Infantry: Death From Above Made Easier


May 14,2008:   There are not enough people on the ground who know how to talk to an aircraft overhead and get a smart bomb on target. The U.S. Air Force cannot provide enough  JTACs (Joint Terminal Attack Controllers) for this, but is not making a big stink over how the U.S. Army is coping with the shortage of JTACS. The army has developed a  JFO (Joint Fires Officer) concept to deal with the shortage. The JFOs can call in artillery (both army and naval gunfire) as well as army helicopters gunships, and select targets for the bombers (which would be passed to air force controllers to get bomber overhead to do the deed). The army has several  thousand JFOs, so each infantry or tank platoon can have their own. The air force agrees with the army that, in a combat zone, every platoon, or eve squad in some cases, should have someone equipped and qualified to call in bombs and missiles.


The U.S. Marine Corps developed training techniques similar to the  to the army JFOs, and teach infantry sergeants how to call in air strikes and artillery fire. Both the army and marines train sergeants on how to get in touch with a JTAC, and provide the location information, for something the JTAC can't see. NCOs use computer simulations to practice these new skills, and get them down cold so that, during the stressful situation when they will have to do the deed, they will not get confused and make a fatal error. Basically, the NCO calling in fire has to know how to describe his own GPS coordinates, and those of the target. This means learning how to estimate distances, and memorize the structured series of questions and answers they will exchange with the JTAC. Troops will then practice these new techniques with JTACs, to establish trust in the techniques, and each other.


There will never be enough of the specially trained and equipped joint terminal air controllers (JTAC) to do the job. These guys, who are usually themselves air force, army or marine pilots, have to be looking at the target before a smart bomb can be dropped. These rules have been largely abandoned over the last seven years. Wartime demands often do that. Many in the air force point out that JTACs not only get more training than JFOs (five weeks, versus two), but are also combat pilots, giving them much useful practical experience. But the army and marines are taking advantage of the simplicity of smart bombs, and the sheer necessity of getting air support when it is needed, no matter the risks.


Meanwhile, the air force is having no trouble getting volunteers for JTAC duty. In the past, pilots avoided a tour as a JTAC. But now there's a war on, and most JTACs can expect to see some action. Most pilots aren't picky in that respect, fighting on the ground or in the air is all the same as long as it's real. The air force sees a long term benefit in this. Over the next two decades, some of the JTACs will become generals, and when they have to work with their army counterparts, they will have an easier time of it because they have participated in ground combat.





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