oversight

Close Air Support: Airborne Controllers in High-Threat Areas May Not Be Needed

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-04-04.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                      __
April   I!I!M)
                      CLOSE AIR SUPPORT
                      Airborne Controllers in
                      High-Threat Areas
                      May Not Be Needed




GAO,‘NSIAD90-l   16
National Security and
International  Affairs Division

B-237393

April 4,199O

The Honorable Les Aspin
Chairman, Committee on Armed Services
House of Representatives

Dear Mr. Chairman:

This report, which was prepared at your request, examines the present and future need for
airborne controllers, the effect of increasing air defense threats on the Air Force’s ability to
perform the airborne controller role, and the force structure and cost implications of
reassigning A-10 aircraft from an attack role to a controller role. We recommend that the
Secretary of the Air Force expedite the operational testing of a new system to improve direct
communications from ground control elements to attack aircraft and use the results to
reassess the need for airborne controllers in high-threat areas. We also recommend that the
Air Force make the reassessment before more funds are spent to renovate OV-10 and
reassign A-10 aircraft.

As arranged with your office, unless you publicly announce its contents earlier, we plan no
further distribution of this report until 30 days after its issue date. At that time we will send
copies to appropriate congressional committees; the Secretaries of Defense and the Air Force;
the Director, Office of Management and Budget; and other interested parties.

Please contact me at (202) 275-4268 if you or your staff have any questions concerning this
report. Other major contributors to this report are listed in appendix I.

Sincerely yours,




Nancy R. Kingsbury
Director
Air Force Issues
EJxecutiveSummq


                   Close air support to friendly forces requires accurate and timely target-
Purpose            ing information from forward air controllers to be effective and mini-
                   mize the possibility of attacking friendly forces. The Air Force plans to
                   replace its old forward air control aircraft with newer and more surviv-
                   able A-10 aircraft now used in the close air support attack role. Reas-
                   signed A-10s are referred to as OA-10s.

                   The House Committee on Armed Services is concerned that the OA-10s
                   may not be survivable in certain threat environments. The Chairman,
                   House Committee on Armed Services, asked GAOto examine the present
                   and future need for airborne controllers, the effect of increasing air
                   defense threats on the Air Force’s ability to perform the airborne con-
                   troller role, and the force structure and cost implications of reassigning
                   A-10s from an attack role to a controller role.

  /
                   Controllers on the ground and in fixed-wing aircraft identify and mark
Bickground         close air support targets, communicate targeting information to attack
                   aircraft, and coordinate the attacks with friendly ground forces.

                   As of October 1989, the Air Force’s forward air control fleet was com-
                   prised of OV-lO, OA-37, and OA-10 aircraft. The Air Force plans to retire
                   the OV-10s and most of the OA-37s by the mid-1990s and replace them
                   with A-10s. According to the Department of Defense, the rate at which
                   the OV-10s and OA-37s are replaced by A-10s will be determined by how
                   rapidly the A-10s become available due to reductions in tactical forces, a
                   reevaluation of tactical missions, and budgetary considerations.

                   The Air Force classifies the threat to airborne controllers as low (small
                   arms fire), moderate (some surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft artillery,
                   and attack aircraft), or high (increased number of more advanced weap-
                   ons than found in moderate-threat areas). Geographic areas are gener-
                   ally classified by the predominant threat level expected in those areas;
                   for example, central Europe is considered a high-threat area because of
                   the large number and sophistication of Warsaw Pact weapons.


                   The Air Force plans to use most of its forward air control aircraft in a
Results in Brief   high-threat European conflict. Air defenses in high-threat areas would
                   force airborne controllers away from the target to survive. The Air
                   Force plans to rely primarily on the ground controllers to identify and
                   mark targets and use the airborne controllers to relay information from
                   the ground controllers and other Air Force control elements on the


                   Page 2                                        GAO/NSIAD-90-116   Close Air Support
                              Executive   Summary




                              ground. Although the Air Force ground control elements can communi-
                              cate directly to attack aircraft through Air Force radio networks, the
                              Air Force considers the airborne controllers necessary in high-threat
                              areas because the controllers may be capable of relaying information
                              when other means of communication are degraded and may be able to
                              add their own battlefield information to assist the attack aircraft.

