Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., (May 23, 2013) -- Air USA, a civilian company equipped with jets armed for close-air support training missions, operated from Cherry Point Monday through Thursday last week in support of joint terminal attack controller training.
In the field, JTACs call for air strikes in support of troops on the ground. They train to standards set forth in the Joint Close-Air Support Memorandum of Agreement, which standardized the procedures for calling for close air support between all of the United States military services and several allied nations.
During the training, Marine students called in airstrikes which the contractor aircraft delivered. The controllers use what is called a nine-line brief, which is nine items of information the controller must give the pilots in the air in order to get bombs on target and avoid friendly casualties.
“These JTACs learn how to call in airpower. They have to give us a situation update, they have to give us their game plan on what they’re trying to accomplish out there, and then they roll into the nine-line,” said Don Kingrey, a pilot with Air USA. “From that, we can either do dropping bombs on coordinates where we don’t have to see the target, or in the case where we’re simulating dumb bombs, we do a talk-on to the target where the JTACs student has to get our eyeballs on the target.”
Besides accomplishing regular training, hiring contractor companies has numerous other benefits, said Kingrey. Marine squadrons are often deployed and unavailable to provide sorties for the JTAC training courses. If they aren’t deployed, other training commitments, personnel numbers and expenses may prevent them from taking part. The contracted jets are much less expensive to operate than F-18s and other tactical aircraft.
“Air USA is used in order to provide for a shortfall from tactical air sorties,” said Maj. Peter J. Guerrant, a joint terminal attack control instructor with the training program. “Contract close air support is used to alleviate pressure on the fleet and to supplement tactical air sorties. They provide approximately 37 percent of our fixed-wing aviation support. We use them for the evaluation of specific JTAC skill sets for which civilian the aircraft are configured.”
The training is focused on getting the JTAC students up to the standards of the memorandum of agreement. The airstrikes are the culmination of a three-week course where they receive 88 hours of classroom instruction, more than eight hours of simulation and an 90 minutes of controlling tactical or contractor aircraft as they drop bombs.
While Air USA does not deploy in support of combat operations, training exercises benefit from their pilots with extensive combat flying experience.
“All the pilots are former military,” said Kingrey, who is also a former Top Gun flight instructor. “They all have a tremendous amount of fighter time. I think I’m probably average for the company; I have more than 4,000 hours flying for the Navy in F-4s and F-14s. I’m a Navy guy, my wingman here is a retired Air Force guy who flew F-15 Eagles, we have three or four F-18 guys and some F-16 guys.”
After the final training exercise, the students are certified JTACS ready to deploy and act as the link between ground and air forces.