Let’s Put Jaeger to the Test

by Maj L. Ross Roberts

The article “A Review of Jaeger Air” (MCG, Jun96) by Majs Robert L. Gardner and James S. Robertson states that Jaeger Aviation merely “reinvents the wheel” when compared to current joint and Marine aviation doctrine. The authors write:

Marine aviation as a whole has trained in these areas [close air support and battlefield air interdiction, or CAS/BAI] for many years, and we submit that these are not significant shortfalls in Marine air operations.

But they fail to realize that Marine aviation does not train to the doctrine they claim Jaeger Aviation replicates. We agree with the authors that the Navy and Marine Corps perceive the importance of the CAS/BAI missions differently. The commander, Naval Air Force Pacific (CNAP) initiative clearly articulated the need for Navy air to move closer to the CAS/BAI missions but also correctly indicated that Marine and Navy aviation have not kept pace with maneuver warfare theory in terms of command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C^sup 4^I) and aerial fire support. Jaeger Aviation will attempt to build upon the uniqueness of the Marine airground team and develop a naval aerial fire support initiative that will function in the highly chaotic and fluid battlefield inherent to nonlinear warfare. It is this premise that separates Jaeger Aviation from current joint and Marine doctrine.

We propose a high-initiative offensive aerial fire support that does not separate itself from the maneuver element. The impetus is placed on the man (pilot to grunt, grunt to pilot) in the loop, not on the C^sup 4^I loop itself. Although Jaeger Aviation may appear to replicate current doctrine, it proposes a new way of thinking. The plan is to discover answers the system is not providing with respect to integrating air into the mission order, decentralized context of maneuver warfare. We believe the Jaeger concept has a potential for enhancing the close cooperation required between maneuver element and supporting aviation-a concept current doctrine ignores. Jaeger advocates will hope to prove that well trained knowledgeable pilots can operate within close proximity of offensive ground forces, as well as beyond the next ridge or deeper, by using streamlined C^sup 4^I that can take advantage of rapid developments. We want to test this concept of filling a critical gap between defensive fire support and offensive fire support in a free play, maneuver warfare context, where our opponents are given maximum freedom to prove us wrong.

Our critics justifiably are concerned with fratricide. But current Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron (MAWTS) methods (heavily weighted in C^sup 4^I and suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) programs preceding a time on target) have not prevented fratricide. Finely honed, knowledgeable pilots specializing in Jaeger Aviation may do better. Jaeger Aviation proposes that by eliminating the overburdening C^sup 4^I, the Jaeger pilot will be able to employ his weapons systems more efficiently. He can tailor his tactics to the mission and threat, making him more survivable.

The authors seem to believe that burdensome layers of C^sup 4^I are required to prevent the fratricide. “This idea (Jaeger Aviation) turns a blind eye to lessons learned through bloodshed in past conflicts.” How many pilots reading this have bypassed the C^sup 4^I and directly switched to the tactical air control party frequency in order to provide the required support? I submit that extensive layers of C^sup 4^I will be outrun by maneuverists, further complicating the intended purpose of C^sup 4^I. We need a flexible system that can function in the nonlinear battlefield while not suppressing the dynamic affects of aviation. DESERT STORM provided good examples of this. A-10 pilots are cited in William J. Smallwood’s book, Warhog, Flying the A-10 in the Gulf War, for their simple coordination procedures when relieving another section of A-10s. “They passed the fighter to fighter handoff without going through the ABCCC [airborne battlefield communications, command, and control] which was nice,” he wrote. The subsequent mission accounted for more than 12 tanks destroyed or damaged. The same A-10 section flew two additional missions working with Marine F/A-18Ds and amassed a total of 33 tanks destroyed or damaged. This is the type of decentralized “man in the loop” aerial fire support Jaeger Air proposes. We hope to prevent instances when the C^sup 4^I can be a contributor to fratricide, such as occurred during the Gulf War when an AH-64 fired on a British armored personnel carrier.