                              The Air Force has started to renovate its OV-10s to extend their life
                              until they can be replaced and plans to modify existing OA-1.0s. It plans
                              to reassess the need to renovate additional OV-10 aircraft every year
                              until all OV-10s are renovated or replaced. The Air Force also plans to
                              modify its close air support A-10s. As A-10s become available, the Air
                              Force plans to stop modifying OV-10s and replace the existing OV-10s
                              and OA-37s with modified A-10s. The Air Force recognizes that the
                              changes to its forward air control aircraft will not improve aircraft
                              survivability enough so that the airborne controllers can get closer to
                              the targets to identify and mark them or provide direct targeting infor-
                              mation in high-threat areas.

                              While the aircraft are being replaced and renovated, the Air Force could
                              test the operational effectiveness of the Automatic Target Handoff Sys-
                              tem, which is to improve direct communications from the ground to
                              attack aircraft. If the system is found to be effective, it would reduce
                              the possibility of communications degradation due to jamming and the
                              potential need for airborne controllers in high-threat areas.



Prihcipal Findings

Thrleat Limits Airborne       In low- and moderate-threat areas, the airborne controllers have an
Corjtrollers’ Effectiveness   advantage over ground controllers in identifying and marking targets
                              because of their greater mobility and visibility over the battlefield and
                              freedom from land impediments to communications. In high-threat
                              areas, airborne controllers are to relay information between ground con-
                              trollers and attack aircraft by flying close to the ground controllers to
                              overcome communications jamming and receive targeting information
                              and then fly to a rear area to transmit the information to the attack
                              aircraft. They are also to relay updated mission planning information
                              from other air control elements on the ground to attack aircraft.




                              Page 3                                      GAO/NSLAD-90-118   Close Air Support
                        Executive   Summary




                        According to the Air Force, targeting and mission planning information
                        can be passed directly to the attack aircraft from ground control ele-
                        ments. However, communications channels between the control elements
                        and the attack aircraft are subject to degradation caused by jamming,
                        terrain, and other factors. Therefore, according to the Air Force, the air-
                        borne controllers are needed in high-threat areas to assist ground con-
                        trol elements by relaying information to attack aircraft when other more
                        direct communications systems are degraded.

                        The Air Force plans to improve direct communications between ground
                        control elements and attack aircraft using the Automatic Target Hand-
                        off System, which can electronically receive targeting and mission plan-
                        ning information from a digital communications terminal and display
                        the information on an aircraft’s cockpit display. The Air Force demon-
                        strated the data transmission capabilities of the Army’s version of this
                        system on an F-16 in December 1989. It is currently demonstrating the
                        integration of the system on an A-10 and plans to complete that effort
                        by September 1990. The Air National Guard plans to install the system
                        on 20 F-16s from July through December 1990. The Air Force is devel-
                        oping upgrades to the system’s software to increase data transmission
                        rates and provide added flexibility in radio jamming environments. The
                        Air Force does not plan to do operational testing of the system until the
                        upgraded version is developed in late 1991 or early 1992.


C&t of A-10 and OA-10   The Air Force has $92 million to modify 385 A-10s and OA-10s to
Mbdifications           improve their flight safety and targeting systems. In addition, the Air
                        Force plans to modify 498 A-10s and OA-10s to improve their naviga-
                        tion. These modifications are estimated to cost about $80 million. The
                        Air Force received $14.5 million for fiscal year 1990 and planned to
                        request funds through fiscal year 1997. Future plans for these modifica-
                        tions are contingent on the number of aircraft in the inventory. Also, the
                        Air Force is evaluating several potential modifications to improve the
                        A-lo’s and OA-10’s communications, navigation, and targeting. These
                        modifications include the Automatic Target Handoff System, which is
                        estimated to cost $47,000 per aircraft,


cost of ov-10           The Air Force is renovating its OV-10s to extend their life. This includes
Modificationq           rewiring, corrosion protection, and replacing parts, as necessary. As of
                        October 1989, the Air Force had renovated 17 OV-10s at a cost of about
                        $640,000 per aircraft and had $6 million for fiscal year 1990 to renovate
                        an additional 9 aircraft. The Air Force said that it plans to make an


                        Page 4                                      GAO/NSLAD!M-116   Close Air Support
            / .

