The U.S. military services and U.S. Special Operations Command signed in early September a “joint close-air support memorandum of agreement,” paving the way for a single document that will, for the first time, standardize the procedures and terminology employed by both aviators and ground controllers, said Navy Rear Adm. Matthew G. Moffitt.
“It is a watershed event,” said Moffitt, who commands the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center, in Fallon, Nev.
“We finally have one joint document that drives the entire close-air support process, from start to finish,” Moffitt told aviators at the 2004 Tailhook Convention. “We now operate off the same procedures, with the same terminology and the same number of briefing lines.”
The briefing lines are more commonly known as the “nine-line brief.” It includes the nine pieces of standard information that a forward-air controller needs to send to the pilot who will strike a target. The nine-line brief also tells the pilot the position of friendly forces in the area.
Additionally, an executive committee has been tasked to figure out how to align different command-and-control programs from the various services. The goal, Moffitt said, is for “any service to communicate with any part of the close-air support business in any organization.”
Moffitt noted that U.S. officials would like to see the common processes extend to all NATO aircraft. “Our next step is to move into the NATO business,” he said. “Unfortunately, instead of a nine-line brief they have a 15-line brief. They have reasons for that.”
Nevertheless, he added, “we are in negotiations with NATO and see if we can further bring this package together from the coalition perspective.”
The need for better joint-service close-air support training became one of the primary “lessons learned” in Iraq, where friendly fire incidents have been attributed to miscommunication between pilots and forward ground controllers.
Another lesson cited was the need to integrate the Army’s Patriot air-defense system into aviation training. In April 2003, during the initial phase of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a U.S. Navy fighter was shot down by a Patriot missile. That was one among other friendly-fire incidents that still remain under investigation.
“We are trying to integrate Patriot into air-wing training at Fallon,” said Moffitt. “In my 30 years in this business, I have never worked with a Patriot organization other than showing up at a conflict and flying through their areas of concern. Little did we know. We learned some personal lessons in this last event.”