BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, LA. --- The Air Force's Green Flag East (GFE), in partnership with the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Ft. Polk, La., and with support from U.S. Joint Forces Command's (USJFCOM) Joint Fires Integration and Interoperability Team (JFIIT), is improving warfighting skills of fighter pilots conducting close air support (CAS) missions for ground forces as those pilots prepare for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The 354th Fighter Squadron, an A-10C Thunderbolt unit from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Az., currently participating in the ongoing GFE 09-04 training rotation, is honing its CAS skills here.
"Green Flag East provides us with the environment that best replicates what we'll experience once deployed," said Air Force Maj. James Krischke, A-10 fighter pilot and assistant director of operations, 354th Fighter Squadron. "I don't think people realize how carefully organized and orchestrated our military operations have become. Our goal is to minimize collateral damage and eliminate fratricide in combat. The Green Flag team provides our squadron with the opportunity to improve those skills we need to reach our goal before we deploy and fight."
JFIIT has helped GFE enhance joint CAS training for aircrews, joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs), and joint fires observers (JFOs) for the past two years.
"Green Flag has done a remarkable job of providing a world-class CAS environment for the aircrews, JTACs, and JFOs that train here," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chris Olson, JFIIT lead at GFE. "Our job is to help integrate those assets and bridge the gaps between the services, both in terms of technology and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP), so they can improve their combat effectiveness while reducing the potential of fratricide and collateral damage on an ever-evolving battlefield."
GFE works with JRTC to integrate joint assets for a realistic and rigorous training environment that replicates many of the same conditions found in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The joint training between Green Flag and JRTC is excellent," said Army Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Roten, JRTC training mentor and ground liaison officer for GFE. "Anytime you get the chance to work with the Air Force it makes you a better warfighter for the Army. I will take the lessons that I learn from this exercise and apply them back at JRTC to help improve CAS integration for our Army fires supporters that are preparing to deploy downrange."
GFE provides many opportunities for aircrews to train with resources and assets not available at their home station.
"There is so much that we want our aircrews to experience before they leave Green Flag," said Air Force Maj. Brendan O'Brien, director of operations, GFE. "Their experience will include working with JTACs and JFOs in a realistic and dynamic air-to-ground environment; flying with and using advanced targeting pods; practicing with new technologies and TTP, like digitally aided CAS; working counter-improvised explosive device scenarios at JRTC, and much more."
"We want our fighter pilots to be exposed to intense combat scenarios with realistic tactical problems to solve so they will leave here confident in the knowledge they've learned and ready for the challenges that lie ahead," added O'Brien.
According to GFE leaders, the opportunity for aircrews, JTACs, and Army JFOs to improve the coordination, synchronization, and execution of CAS in this near-real-world environment will help the joint team accomplish its mission and put bombs on target more effectively in the heat of battle.
"We take pride in providing the best possible pre-deployment combat training for our fighter crews, intelligence, maintenance, and logistics team to ensure they are prepared for the asymmetric fight they will face in theater," said O'Brien. "Green Flag East strives to be a premier training venue that replicates that fight and we do it as a joint team. Working with organizations like JRTC, JFIIT, and others allows us to provide the quality training that our fighter pilots and entire warfighting team needs and deserves."
JRTC training mentors also realize the importance of working with aircrews at GFE to improve air-ground integration between fighter pilots, JTACs, JFOs, and brigade combat teams.
"CAS is such a combat multiplier for our maneuver forces," added Roten. "We've got to learn how to fully take advantage of its capabilities before we actually need it on the battlefield - this exercise will really help us to improve that mission-essential air-ground integration that's vital to our team's success."
The benefits of this enhanced joint training are evident to many of the leaders and fighter pilots who train here.
"This is the only exercise that intentionally seeks to replicate the operational flow of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom," said Krischke. "We get the opportunity to work with many of the same assets that we will see in theater in just a few short months - it's a fundamental building-block approach to training aircrews that can't be found anywhere else."