-
    .
                      Executive   Summary




        I

                      annual reassessment of its need to renovate additional OV-10s as long as
        /             they remain in the fleet or until all have been renovated.

        I
                      Because the Automatic Target Handoff System being installed on an
Reqommendations       A-10 and F-16 aircraft could improve direct communications from
                      ground control elements to attack aircraft, GAOrecommends that the
                      Secretary of the Air Force

                   . expedite the operational testing of the system and use the results to
                     reassess the need for airborne controllers in high-threat areas and
                  l  make the reassessment before more funds are spent to renovate OV-10s
                     and reassign A-10s.


                      The Committee may wish to consider whether the Air Force’s planned
Ma$ter for            changes for its forward air control aircraft should proceed before alter-
Congressional         native means of communicating between ground control elements and
Cohiideration         attack aircraft are assessed.


                      The Department of Defense generally concurred with most of GAO'Sfind-
Agency Comments and   ings. However, it partially concurred with GAO'Srecommendations and
GAO’s Evaluation      did not concur with GAO'Smatter for congressional consideration. The
                      Department stated that the airborne controllers are the only airborne
                      element that can control fighters to the battle area. GAObelieves, how-
                      ever, that ground control elements can control aircraft using existing
                      communications equipment and that the Automatic Target Handoff Sys-
                      tem could improve direct communications between the ground and
                      attack aircraft in high-threat jamming environments, thus obviating the
                      need for the airborne controllers in those environments.

                      The Department did not agree that the Air Force should reassess the
                      need for air controllers in high-threat areas before more OV-10s are
                      renovated and A-10s reassigned. The Department concluded that delay-
                      ing ongoing programs until after the results of operational tests of the
                      Air Force’s version of the Automatic Target Handoff System are ana-
                      lyzed and the role of airborne controllers is reassessed would unnecessa-
                      rily degrade the Air Force’s support to the Joint Forces Commander. GAO
                      believes that operational tests could be conducted in mid-1990 using the
                      Army’s version of the system, since the system could be available on an
                      A-10 in September 1990 and on F-16s starting in July 1990.



                      Page 6                                      GAO/NSIALI-90-116   Close Air Support
                                                                                                      ,
(3imtents


Exbcutive Summary                                                                                          2
   /
Chapter 1                                                                                                  8
Indroduction             Role of the Forward Air Controller
                         Air Force Forward Air Control Aircraft
                                                                                                           8
                                                                                                           9
                         Congressional Concern                                                            12
                         Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                               12
   T   ~~

Chapter 2
             Threat      Levels of Threat
                         Impact of Threat on Forward Air Control Role
     its Effectiveness
of birborne Forward
Aiir Controllers
Chapter 3                                                                                             24
Force Structure and      Force Structure Changes
                         Cost of A-10 and OA-10 Modifications
                                                                                                      24
                                                                                                      24
Cost Implications        Cost of OV-10 Modifications                                                  25

Chapter 4                                                                                             26
C.&elusions              Recommendations
                         Matter for Congressional Consideration
                                                                                                      27
                                                                                                      27
                         Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                           27

Appendix                 Appendix I: Major Contributors to This Report                                30

Figures                  Figure 1.1: OV-10 Aircraft                                                   10
                         Figure 1.2: OA-37 Aircraft                                                   11
                         Figure 1.3: A-10 Aircraft                                                    12
                         Figure 2.1: Degradation of Airborne Controllers’                             16
                              Effectiveness Due to Threat Levels
                         Figure 2.2: Airborne Controllers’ Safe Operating   Area in                   19
                              Low-Threat Environments
                         Figure 2.3: Airborne Controllers’ Safe Operating   Area in                   20
                              the 1996 Moderate-Threat Environments
                         Figure 2.4: Airborne Controllers’ Safe Operating   Area in                   21
                              Current High-Threat Environments
                         Figure 2.6: Airborne Controllers’ Safe Operating   Area in                   22
                              the 1996 High-Threat Environments


                         Page 6                                      GAO/NSIAIMO-116   Close Air Support
Page 7   GAO/NSLADBO-110   Close Air Support
Chabter 1

Irkroduction                                                                                         ,


                      The Air Force has traditionally provided close air support to friendly
                      ground forces in proximity to enemy forces. This requires accurate and
                      timely information on the location of targets to maximize the effective-
                      ness of the air support and minimize the possibility of attacking friendly
                      forces. The forward air controllers perform a key role in close air sup-
                      port because they identify and mark targets, communicate accurate and
                      timely information on those targets to attacking aircraft, and coordinate
                      the attack with ground forces.

