Infantry: November 19, 2003

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The U.S. Marine Corps (as well as the US Air Force) has long insisted that all Forward Air Controllers (FACs) be pilots. This insured that when air support was being called in, the guy on the ground knew what the guy in the air was dealing with. But in 1991, and even more so in Iraq recently, there were not enough FACs to go around. Non-pilots have long been given some training on how to do FAC duties in an emergency, but they are not allowed to practice much at all during training exercises. That is changing. The marines are setting up a training program for officers and NCOs to learn FAC skills. Moreover, these non-pilot FACs will be able to exercise their skills during regular training, and are expected to share the heavier workload with the pilot FACs (who will still be out there.) Until the current generation of JDAM GPS (satellite guidance) smart bombs came along, the trend was moving away from close air support. This was because lack of training with the air force, and the inaccuracy of the bombing, made it a risky business for the troops being supported. But JDAM changed all that, and now the troops are clamoring for the bombers. JDAM also made it unnecessary for the bomber to get close, the troops just wanted a bomber of any size or type circling about up there, ready to drop a smart bomb on demand. But to make this work, there have to be a lot more FACs. The air force is not crazy about being turned into truck drivers, but even with the latest airborne sensors (day and night cameras, with zoom and other capabilities, plus laser range finders), in most cases the guys on the ground will have identified more targets than the bombers overhead. The air force would love to find most of the targets from the air, but the capability just isn't there, yet, and will not be for some time. For as better airborne sensors are developed, and the people on the ground get better sensor stuff as well. And victory is still one by foot soldiers occupying enemy air fields, cities and other military targets.

 


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