Air Weapons: May 3, 2005

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The army and the air force fight over who can be trained to call in air strikes just keeps on getting uglier. The basic problem is that the air force is stonewalling U.S. Army efforts to expand the FAC (forward air controller) force. The army wants FAC support as widespread as their current artillery FO (Forward Observer, for artillery and attack helicopter) support. The air force insists that air force pilots be part of the FAC teams (which mostly contain air force sergeants), have higher security clearances and generally remain air force personnel. The army wants to train their people to perform FAC duties. The air force fears losing up to 5,000 personnel slots if the army wins this tussle. If you lose missions, Congress takes some of your money away, and that's what all this is really about.

The latest army ploy is to develop ways to do without a lot  of the air force bomber support. This is being done by introducing more army GPS guided weapons. This year, the army will issue artillery units the 155mm GPS guided Excalibur shell. If this works in combat (it has in tests), that will mean fewer calls for air force bombers. The army is also developing a GPS guided MLRS rocket. This is important, because the rocket carries ten times as much explosives as the 155mm shell, and has a longer range as well (up to 70 kilometers). Some army officers are wondering why they cant have their larger transport helicopters fly high and drop 500 or 250 pound JDAMs out the back. The air force would fight that one, but the army is the service with people in combat right now, not the air force. So air force arguments carry less weight. Even if the army doesnt start using JDAMs, they have more equally accurate missiles under development as part of their FCS (Future Combat System) effort.

The main army problem is not with getting bomber support for Special Forces and other commando operations. The air force has no problem putting a B-52 or B-2 at the armys disposal, anywhere in the world, on short notice, for these operations. Where the army does have a problem is getting air force support for larger army units engaged in sustained combat. There just arent enough air force FACs to support the way the army wants to fight. The army wants smart bombs and missiles available all the time during combat, for all the combat troops involved. For the army, its a matter of life and death. For the air force, at least according to many army officers, its more of a budgeting problem.

 


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