) is chief of the Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction Division, Joint Chiefs of Staff J-5, Pentagon, Washington, DC. He has flown more than 2,000 hours, primarily in the F-16 and F-111. Colonel Belote has served as the chief of theater air strategy for Seventh Air Force and the Air Component Command in Korea. He commanded the core squadron of US Air Forces in Europe’s air operations center as well as the Air Component Commander’s Element in Tel Aviv, Israel, during major combat operations in Operation Iraqi Freedom. From July 2004 through June 2006, he commanded the 3d Air Support Operations Group and served as air liaison officer to III Armored Corps, Fort Hood, Texas, positions he held in Baghdad from September 2004 through February 2005. Colonel Belote is a distinguished graduate of Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, and National War College.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University

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