Full Spectrum Close Air Support for the 21st Century: Leveraging Air Operations with Ground Forces

The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies is pleased to announce the release of its newest Policy Paper, Full Spectrum Close Air Support for the 21st Century: Leveraging Air Operations with Ground Forces, by Lt Col Michael Buck, USAF (Ret.). A non-resident senior visiting fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, Buck is a retired F-15C Eagle squadron commander, and command pilot with more than 5,000 flight hours. He has experience flying both the F-16 and F-15C, and flew combat missions in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Southern Watch.

In his policy paper, Buck proposes the development of a new approach to close air support (CAS) in order for US and allied air and ground forces to operate across all levels of conflict. Counterinsurgency and irregular warfare campaigns, similar to the wars fought since September 2001, will continue to persist, presenting a low threat environment for aircraft prosecuting CAS missions for the foreseeable future. But future conflicts will also take place in highly contested anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) environments, he warns, with far more dangerous threats to aircraft. “Although aircraft optimized for low threat CAS environments will have ongoing value, providing desired effects at lower operating costs, a full-spectrum approach to CAS will also require the capability to engage in high threat scenarios,” Buck notes.

The capability for aircraft to engage in high threat environments while producing desired CAS effects calls for aircraft with the highest levels of survivability and combat capability. Fifth generation aircraft afford survivability in A2/AD environments via stealth and other tools, which allow them to respond to threats quickly. New methods of command and control (C2) that capitalize on situational awareness created via the “combat cloud” will permit efficient, decentralized execution at the tactical level, Buck writes. To optimize the effectiveness of ground forces, sensor-effector aircraft will make on the- spot decisions in these environments, and rapidly coordinate weapons effects across all domains to target enemy forces before they can target US or allied forces, he adds.

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