Marine aviation provides excellent examples of effectively linking the aviation element to the ground forces. But through outdated, multimission training and readiness (T&R) requirements (the current threat makes it hard to justify the air-to-air training requirements of an F/A-18D squadron) there is not enough time or money to make pilots of Jaeger caliber. Navy aviation is even further away and needs to embrace the Jaeger concept if it is serious about littoral warfare.

Current Marine training and the new Navy Strike Fighter Weapons and Tactics (SFWT) program tends to make pilots jacks of all mission areas and masters of none. Marine tactical air will probably still have to provide all six functions of Marine aviation, but in the current joint environment it is becoming increasingly clear it must be weighted (particularly the F/A-18D community) in offensive aerial fire support in close proximity to maneuver forces. We hope to avoid the learning-as-you-go type scenarios that were described continually in Smallwood’s book.

Current CAS doctrine is primarily defensive and stifles aviation’s dynamic effect on the battlefield. Warriors continually expend limited training time and dollars exercising the C^sup 4^I in support of static ground forces and not training to doctrine that enables pilots to support maneuver forces with fire. We often use the C^sup 4^I system to make up for the aviators’ lack of knowledge in supporting the ground scheme of maneuver. The nine-line brief of curent CAS tactics followed by an artillery/laser mark are purely defensive tactics and would be extremely difficult to employ in maneuver warfare. SEAD programs fired by artillery in support of CAS missions are extremely complicated, waste limited ammunition, require flawless intelligence, and virtually preclude additional calls for fire from being prosecuted. I don’t know of many ground commanders who would risk losing the initiative by tying up artillery and aviation assets on one target. The defensive CAS tactics we employ have not changed since the days of Vietnam, where remote fire bases and cut-off units had to be defended by non-Inertial Navigation System/Global Positioning System equipped aircraft in heavily forested terrain. These tactics have no place in offensive oriented maneuver warfare and have proven to fail in recent combat, even under ideal desert conditions. Again, Smallwood describes A-10 pilots coping with their lack of training with nonlinear battle:

In the traditional CAS scenario, the army moves a distance, stops and consolidates, and moves again-always with reasonably well defined positions and doctrine-dictated lines where CAS aircraft work and are subject to control . . . in this war the doctrine rarely got past the textbooks where it was printed.

“Proven” CAS tactics/doctrine were never employed in DESERT STORM, nor are they being employed in Bosnia.

Instead of training to encumbering tactics that hamstring aviators, Jaeger Aviation proposes to train pilots to not only operate in dynamic environments, but thrive and become an airborne extension of the ground combat element. The complexity of CAS/ BAI is folly appreciated by the authors of Jaeger Air. They also recognize the fact that Jaeger aviators must be mission specialists in order to excel in aerial fire support and survive on today’s maneuver battlefield. Our familiarity with “proven” CAS/BAI tactics lead to the conclusion that current tactics will not support maneuver warfare. The authors imply that technological innovations are required to move current CAS tactics forward. We disagree. We need to move the pilot into maneuver warfare and then develop the technology, not vice versa.

Current multimission requirements make it difficult for squadrons to train for CAS other than when required by the “group frags,” Combined Amis Exercises, etc. More often, pilots become the training aids for the C^sup 4^I system, running at the same static targets and simulating a threat to a defensive position. This is just the type of unimaginative, unrealistic, irrelevant tactical training we propose avoiding.

The authors state that “Marine aviation as a \vhole has trained in these areas (CAS, BAI) for many years,” but fail to point out that Marine aviation does not train for armed reconnaissance, precisely what they compare to Jaeger Aviation. The authors would be hard pressed to find six sorties in the F/A-18 community where pilots flew a mission dedicated to armed reconnaissance within the last year. F/A-18Ds had good success in DESERT STORM with restrictive (kill box) armed reconnaissance. Why has the Marine tactical air community not trained more in this area to further refine these tactics? Equally important, the authors point out Navy aviation’s lack of interest in CAS/BAI. Jaeger Aviation is an attempt to refocus carrier groups to supporting ground forces in the littorals.

