ROYAL AURSTRALIAN AIR FORCE BASE TINDAL, Australia -- Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 provided close air support to 1st Battalion, 1st Marines and Marine Rotational Forces Darwin during Southern Frontier at Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal, Australia, Aug. 25, 2016.
VMFA-122 incorporated the close air support into their three week unit level training, helping them gain qualifications and experience in low altitude, air ground, high explosive ordnance delivery.
Close air support is the employment of air-to-ground ordnance in support of ground forces that requires detailed coordination.
During the close air support missions, forces on the ground moved forward, took over a hostile area, allowing friendly aircraft to provide overhead munitions. This type of support takes place in close proximity to friendly troops, therefore requiring detailed planning, coordination and training with ground combat units.
“The coordination between ground and air provided great training for forward air controllers, or FAC, and joint terminal attack controllers, or JTAC, so they can increase their qualifications and proficiency,” said U.S Marine Corps Maj. Matthew Halbert, VMFA-122 operations officer. “This training will ensure they are ready to properly support the infantry units to which they belong.”
Once pilots were within range and checked in with ground control, FAC and JTAC provided guidance from the ground to pilots during close air support missions, ensuring the safety of friendly troops on the ground.
“Upon receiving air space ‘all clear’, we begin to coordinate with the FAC and JTAC to work the detailed air-to-ground integration,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Rick Gallup, an F/A-18C Hornet pilot with VMFA-122. “We let them know who we are and what weaponry we are carrying. They pass us a situational report, locations of friendly troops, enemy fire and then a game plan. The game plan lets the eyes in the sky know what kind of munitions are needed, where and if they need multiple strikes.”
Ground guides directed pilots to specific enemy targets on the ground by providing a constant flow of information of nine lines, which contain special information for supporting units, grid coordinates, altitudes and target parameters.
“Close air support is our main aviation purpose,” said Gallup. “We’re here to support ground units. It’s not about the pilots out there, it’s about the 18 or 19 year old kids kicking down doors, receiving heavy fire that need just a little bit of extra muscle power on the battlefield.”
Once the targets are eliminated, ground guides direct the pilots out of the air space and give the ‘all clear’ for departure.
Halbert explained that the main effort and purpose of the Marine Corps is the infantry and ground combat. Marine aviation’s most important mission is to support the infantry and the best way to do that is with close air support.
“We train to build confidence between the air and ground units,” said Gallup. “Not only so that we trust them to direct us onto the right target, but so they can trust us to have their backs in the air. Southern Frontier has been a great training opportunity to carry high explosive ordnance and train with our FAC and JTAC assets. Australia provides a unique training environment allowing us to walk away more tactically and technically proficient.”
VMFA-122 will return home to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina at the conclusion of Southern Frontier after a six month deployment to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan with the Unit Deployment Program. The experiences gained over the deployment prepared the squadron for this training evolution and future operations.