MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER, TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- The Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Close Air Support, Joint Test and Evaluation team recently began test and evaluation operations here during the Final Exercise of Combined Arms Exercise 4-01.
According to the OSD, JCAS, JT&E charter, their purpose is to " ... Employ multi-service equipment and personnel to investigate, evaluate and improve the operational effectiveness of joint U.S. close air support ... "
To accomplish this mission, a team of approximately 50, comprised of military personnel and civilian contractors, activated a four-year test plan that includes three phases: Day Close Air Support Field Test, Night Close Air Support Field Test and the Enhancement Field Tests.
The majority of the initial two years has been dedicated to the start up of the test team and the first test phase, according to Maj. Jef (Hap) Arnold, Marine Corps Service Deputy Director, OSD, JCAS, JT&E. The second test phase, Night Close Air Support, is one of the many reasons the team is here.
"The past two years have been mostly Day CAS operations conducted at the Army's National Training Center. There are few Night CAS operations taking place across the board with all the services," said Arnold. "We knew that Twentynine Palms conducted Night CAS with a large maneuver force. In our program test plan, we study the CAS process within the context of a large maneuver force."
The team here is studying all aspects of the CAX close air support - the planning, preparation and execution portions, according to Arnold.
Seventeen of the team members are deployed with the Tactical Training Exercise Control Group, better known as the Coyotes - a simulated enemy force that the CAX forces are up against. The TTECG assist the team members with getting to the actual exercise force.
Another eight work at the Expeditionary Air Field and Camp Wilson, collecting Forward Air Control Airborne information and data.
The remainder of the team runs the Digital Audio Reduction Enhancement System, a data and information tracking system.
Another reason the team is conducting their test and evaluation during the CAXs, is due to a new philosophy this team brought to the JT&E.
"Something interesting we are doing is implementing a testing with training concept," said Arnold. "Deploying to a field training exercise, such as CAX, allows us to conduct testing in conjunction with training. What that does for us is provide multiple data collection opportunities conducted with an operational mindset."
Implementing the testing with training philosophy is not an easy task for the team to accomplish here. This type of testing had never been possible on the MCAGCC ranges, because the ranges are not instrumented. This proved to be a challenge for the team, but they came prepared for their mission.
The test team expertise is made up of maneuver warfare, fire support, terminal control and aviation trained personnel, with an important compliment of instrumentation and programmer personnel, according to Arnold.
"We have a very lean team," said Arnold. "Every individual is important to the success of the team because of the critical skills they bring.
"Through our team effort, we compile quantitative information used for the analysis of joint military capabilities. To provide that, we have to build a baseline of data and information. We are here to add Marine Corps operations to that baseline database," said Arnold.
To compile this information, equipment and expertise becomes important.
The team places Global Positioning System tracking devices with ground and air units. The GPS devices record every position and movement of these elements in real time. This becomes important when all of the data is compiled into the Combined Media Battlefield Analysis Tool. COMBAT is a program that combines all of the GPS information from each unit and creates the simulated battle in real time. The team can see where everyone was at all times during the battle, assisting with the evaluation. After the team is finished with the program, the simulated battle can be downloaded to disk and given to the units as a training tool, according to Rebecca Wheelbarger, programmer with the JCAS team.
There was also a channel bank of radios monitoring all communication throughout the exercise. When a transmission is made, it is sent to the recording station where it is digitally recorded. These transmissions are important to the overall evaluation of close air support operations.
The team from JCAS, JT&E is small in numbers, but huge in the importance of understanding, evaluating and improving our joint close air support.
However, their operations here would not have been possible without the support of the Combat Center's tenant units, according to Arnold.
"We received phenomenal support here," said Arnold on behalf of the entire team. "From the warm welcome by the MAGTF TC staff, to the outstanding support from every office here, we have been able to conduct our mission successfully.
"We would especially like to thank the (Combat Center) staff, TTECG and the Reserve Support Unit. Without their support, we could not have conducted our testing with training concept and accomplished our mission."
According to Arnold, the data collected here will greatly aid in the overall evaluation of U.S. Joint Close Air Support.
The JCAS team will return to several more CAXs and they look forward to operating in this environment. Next year the team will move on to the next and final phase of testing and evaluation - the Enhancement Field Test. During this phase the team will conduct a mini-test to investigate tactics, techniques and procedures for improving and implementing digital close air support into procedures, according to Arnold.