You Say You Want A Revolution?

by Maj John M. Jansen

Since the end of DESERT STORM, there has been an intense, if not confused, discussion over the current condition and future direction of close air support (CAS). The discussion has been fueled by uncertainties created by changing roles and functions, and by a heightened competition for diminishing assets among and within the Services. Concurrently, as the Marine Corps has been seeking new operational effectiveness by merging new technologies with concepts of maneuver warfare, questions have arisen regarding the role and validity of Marine and Navy tactical aviation (TacAir) on future battlefields. This rather loosely knit discourse has taken place in an environment where change is considered good. This dialectic has produced many recommendations for changes in doctrine, tactics, and even force structure, as well as a few recommendations that no change is required at all.

This debate over the future of CAS is actually a debate over future roles and functions within the larger context of offensive air support (OAS). Many of the recommendations made in this regard unknowingly impact our ability to engage in the operational art of combined arms warfare, which is an enduring concept, critical to the Corps’ future warfighting strategy. This concept is characterized by the calculated orchestration of firepower and maneuver elements that produces a ferocious synergy on the battlefield. The retention of the combined arms warfare capability is the litmus test that must be used when considering any proposed changes to doctrine and/ or force structure.

Combined Arms and Maneuver Warfare

Is the concept of combined arms relevant within the construct of maneuver warfare? It is not only relevant, it is critical. To give up on combined arms within the framework of maneuver warfare merely trades in one brand of three-dimensional warfare for another, rather than going for a brand of operations that is truly four dimensional. Conventional combined arms tactics are three dimensional in that weapons are brought to bear from a three-dimensional battlespace. The fourth dimension-timeis a critical element of maneuver warfare. Ideally, it is brought into play by rapid movement on the battlefield to engagement points of our choosing, while creating shock and confusion within the enemy. Many of the proposed changes to our doctrine and force structure appear to be offered for the sole purpose of gaining the element of time/rapid movement on the battlefield. The advocates of these “advancements” recommend the use of various weapons systems as independent maneuver elements to capitalize on their respective characteristics of speed, firepower, or observation. The advertised benefits are the expansion of the battlefield and confusion within the ranks of the enemy brought on by multiaxis attacks. What is gained in the dimension of time/rapid movement, however, may be sacrificed in the area of density. We risk the loss of the synchronized employment of complementary weapons systems and, at the same time, provide the enemy with better predictability as to what he needs to defend against, depending on the position and ranging of our various maneuver elements. These proposals risk losing the capability to produce the kind of shock and confusion that the synchronicity of combined arms warfare brings to the equation. As we examine some of the schools of thought we will see a common tendency to simply trade one dimension for another.

Schools of Thought

Four groups have emerged out of this free flowing debate, each with its own view of the future. These groups include the Airpower Strategists, the Evolutionaries, the Traditionalists, and the Revolutionaries.

The Airpower Strategist asks: “Is not the concept of combined arms and the resultant need for Servicespecific air arms antiquated, given a national strategy of executing a sustained air campaign prior to the introduction of ground forces? Based on our success in DESERT SHIELD/ STORM, can’t we rely largely on a ground-based air force for the execution of the air campaign, with minor mopping up operations to follow on?”

The downfall of this strategy is that it hinges on having an opponent willing to provide the time required to execute a sustained air campaign. Given a scenario of a rolling invasion, sustained in its own right, into a sovereign state by a committed aggressor, we will not have the time needed to execute a pure, ground-based air campaign. Absent this ability, ground forces will have to engage concurrently with air forces to counter the sustained enemy thrust. At that point you will want a force that is capable of sustaining itself, a combat-ready force trained in the principles and tactics of combined arms.

The Evolutionary asks: “Quantum leaps in laser-guided missile technology, as well as the newly acquired ability to self-laser designate, have turned the attack helicopter into a formidable offensive weapons platform. Given their performance in Southwest Asia, should we not evolve into an all-helicopter attack force? Are they not perfectly suited to maneuver warfare with their ability to easily liaise with the ground combat element and the ability to act as independent maneuver elements?”

