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14th FS prepares to deploy

12/08/2006 -- MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- It is well known that flexibility is the key to air power. The 14th Fighter Squadron may not being doing the limbo, but they are training for a new role in preparation for their upcoming Air Expeditionary Force deployment.

"Misawa's primary mission will be close air support while in the area of responsibility," said Lt. Col. Ken Madura, 14th Fighter Squadron director of operations. "For us, CAS is usually a secondary mission to suppression of enemy air defenses. We've been preparing since August as far as transforming our flying. Our guys are excited and ready to go."

As part of their training, the 14th Fighter Squadron has worked closely with a team of joint terminal air controllers, or JTACs.

"The training is all close air support capabilities of an F-16 block 50 and their targeting pods," said Tech. Sgt. James Weeder, operations superintendent, 25th Air Support Operations Squadron, Wheeler Army Air Field, Hawaii. "Training consists of coordinating with the pilots and talking to them to specific targets on the ground. Our job is to de-conflict with what's going on in the air with what's happening on the land."

"It's training we normally don't do," said Colonel Madura. "We typically focus on SEAD, or suppression of enemy air defenses. Close air support and support of ground troops is something we are anticipating during our AEF (air expeditionary force). These guys are essentially the link between the Air Force and the Army. These guys know how to talk to airplanes and they know how to talk to the Army."

Having eyes on the ground is a valuable asset to the pilots when supporting land operations. "From the altitude that we fly you can't see the bad guys on the ground. They will talk us to a specific target using imagery and satellites," the colonel said. "Once they point or steer us to a specific target and we agree on that target they will clear us to employ an ordinance. And while he's talking to us he's talking to the ground commanders asking 'Where can I bring these guys in to coordinate with your ground artillery?' Practicing this with a JTAC is a huge asset for us.

Technology also plays a huge role. As the JTACs communicate with the pilots to select a target, both can see the same images by sharing real-time video. "We can send a video link to them on the ground of what our pods are seeing in the air; so they're seeing the exact same picture on their laptop as we are seeing through the targeting pod," Colonel Madura said. "They can talk to us to move our pods to a target right away. Everyone has been impressed with the equipment they use."

This technological exchange also provides precision information. Once the target is identified, the JTAC can pinpoint a specific area for the pilot using a laser. "To talk (someone) onto a target can take 10-15 minutes, but with a laser you see it within seconds," said the colonel. "Additionally, knowing where the good guys are on the ground is important. Even flying at night with night vision goggles a good guy can use a laser only we can see and it shows his location immediately. We have a lot of good equipment out there and it is very effective when we get to use it."

Tracking targets may also include HVTs, or high value targets. "The kind of things we'll be doing in the AOR in direct support of the Army is they might give us a specific building or target area and we would employ on that," said Colonel Madura. "We also have the capability to track suspicious vehicles and activity along the routes that they (ground personnel) may travel. It will be satisfying when we get to use what we've learned here. Being able to talk to the person on the ground builds confidence that we will be able to get the job done. We're excited!"