                      The Air Force said that it wants to replace its old and less survivable
                      OV-10 and OA-37 forward air control aircraft with A-10 aircraft reas-
                      signed from the close air support role. The A-10, developed in the early
                      197Os, is the Air Force’s primary attack aircraft designed specifically to
                      provide close air support. The Air Force began reassigning A-10s in
                      1987 and plans to have a total of 163 A-10s reassigned to the forward
                      air control role by the mid-1990s. Reassigned A-10s are referred to as
                      OA-10s. According to the Air Force, the A-10s are being reassigned
                      because they cannot survive as close air support aircraft in high-threat
                      areas, such as the central European battlefield of the 1990s and they
                      are an available and cost-effective replacement for the present forward
                      air control aircraft.


                      Airborne and ground controllers work together to coordinate and control
Role of the Forward   close air support missions and integrate the missions with fire from
Air Controller        friendly ground forces. Their basic tasks are to identify targets and
                      mark them with smoke rockets or other devices and coordinate air
                      strikes by communicating accurate and timely target and battle area
                      information to attack aircraft. According to the Air Force, these are the
                      airborne controllers’ basic tasks in areas where they can operate virtu-
                      ally unrestricted by the threat. The airborne controllers have an advan-
                      tage over ground controllers in performing these tasks because their
                      aircraft provide greater mobility and visibility over the battle area and
                      freedom from land impediments to communications. However, in threat
                      areas where the airborne controllers’ operations are projected to be
                      severely restricted, the Air Force plans to use the airborne controllers to
                      relay targeting and battle area information between ground forces and
                      close air support aircraft going to the target. In addition to these tasks,
                      the airborne controller may perform other tasks including search and
                      rescue, convoy escort, damage assessment, and area surveillance. Their
                      ability to perform these tasks is also contingent on the threat.




                      Page 8                                       GAO/NSIAD-90-116   Close Air Support
    .


                        chapter 1
                        Introduction




                        The ground controllers work in teams consisting of an air liaison officer,
                        who is also a pilot, and two enlisted Air Force personnel, The teams are
                        assigned to and maneuver with Army battalions to gather targeting
                        information, advise the commanders on the use of tactical aircraft, and
                        coordinate the air attack with fire from friendly ground forces. They
                        also decide whether the final decision to attack will be made by the air
                        or ground controller.

                        The airborne and ground controllers are part of a command, control, and
                        communications system that includes air liaison officers, who are colo-
                        cated with the supported ground forces at the battalion through corps
                        levels, and air control centers, which are located at the Army corps and
                        tactical air force headquarters levels. The air liaisons advise and assist
                        the ground commanders at the various levels on the use of air support.
                        They are subordinate to the control centers and consist of pilots and
                        technicians. They operate ground vehicles and communications equip-
                        ment required to obtain, coordinate, and control air support of ground
                        operations. The air liaisons at the battalion level are ground controllers.
                        The air control centers at the corps levels are responsible for managing
                        the exchange of combat data between air and ground forces, whereas
                        the centers at headquarters levels are responsible for the planning, coor-
                        dination, and execution of the support.

                        The airborne controllers assist the air liaisons. In threat areas where the
                        airborne controllers’ operations are projected to be severely restricted,
                        the Air Force plans to use the airborne controllers to relay information
                        between the ground controllers, air liaisons, or air control centers at the
                        corps levels and the attack aircraft.


                        As of October 1989, the Air Force’s forward air control combat fleet was
Air Force Forward Air   comprised of 146 aircraft: 48 OV-lOs, 46 OA-37s, and 61 OA-10s.’ The
Ccbtrol Aircraft        Air Force plans to replace all of its OV-10s and all but 10 of its OA-37s
                        by the mid-1990s because the aircraft are old and are less able to sur-
                        vive in most threat environments. It plans to replace them with more
                        survivable A-lOs, designated OA-10s from the close air support role.