Like the Airpower Strategist, the Evolutionary relies almost solely on experiences in DESERT STORM to make his case. An all-helicopter attack force assumes a clear air, foliage-free environment where the primary target is armored vehicles, and there is a relatively defined forward line of troops. Given an environment of heavy foliage or triplecanopy,jungle or where the threat is massed infantry, the case for an allhelicopter attack force is more difficult to make. (The Pacific Rim and North Korea come to mind as locations/scenarios where the benefits of laser-guided weapons will not be as profound as in a desert environment and where the survivability of helicopters will be more difficult to guarantee.) It is hard to tell whether this offering has greater implications for force structure or doctrine. However, it is clear that you cannot make a case for added synergy by removing the benefits of fixed-wing platforms from the equation.

The Traditionalist asks: “Do we not now have the right mix of doctrine and tactics suitable for the future? We teach a doctrine born of many years of development in combat and training, and we see no reason for fundamental change. Also, while we realize that our command and control system is cumbersome and restrictive, it is a necessary evil that prevents friendly fire incidents from occurring in the heat of battle. Much of what is offered in the way of change arises only from the need to create or protect a rice bowl, for which we have no time. We have training to accomplish.”

This position is obviously short sighted. While it is the one school of thought that is solidly grounded in current doctrine, it fails to acknowledge a great many dynamics that simply cannot be ignored. Even though this position is doctrine-centered, it may ultimately lead to changes in force structure as those who espouse this point of view will become irrelevant and fade away.

The Revolutionary asks: “Is not our current system of employing fixed-wing aerial fire support outmoded? Aren’t we sacrificing capability by restricting naval TacAir with our cumbersome command and control system, as well as by current close control tactics of CAS? Could we not gain capability on the modern battlefield by scrapping the only system entirely and creating a new breed of aviator, one trained to hunt and kill on his own volition? It is time for a change and we offer something completely different.”

There is nothing wrong with those sentiments. Our command and control system is too cumbersome and our repetitious training in close control CAS does raise questions about underutilized capability. So this school of thought holds some promise. We will see that while the problems that the Revolutionaries identify are right on target, the direction of their conclusion is off course. Yet, by bringing this issue to the fore, the Revolutionaries find their greatest utility. We are provided the impetus to examine our current doctrine within the context of maneuver warfare, which is exactly the direction that we want to head.

Each of these groups is making its own recommendations, based on its own set of assumptions. Ironically, the different assumptions used to proffer vastly divergent concepts of warfighting all tend to find their birth in recent experiences in Southwest Asia, Bosnia, and even Somalia. Generally given, the assumptions are that our experience in DESERT STORM is readily transferable to potential conflicts in other regions of the world, and that events such as Bosnia and Somalia are the defining models of future conflicts. These assumptions are shaky pillars on which to build a warfighting model for the future.

You Say You Want a Revolution?

What are the different methods that we can use to analyze a “revolutionary” idea? One is simply to judge it on its own merits, acknowledging the potential benefits and exposing potential problems. Another way is to judge this new idea relative to the reality that it seeks to replace. However, it is important to determine if the reality that this new idea seeks to replace has been misrepresented, and if the direction in which this new idea seeks to take us is as revolutionary as claimed. For starters, the synergistic potential of tactical aviation has been simplified, trivialized, and marginalized by conducting the discussion under the headings of CAS and, to a lesser extent, battlefield interdiction (BI). Col Michael Wyly, USMC(Ret), and Cdr Daniel E. Moore, USN, do a fine job of painting a picture of the problem in their article published in the December 1995, Proceedings. In this article, they produce a “Theory for warfare in the littorals,” built around a “new” brand of air support that they call Jaeger Aviation. In their attempt to provide us with insight, however, they use the stereotypical, narrow definition of CAS to deride its usefulness as they seek to create a new flavor of aerial firepower. An examination of their concept reveals the dangers we submit ourselves to when we are not fluent in current doctrine and why it is critical that we use current doctrine to establish a common language as a frame of reference.