Marine aviators who attend The Basic School do get exposed to the ground perspective. But this hardly substitutes for the level of training required for pilots flying Jaeger Air in a high-initiative, self-adaptive form of carrier-based aviation, and teaches the prospective Marine pilot nothing about maneuver warfare theory. Marine pilots serving in ground exchange tours as forward air controllers and air officers (many of whom are not tactical air pilots) still only train to defensive, linear CAS tactics. Jaeger Aviation proposes to expand upon what the Marine air-ground team currently employs via their exchange programs. We foresee a Jaeger squadron of Marine and Navy pilots, as well as infantrymen via a robust exchange program. Not only will the Jaeger pilot learn the special requirements of the supported maneuver element, but Jaegers attached to ground units would teach them how to employ aviation to its maximum capability.


Current CAS/BAI tactics do not support maneuver warfare. Fifty years of “experience” has frozen Marine and Navy aviation in attrition warfare CAS/BAI tactics. We must seize the initiative started in the late 1980s and validated in DESERT STORM with respect to maneuver warfare theory. Specific recommendations include:

* Specialize squadrons in the aerial fire support mission. The Jaeger Squadron (X) will verify/nullify this concept. If verified, then we recommend the Harrier and naval F/A-18 communities be the starting point to implement the lessons learned after tactics have been developed.

* Reinstitute a program similar to the supporting arms coordinator (airborne) ground exchange officer in a flying status, and make it an integral part of the F/A-18D community. Follow-on ground exchange programs for Navy and Marine aviators should be implemented. Use MAG-31’s example of making aviators who return from ground tours the squadron pilot training officers, one of the most sought after billets for junior officers.

* Invite the Jaeger Air board to a MAWTS course to help validate the experiment within a modified Marine air-ground task force concept.

* Train the carrier battle groups, amphibious ready groups, and maritime propositioning ships together, as we currently train MEU(SOC)s, and deploy them together to enhance their interoperability.

* Rewrite the F/A-18D training requirements syllabus. The current weapons sensor officer (WSO) training track is a holdover from the F-4 days, when the training is heavily weighted in the air-to-air mission. The WSO should leave the Fleet Replacement Squadron with night vision goggle, air officer, and airborne forward air controller, or FAC(A), qualifications. Currently he is exposed to both the air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, but only as a watered down version of what the pilot is trained to. Follow-on fleet training should be highly specialized in aerial fire support, special weapons, and target recognition.

* Make the military occupational specialty of F/A-18D pilots unique to signify their skills in aerial fire support. Even though the F/A-18D is a more capable airframe in the air-to-air mission than the F/A-18A (AMRAAM vs AIM-7), its capability to thrive in the maneuver battlefield is infinitely enhanced by a well-trained crew of two. This would prevent the current practices within the F/A-18D community of having to abide by a training syllabus that is essentially identical to that of the F/A-18C community, but which includes the missions of FAC(A)/ TAC(A), or airborne tactical air controller. Additionally, crew coordination would be enhanced immensely while preventing the revolving door policies currently employed to keep pilots cross pollinated among the F/A-18A/C and D communities.

Jaeger Aviation should not be seen as a threat to Marine air. Instead the CNAP initiative should have been welcomed and nurtured as an improvement to the way naval aviation can better support maneuver forces. It is obvious that the initial phases of operational maneuver from the sea will be supported primarily by Navy pilots.

Either MAWTS gets on board and helps move naval aviation toward a truly naval (Navy and Marine) air force supporting ground maneuver forces, or Marines will find themselves going ashore without the kind of air support they deserve and should have. The authors missed the boat by not attending followon planning conferences for Jaeger Air. By doing so, MAWTS is abrogating its responsibilities as the “CAS/BAI” experts within naval aviation.