                        ‘An additional 24 aircraft are designated for training.



                        Page 9                                                    GAO/NSIAD99-116   Close Air Support
                              Chapter 1
                              Introduction




OV-10 Aircraft                The OV-lOs, whose average age was 22 years as of October 1989, are
                              two-seat turboprop aircraft (see fig. 1.1) that were used during the Viet-
                              nam war for forward air control, The Air Force considers them excellent
                              reconnaissance aircraft because of their ability to fly slowly and for
                              long periods of time, capability to communicate with ground and air
                              forces, and visibility out of the cockpit. However, according to Air Force
                              officials, their slow speed and extensive cockpit glass make them highly
                              vulnerable to enemy air defenses. Additionally, they cannot be refueled
                              in flight and thus would have to be transported from their bases in the
                              United States to an overseas location.

Flgurtj 1.l: OV-10 Aircraft




                              Source: Air Force




OA-37 Aircraft                The OA-37s, whose average age was 18 years as of October 1989, are
                              converted trainer aircraft (see fig. 1.2) first used by the Air Force for
                              forward air control in the late 1970s. Their side-by-side seating arrange-
                              ment, although advantageous for training, limits the pilot’s visibility.
                              According to the Air Force, the OA-37’s effectiveness is limited by its
                              communications equipment and its ability to remain airborne without
                              refueling for l-1/2 hours.




                              Page 10                                      GAO/NSIAIMO-116   Close Air Support
       / .


                               chapter 1
                               Introduction




Flgui ra 1.2: OA=37 Aircraft




                               Source: Air Force




A-10 Aircraft                  According to Air Force officials, in 1986 the Air Force evaluated the
                               need for a replacement aircraft for the forward air control role and
                               decided that reassigning A-10s to that role would be a cost-effective and
                               immediate solution, since the A-10s were becoming available from the
                               close air support role.

                               The Air Force plans to have 163 combat aircraft in the forward air con-
                               trol fleet by the mid-1990s,2 including 163 A-10s reassigned from the
                               close air support role. According to the Department of Defense, the rate
                               at which the A-10s are reassigned will be determined by how rapidly
                               A-10s become available due to reductions in tactical forces, the reevalu-
                               ation of tactical missions, and budgetary considerations. The remaining
                               10 aircraft are OA-37s, which will be used in Central America. Accord-
                               ing to Air Force officials, the OA-37s are compatible with the fighter
                               aircraft used by Latin American countries. The Air Force plans to retire
                               the 48 OV-10s and remaining 36 OA-37s.

                               The average age of the A-10s and OA-10s as of October 1989 was about
                               10 years. The A-10 is a twin-engine, single-seat aircraft (see fig. 1.3) that
                               is armored against anti-aircraft fire. The A-10 has an internally
                               mounted 30-millimeter 7-barrel cannon, can carry a wide variety of

                               ‘An additional 24 aircraft will be designated for training.



                               Page 11                                                       GAO/NSIAD-90-116   Close Air Support
                            Chapter 1
                            Introduction




                            weapons, and can be refueled in the air. According to the Air Force,
                            these characteristics make the A-10 more survivable and responsive to
                            overseas deployment than either the OV-10 or OA-37. Although the A-10
                            has slightly less communications capability than the OV-10, the Air
                            Force is studying modifications to the A-10 to increase those
                            capabilities.

Figurh 1.3: A-10 Aircrafl




                            Source: Air Force



                            The House Committee on Armed Services is concerned that the Air
Cotigressional Concern      Force’s plans to replace or upgrade its forward air control aircraft may
                            not reflect a clear commitment to the close air support mission. The
                            Committee noted that the Air Force is replacing its OV-10s and OA-37s
                            with A-10s even though the Congress and the Department of Defense
                            have not agreed on the Air Force’s future close air support aircraft. The
                            Committee is concerned that forward air control OA-10s may not be
                            survivable in certain threat environments.