The common denominator with which we must become familiar is FMFM 5-40, Offensive Air Support (OAS). It can only be through discussion of the limitations and functional benefits of OAS in its entirety that we can productively debate the support that fixed-wing tactical aviation will provide to our future endeavors. Our doctrine not only accounts for the concept of Jaeger Aviation in the form of guidance on deep air support (DAS), but also increases five-fold the possible uses of CAS in the form of offensive employment of CAS. Yes that’s right, there is an offensive side to CAS that engages the enemy based on commander’s intent. Fires before the preparation, fires in preparation of the attack, fires in support of the attack, fires in support of exploitation and pursuit, and fires in support of consolidation and reorganization are all subtasks of CAS that are underutilized in current fleet training as well as in the current debate.

The article by Col Wyly and Cdr Moore is a good example of the dangers we can subject ourselves to when we don’t understand our own doctrine. They make a case for their revolutionary brand of warfighting that supposedly “will bring an entirely new dimension to warfare:”

Understanding the force’s intent and the friendly scheme of maneuver on the surface and familiar with the enemy’s predisposition, hunter aviation separates friend from foe and attacks on its own initiative. It probes and ranges outward ahead of the force and to its flanks, seeking to destroy or pin down the enemy before he can slow us down.

Compare their thesis with selected definitions from the FMFM 5-40 and it becomes clear that this “new dimension” of warfare is provided for under the two missions of DAS known as armed reconnaissance (AR) and air interdiction (AI):

Deep Air Support requires a complete understanding of the MAGTF Commander’s intent and scheme of maneuver. Air Interdiction and Armed Reconnaissance are DAS tasks . . . (A)rmed reconnaissance missions can be used as a covering force. These aircraft will patrol open, extended flanks of the main axis of movement not covered by scout or reconnaissance forces. Air Interdiction can neutralize, destroy, or delay the enemy’s military potential before it is brought to bear against friendly forces.

The Jaeger Group’s definition of hunter aviation almost perfectly mirrors the concepts of DAS, AI, and AR.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Is this a simple matter of talking about the same concepts using different terminology? No. At the very least, the danger of such an argument becomes manifest in the degree to which it consumes valuable resources creating a system that, while new, is qualitatively no better than the system or culture that it replaces. In the worst case, the danger lies in the degree to which the new doctrine provides us with a net decrease in capability or a doctrinal mindset that does not match the tactics that it is supposed to spawn. For instance, when we examine the specific examples given by the Jaeger Group to flesh out its proposed general philosophy, we are confronted with serious logical inconsistencies that stand a good chance of producing negative unwanted consequences on the battlefield. While we have seen that the general construct of hunter aviation is provided for by our current understanding of DAS, the two examples used by Wyly and Moore to demonstrate this “new” capability actually sound like offensive CAS missions.

Enemy forces retreating in disarray is the first scenario used to flesh out their concept. Such a situation will require close and/or deep support missions based on the degree to which the enemy forces have managed to disengage and, more importantly, the degree to which friendly ground maneuver elements have decided to pursue. If the bad guys have disengaged from ground-based direct fire weapons but are still being ranged by indirect fires, this would be a CAS mission defined by current doctrine as fires in support of exploitation and pursuit. Even if the enemy forces have retracted out of range of all groundbased fires but the ground maneuver elements are on the move in pursuit, this would still be a CAS mission as a high degree of coordination will be required to ensure containment and efficient destruction of enemy forces as well as deconfliction to inhibit friendly fire catastrophes. This does not necessarily mean that TacAir would be controlled by a FAC or an airborne FAC (FAC(A)). It does mean however, that a coordinated game plan should be constructed to define the roles and assign areas of responsibility. For example, will the mission and priority of fires for the aviators be to limit the advance of the retreating forces? to allow the advance but canalize enemy forces? or to simply engage targets of opportunity?

