Shaw Weasel role in close air support

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --

During a recent informal poll around the 20th Fighter Wing, I found roughly 77 percent of Shaw Airmen know and generally understand the primary mission of the 20th FW. 

 

We are the nation's premier suppression of enemy air defenses wing with three fighter squadrons and 77 F-16CM Fighting Falcons ready to execute SEAD when called upon.

 

Clearly, it takes an immense amount of support from every squadron on base to make this mission happen.

 

This article is intended to educate the base population on a very important secondary mission the Shaw Weasels are tasked to do on a regular basis-- close air support.

 

Joint Publication 3-09.3, “Close Air Support,” defines CAS as air action by rotary or fixed-winged aircraft against hostile targets that are in close proximity to friendly forces and which requires detailed integration of each air mission with fire and movement of these forces. 

 

The most recent fighter squadrons and aircraft maintenance units deploying from Shaw to the area of responsibility have been tasked to provide the combined forces air component commander with CAS, not SEAD.

 

Simply put, Shaw Weasels support our joint partners on the ground during integrated operations to neutralize hostile actors.

 

The majority of named operations on the ground are supported by a robust network of aircraft providing varying levels of support. Typically, each operation will have multiple aerial systems providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support and a two-ship of fighters possessing ISR and kinetic capability. 

 

Due to the large number of ground operations and limited fighter presence in most AORs, CAS can be an extremely dynamic mission set.

 

Shaw Weasels may take off from Base X expecting to support a task force infiltration requiring fighters to provide armed over watch and end up being re-tasked to a troops in contact situation where Americans are on the ground being shot at by enemy forces.

 

The CAS forces are controlled by the Air Support Operations Center which determines the most important CAS requests that require fighter support.

 

If the situation changes, the fighters will be re-tasked to the location they are most needed.   

 

When the fighters arrive at the tasking, they establish positive communications with the joint terminal attack controller, who provides a specific mission for the fighters. The JTAC is normally collocated with the ground forces commander and serves as the airpower expert to the ground forces. For example, a senior airman or staff sergeant JTAC may advise an Army colonel that two fighters are overhead carrying precision rockets minimizing the commander's concern for collateral damage during a situation where the colonel's troops are in close contact with enemy forces.

 

If the colonel is willing to accept the risk for the attack, he will authorize the JTAC to make the fighter attack happen.  From this point, the JTAC will pass a detailed 9-Line which provides the pilots the detailed integration they need to safely neutralize the bad guys and protect the friendly forces.  After the 9-Line is passed, the pilots will develop the best game plan possible to meet the ground commander's intent. 

 

As I am sure you have gathered, CAS requires the pilots to be extremely disciplined and maintain a high level of situational awareness of the current condition on the ground.  If the pilots make a successful attack, they save the day. If they make one mistake it could cost American lives.  This is a responsibility the Shaw Weasels do not take lightly.

 

Each squadron deploying to execute CAS missions begins an aggressive pre-deployment spin-up plan with the goal of turning our secondary mission set into our primary mission set so we can support our fellow brothers and sisters in arms on the ground.

 

Every 20th FW squadron plays an important role in this spin-up and deployment process.  As a Shaw Weasel you should be proud of the support you provide to keep Americans on the ground safe so they can accomplish their mission.