                            The Chairman, House Committee on Armed Services, requested that we
Objectives, Scope,and       examine the present and future need for airborne controllers, the effect
Methodology*                of increasing air defense threats on the Air Force’s ability to perform
                            the airborne controller role, and the force structure and cost implica-
                            tions of reassigning A-10s from the attack to the controller role.



                            Page 12                                     GAO/NSIADQO-116   Close Air Support



                                                                                                ‘r
    Chapter 1
    Iutroduction




    To accomplish these objectives, we interviewed and obtained data from
    officials at the following locations:

. Air Force Headquarters, Washington, DC., for information on the reas-
  signment of the A-10 to the forward air control role;
. National Guard Bureau, Washington, D.C., for information on the role of
  the Air National Guard in providing forward air control;
l Tactical Air Command, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, for informa-
  tion on the role of the forward air controllers, the aircraft to be used,
  plans to modify the aircraft, and the effect of the threat on performing
  the role;
l Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Monroe, Virginia, for the Army’s
  perspective on forward air control and close air support; and
. Air-Land Forces Application Agency, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia,
  for its guidance for Air Force and Army cooperation in controlling close
  air support.

    We obtained operational perspectives on the forward air control role at
    the 836th Air Division, 602nd Tactical Air Control Wing, and 27th Tacti-
    cal Air Support Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson,
    Arizona; and the 110th Tactical Air Support Group and the 172nd Tacti-
    cal Air Support Squadron, Battle Creek, Michigan. We also obtained
    information on the role of the forward air controller at the Air Force
    Air-Ground Operations School, Hurlburt Field, Florida; the Joint Readi-
    ness Training Center, Fort Chaffee, Arkansas; and the 22nd Tactical Air
    Support Training Squadron, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona.

    Threat data and analyses of forward air controllers in the threat areas
    are contained in an Air Force Studies and Analysis White Paper, entitled
    Forward Air Controllers 1985-1995. We had the White Paper updated to
    1989 and validated by the Defense Intelligence Agency.

    We conducted our work between December 1988 and November 1989 in
    accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.




    Page 13                                    GAO/NSIAD-90-116   Close Air Support
Chapter 2

Ir$zreasingThreat Limits Effkctivenessof
Airborne Forward Air Controllers

                   The airborne and ground controllers work together to identify and mark
                   targets for close air support missions and communicate information on
                   the location of the targets to attack aircraft. Airborne controllers have
                   an advantage over the ground controllers in performing these tasks
                   because their lines of sight and communications are not as easily
                   obstructed. However, according to the Air Force, the proliferation of
                   lethal weapons in high-threat areas, such as surface-to-air missiles and
                   advanced anti-aircraft artillery, has forced the air controllers further
                   from the targets to survive. Thus, in high-threat areas, the Air Force
                   plans to rely primarily on the ground controllers for accurate and timely
                   targeting information and use the airborne controllers primarily to relay
                   information between ground forces and close air support aircraft going
                   to the targets.

                   According to the Air Force White Paper report, the OA-10s are more
                   survivable than the OV-10s and OA-37s. Although the OA-10’s increased
                   survivability may improve the airborne controllers’ capabilities to per-
                   form their tasks in low- and moderate-threat areas, the Air Force does
                   not expect that the increased survivability will allow the airborne con-
                   trollers to get close enough to the targets to identify and mark them or
                   provide direct targeting information in high-threat areas.


                   The Air Force report classifies the threat to airborne controllers as low
Levels of Threat   (small arms fire), moderate (some surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft
                   artillery, and enemy attack aircraft), or high (increased number of more
                   advanced surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft artillery, and enemy
                   attack aircraft). Additionally, the enemy is expected to jam communica-
                   tions in high-threat areas.

                   Geographic areas are generally classified by the predominant threat
                   expected in those areas. The Air Force report generally considers Cen-
                   tral America to be low threat, Korea moderate threat, and central
                   Europe high threat. However, according to the Air Force, the threat
                   would be expected to vary over time and within geographic areas of
                   operations due to such factors as the length of the conflict, time of day,
                   weather, and location on the battle area. Also, the threat may lessen
                   over time in an area as enemy air defenses are exhausted or neutralized.
                   Other factors could also impact the threat. For example, the easily
                   transportable surface-to-air Stinger missiles increased the threat level in
                   Afghanistan for Soviet aircraft, according to Air Force and Defense
                   Intelligence Agency officials.