The second example given by our Jaegers is definitely a CAS mission even though a single aircraft may never be brought to bear under the close control of a FAC or FAC(A). Their illustration offers the potential of airborne weapons platforms as a maneuver element in a “one-two punch” where the “two” is armor and mobile infantry. This is certainly a viable tactic that leans toward the decentralized nature of maneuver warfare and is a departure from our peacetime training that generally puts all of our firepower assets in the same target area. I submit, however, that there is a level of integrated planning and detailed coordination required that goes beyond the concept of having aviators roaming the flanks, armed with nothing more than years of experience and commander’s intent. Absent this close coordination, we should expect a less than synergistic effect on enemy forces and a higher rate of “blue-on-blue” opportunities.

The Jaeger initiative asks all of the right questions: What limitations are inherent in past and present practices vis-a-vis the employment of naval TacAir in OAS? How best to tailor future organizational tactics and training to maximize the lethality and flexibility that aerial trigger pullers bring to future battlefields? How do we mate that flexibility and lethality with emerging concepts ot maneuver warfare in the littorals-for example-infestation tactics? How do we take advantage of emerging technologies such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition and the forward observer/FAC, or FO/FAC? (For more on FO/FAC, see articles appearing in MCG, Apr, Jul, & Oct96, and on pp. 47-53 of this issue.) While their questions are right on target, their “theory of warfare” misses the mark. Their general concept of freeing the attack birds from a perceived paradigm of close control by the ground combat element has brought them to a place that strongly resembles the detached, disassociated employment of fixed-wing assets practiced by the U.S. Air Force. It tends also to lean in the direction of those who believe that future battlefields will consist almost solely of remote and/or airborne weapons platforms to the exclusion of ground combat elements. A movement in this direction is not in the best interest of our warfighting capability. Because it ultimately seeks total pilot autonomy in the cockpit, it is not supportive of what continues to be a highly lethal and valid concept of combined arms warfare. However much these pilots are supposed to be air-to-mud, maneuver warfare ninjas, the disassociated nature of the aviation combat element in their paradigm renders it just one more three-dimensional proposal.


If the Revolutionaries have asked so many good questions, but come up short on good answers, what are the fill-ins? I believe that a truly fourdimensional battlefield must be the goal. If the goal of maneuver warfare is to cause the collapse of the enemy by inflicting violent, measured blows to critical nodes within his system (rather than causing defeat by utter obliteration through force-on-force engagements), then the role of aviation is to be part of a firepower “package” that is delivered at a time and place of our choosing to one of the bad guy’s critical nodes. At times, that package will consist, exclusively, of aviation assets. At other times, the targets will be engaged by a coordinated attack from an air/ground team. The method of engagement will be determined by the nature of the target and by the desired results. And the degree to which coordination is required between air and ground elements will determine whether or not the mission is a combined arms attack or simply simultaneous attacks, mutually supporting by presence, that supports the overall intent of the commander.

Communications will be the key to success on the four-dimensional battlefield. In order to engage in those communications, we must speak the same language. If we want to speak the same language, we must read the same book and, for now, that book is titled Offensive Air Support. This doctrine may change a little or a lot. The degree to which it changes will depend upon such things as the level of incorporation of new tactics, like infestation, as well as modifications based on evolutionary operations in the joint environment. It will also change by the degree in which concepts of CAS and DAS are developed to optimize their impact on a fast-paced, coordinated, four-dimensional battlefield. Communications will be characterized by a much higher degree of premission planning and coordination between the ground element and aviation commanders. As a result, the operation order for a combined arms attack will look much more like a present day, premission brief for a deep air strike with coordinated times on targets, suppression plans, electronic warfare plans, etc., as opposed to the current method of simply fighting the air war off of an air tasking order. And communications technologies using datalink, satellite communications, and Global Prepositioning Systems will be used for command and control rather than routing elements through various agencies.

The days of training to defensive CAS-nine lines, terminal control, and “cleared hot,” over and over again-must come to an end. Aviators train to it because we think that is what the grunts want. The grunts ask for it because they are not sure what else to do with the assets. There is so much more out there. The clues (not the answers) lie in our current doctrine. We must capitalize on the beneficial concepts of maneuver warfare as well as on the benefits of emerging technologies without losing our ability to provide the Nation with a skilled airground team capable of meting out destruction using a combination of maneuver warfare and advanced principles of combined arms. We must actively define our own futureor someone else is going to come along and define it for us.