MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --
Airmen assigned to the 13th Fighter Squadron and the 320th Special Tactics Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan, conducted close air support training at Draughon Range, near Misawa Air Base, Japan, June 15-17.
CAS is defined as air action by fixed- and rotary-winged aircraft against hostile targets that are in close proximity to friendly ground forces requiring detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of those forces.
CAS is not a primary part of the 35th Fighter Wing mission set, but it is one they can be called upon to perform in coordination with joint terminal attack controllers.
“We have a lot of young pilots who haven’t worked with JTACs around here, so we are building the foundations,” said Capt. Adam Engelhardt, a 13th Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot. “If we end up deploying or in a scenario like this, the JTACs trust the F-16 units to go ahead and do this.”
Due to the urgency a CAS scenario can present, it is critical that pilots and JTACs not only trust each other but also understand each other. Though there are publications that unify the verbiage used throughout the CAS community, participants still need opportunities to practice it in application.
“If we don’t have JTACs, it ends up becoming a lot of roleplaying in the airspace,” said Engelhardt. “I’m pretending to be the JTAC while I’m flying the aircraft, so my wingman can understand the communication going on. It's not as effective as when you have someone whose actual job it is on the ground.”
Typically, there are several training opportunities throughout the year for pilots and JTACs to work together and obtain or maintain their proficiency, but precautions taken to limit the spread of the coronavirus have led to many trainings either being postponed or cancelled.
“We came out to Misawa because there is no fixed-wing CAS platform on the island of Okinawa, and it is required biannual training for us,” said Master Sgt. Steven, the 320th STS JTAC Evaluation program manager. “The training went well. We were successful in conducting two JTAC evaluations.”
Though training opportunities at Draughon Range can’t replace the missed training at other locations, such as RED FLAG-Alaska, the willingness and ability of the 35th Operations Support Squadron and flexibility of the range to meet training requirements for the JTACs was critical.
“It’s a good range considering it is not designed for CAS,” Steven said. “If we were not able to come out here, we were in danger of having all of our qualified JTACs non-current, which would require an outside element to oversee our program manager training until we were able to become green again. The ability to utilize Draughon Range during this time saved our unit’s JTAC program.”
For that, the JTACs were very grateful for the use of Draughon Range, with many of them saying they would come back as long as they are allowed.