                   Page 14                                      GAO/NSIAD-96-116   Close Air Support
                      Chapter 2
                      lncreaalng Threat   Limb Effectivenef3s   of
                      Airborne Forward    Air Controllers




                      According to the Air Force report, the threat in moderate areas is pro-
                      jected to intensify by 1996 as more sophisticated mobile surface-to-air
                      missile systems and communications jamming equipment are introduced.
                      In high-threat areas, the lethality and ranges of air defense systems are
                      expected to increase and communications jamming equipment are
                      expected to be more sophisticated by 1996.


                      The Air Force plans to use airborne controllers in all conventional con-
Imdact of Threat on   flicts. However, as the threat increases, the Air Force report projects
Forpard Air Control   that the airborne controllers’ effectiveness in gathering and communi-
Rol$                  eating target information will decrease. Figure 2.1 shows the impact of
                      the current threat on the airborne controllers’ effectiveness in perform-
                      ing their tasks.




                      Page 16                                        GAO/NSIAIRM-116   Close Air Support
                                                                                                                                                                          r           /




                                                                                                                                                                                ,
                                                       Chapter 2
                                                       Increasing Threat       Llmits Effectiveness         of
                                                       Airborne Fomard         Air Chmollers




Flgr a 2.1: Degradation of Airborne Controllers’ Effectiveness Due to Threat Levels


      Tarkl
      Sxh         and rescue




      Am       runelllance




      A~serr     battle damage




      Direct rtrlke control




      Identity/mark target
      and communicate




      Communlcatlon~             relay



                                                      Low threat                                 Moderate        threat                                    High threat



                                         m   Can perform      m      Ablllty    degraded     0          Seriously         degraded   or cannot   perform




                                                      Source: Our analysis of Air Force data
                                                      Note: According to the White Paper report, the airborne controllers’ ability to communicate would not be
                                                      as seriously degraded as their ability to identify and mark targets in moderate- and high-threat areas.
                                                      Also, the threat may not degrade the ground controllers’ ability to advise the battalion commanders,
                                                      request air support, and coordinate air attacks with the fire from friendly ground forces.


                                                      According to the Air Force report, in high-threat areas where the air-
                                                      borne controllers cannot effectively gather and communicate targeting
                                                      information, the Air Force plans to shift most of the responsibility for
                                                      these tasks to the ground controllers. It also plans to use the airborne
                             Y
                                                      controllers to relay targeting and battle area information from the




                                                      Page 16                                                                        GAO/NSIAD-90-116             Close Air Support
---T
           Chapter2
           Increaalng Threat   Limb EfYectivenem     of
       ,
           Alrborne Forward    Air Controllere




       I   ground to the attack aircraft. In high-threat areas, the airborne control-
       I   lers would fly close enough to the ground controllers to overcome com-
       /   munications jamming and receive targeting information and then fly to a
       I   rear area to transmit the information to the attack aircraft,

           According to joint Army and Air Force guidance, targeting information
           can be passed directly to the attack aircraft from ground controllers or
           Army fire support teams in the absence of airborne controllers. The
           targeting information can also be passed from the ground controllers
           through Air Force communications channels to air liaisons or air control
           centers. The liaisons or centers can then pass the information to attack
           aircraft on their way to the target or in rear areas.

           The procedure employed by the airborne controllers to relay informa-
           tion is time-consuming and inefficient and requires detailed coordination
           to be effective, according to the Air Force report. Despite these limita-
           tions, the Air Force wants to use the airborne controllers to relay the
           information because they may be able to add battlefield information
           that could make close air support more effective. Moreover, voice com-
           munications from the ground controllers to attack aircraft during the
           attack aircraft’s approach to the target area or through Air Force com-
           munications channels to attack aircraft could be seriously degraded due
           to enemy jamming and land impediments.

           The capabilities of the ground controllers and other ground elements of
           the air control system to communicate with the attack aircraft could be
           improved in the future with the Automatic Target Handoff System,
           according to the Air Force. The system allows personnel on the ground
           to transfer targeting information electronically from a portable digital
           communications terminal to a display in the attack aircraft’s cockpit.

