Secretary Wynne on the Ground-Air Revolution


12/21/2011 – Secretary Wynne was a key policy player fostering the Rover revolution.  Rover as we discuss in a companion piece is part of a cultural revolution whereby the ground and air forces can operate differently than ever before.

First, the downlink of video to the ground and the audio connection up has allowed for air support to the ground element in what one official involved with the Rover calls the “democratization of the battlefield”.

Second, this is now progressing with the capability for the ground forces to uplink video and to reshape how air assets can be used, among other things, as a flying Wi-Fi hot spot.

In this interview, Secretary Wynne places the Rover development within the broader evolution of ground-air operations.  At the heart of the Rover development has been the empowerment of the JTACS as key lynchpins between the ground and air operational elements.

Secretary Wynne joined the discussion with Lt. Col. Menza from the Rover team in a discussion of Rover, its past and future, at the Second Line of Defense Office in Arlington, VA.

Secretary Wynne and Lt. Col. Menza In Front of the Current Rover System (Credit: SLD)
Secretary Wynne and Lt. Col. Menza In Front of the Current Rover System (Credit: SLD)

The Historical Experience

You have to recognize the origin of JTACS is actually modeled on the Marine Corps.  The USMC in Korea or Vietnam would never let their airmen out of sight; the Marines had a natural JTAC approach.  The Marines brought them into the battle in Korea.

They had people on the ground who understood the capability in the air and were linked. As a result, the Marines would draw a black line way close to their troops and they did it with some impunity.

The Marines did this because they got themselves into real trouble on the ridges in Korea and brought in air support right on top of themselves.

This approach never got into Army thinking.  The Army used helicopters and only occasionally would connect with, and I mean occasionally, the FACs, the Forward Air Controllers in Vietnam.

The guys would be out there with the FACs, but they would actually be somewhat on their own search and destroy mission and then all of the sudden, they would plug into their radios for the FAC and ask the FAC, “where are you?”

And the FAC would tell him, “I’m in your area, but I’m not over top of you, show me a mirror”.  So they’d get a mirror and give a flash of the mirror and so they said, I’ve got two Phantoms coming in, what do you need? And they would say “well I just stumbled on a regimental camp.  And the enemy is waking up to the fact that there are some Americans in the area and I’m going to need some help”.  And then they would add, “well I can’t drop 500-pound bombers cause they didn’t know where those were going, but I’m coming right over your position with 20-millimeter canon”.  And the ground guys would say, “show up”, you know, and sure enough, here came two phantoms over with a 20-millimeter.

The Revolution in Connecting Shooters and Sensors

I think the advance here is you don’t have to do that anymore.  We have you on a JTAC but it does also talk to the fact that we own the sky.  And we owned the sky in Vietnam, but we didn’t know how to use it.  We didn’t know how to use it because we didn’t have GPS.  Even as late as the First Gulf War; the close air support revolved around stand-off lines where the Marine experience allowed for ‘closer air support’ than the Army.

If I can light up the area with an overhead camera, I suddenly see maneuver space that I never saw before.  I now have a Napoleonic map that shows the red guys all lined up, the blue guys all lined up.

In this new battlespace, as long as America  owns the skies, the exploitation of this dominance allows the  JTAC and the forward artillery controller are one in the same people.

The JTAC is an artillery spotter, but he’s got a far better map. Even transmitting the stuff back to the FADCCs, the Fire and Direction Control Center, it is a miracle if I could get the same picture as the guy on the ground. Here’s a picture from the ground, here’s the bird taking a picture and now you can see where the “artillery” is landing ordinance.  This is like a miracle.

We can now place this indirect fire wherever anybody wants. It’s a revolution in connecting shooters and sensors together and how do we do it?

What the Air Force brought to Iraq and Afghanistan was an extraordinarily push of technology into a system that didn’t understand how you would use that kind of sensor-shooter connection.

Some people got it; the artillery guys got it, but not the infantry guys. The special operators, especially the joint teams got it early; as was evidenced by the early days of Afghanistan with controllers on horseback and B-52’s in direct fire support to the Northern Alliance.  Their experience morphed into the Rover Revolution.

The Latest Rover Receiver (Credit: SLD)The Latest Rover Receiver (Credit: SLD)

Back in Vietnam when we invented the AC-130, with the big gun on it, we had at the same time, a crypto guy who had crypto gear and we put what amounts to a forward air controller, on the ground with the troops so that we could bring the fire closer to the plan.

In some of the bigger battles, we had guys hitting targets that were 30 meters away.  And with bad guys in the buildings and asking the gunship to take down that building and we would crank over and take it down right in front of them, not with the 40mm ‘big’ guns, not with the 20-millimeters but with the well known 105 mm shell.

I told the Army guys, it’s like having your own hill, you know, buying your own hill wherever you want.  Because taking the high ground is ingrained, this made sense.

The Army began to understand the new possibilities but from the standpoint of the gunship.  They really wanted to protect the gunships.  And so, because they’re such a devastating weapon and they actually, since it carries a 105-millimeter gun, they actually internalized it.

Taking air-to-air connectivity and shifting to ground to air connectivity

We would have an AWACS as a flying command center, give a target indication, go do the verification validation, satisfy the rules of engagement, then hire a shooter, right, that’s actually hire a shooter.  They didn’t actually care from where, but predominately because it’s an AWACS, it’s an Air Force asset, they would hire an Air Force shooter.

In Iraq, we hired Navy shooters to accomplish the same mission.  They were happy to do it.  Marine shooters were happy to do it if they were in the area.  So, think about it in terms of, here’s a command center with inaccurate data that now has to go get an indication, verification, and validation and then satisfy the rules of engagement, hire a shooter, then engage.

When it comes to thinking about the time in the ‘kill chain’ it is about commitment and objective. It’s courage and fear that minimizes any time for the guy on the ground to identify the target.  It’s excitement and satisfaction of saving friendly lives that drives the shooter to minimize the time  to close within and destroy the enemy. The next level up, it’s reputation even with continued involvement.

In other words, how many targets did you authorize that were right or wrong?  And suddenly the score keeping changes so dramatically that when you’re on a closed-form solution of battleship, when you’re, you’ve got a target right off the bow of the ship and you’re closing within and destroying the enemy, the excitement is huge.

If you have to radio back to Pearl Harbor,  and they wonder if this is a freighter or not a freighter, let me tell you something, then it’s about reputation. I’m not getting promoted for identifying a target, I’m not getting promoted for killing a target, I’m getting promoted for the position I took about whether or not you can go, what’s the bias when it comes to reputation?  Negative.

For the companion piece on Rover“democratizing-the-battlefield”-the-rover-experience/