           In December 1989 the Air Force demonstrated the data transmission
           capabilities of the Army’s version3 of the system on an F-16 aircraft. It
           is currently demonstrating the integration of the system with other avi-
           onics upgrades on an A-10 aircraft. The integration is scheduled to be
           completed in September 1990. The Air National Guard plans to have the
           Army version installed on the first of 20 F-16 aircraft in July 1990 and
           complete the installations by December 1990.

           According to the Air Force, its version of the system will provide
           improved transmission capabilities such as higher data transmission

           “The Army is currently fielding the system in the Black Hawk, Apache, and Scout helicopters.



           Page 17                                                     GAO/NSIAD-90-116     Close Air Support
                          Chapter 2
                          Increasing Threat   Limit.44 Effectiveness   of
                          Airborne Forward    Air Contmllem




                           rates, frequency hopping, and multi-radio operations. The frequency
                           hopping and multi-radio capabilities provide added flexibility in radio
                          jamming environments. The Air Force’s version will also be interoper-
                           able with the Army version. The Air Force’s version is in the prelimi-
                          nary design stage with full-scale development scheduled to start in May
                           1990 and be completed by March 1992. Production of the system and
                          installation in F-16s, A-lOs, and OA-10s is scheduled to start in fiscal
                          year 1992. Operational testing of the system will not begin until late
                           1991 or early 1992.

                          According to Tactical Air Command officials responsible for the pro-
                          gram, the upgrade from the Army version to the Air Force’s version will
                          require software changes only; the hardware in the aircraft and the digi-
                          tal communications terminals on the ground will remain the same.


Low-Threat Environments   According to the Air Force report, the airborne controllers are very
                          effective in gathering and communicating information on targets in low-
                          threat environments because they can operate virtually unrestricted,
                          maneuvering over the targets to identify them and mark the targets
                          with smoke rockets or some other device. While above the radio horizon,
                          they also can communicate relatively freely with ground controllers and
                          close air support fighters because communications jamming devices are
                          not expected to be a threat. The Air Force expects that the airborne con-
                          trollers will remain very effective into the mid-1990s. Figure 2.2 shows
                          the Air Force’s projection of the airborne controllers’ safe operating area
                          now and in the mid-1990s in low-threat environments.




                          Page 18                                           GAO/NSIAD-!JO-116   Close Air Support
                                            Chapter   2
                                            lncreaelng Threat Unita Effectiveness of
                                            ALrborne Forward Air Cmtmllem




Figurd 2.2: Airborne Controllers’ Safe Operating Area in Low-threat Environments


   Alt/tude   In feel                                                                   Airborne    controller




                        Atlack   aircraft




                                                                                                     “-
                                                                                                     ;. Threat   area




                                                       20                   10
                                                                                       Target
                                                       m       RestrIcted    area



                                            Source: Air Force report




Moderate-Threat                             The Air Force report projected that the safe operating area of its air-
Endronments                                 borne controllers would be restricted in moderate-threat environments
                                            and that the area will be even more restricted by 1996. According to the
                                            Air Force, the controllers will not be able to maneuver freely over the
                                            targets; thus, their ability to identify and mark targets and communicate
                                            that information to attack aircraft would be reduced. Figure 2.3 shows
                                            the Air Force’s projection of the airborne controllers’ safe operating area
                                            in the 1996 moderate-threat environments.




                                            Page 19                                                GAO/NSIAD-90-116     Close Air Support
                                                                                                                                                    c




                                                              Chapter 2
                                                              lncre~lng Threat        Limb Ef’fectiveneae   of
                                                              Airborne Forward        Air Controllers




ur+ 2.3: Airborne Controllers’ Safe Operatlng Area In the 1995 Moderate-Threat Environments




  Altllu Ids In feet



                 Allack   alrcralt




                                          Airborne   controller




 11000




 !Kllomelerr                         40                                   20                 10
                                                                                                                 Target
                                                                               w      Restricted   erea


                                                                  Source: Air Force report


                                                                  According to the Air Force report, the airborne controllers’ effectiveness
                                                                  in accomplishing their tasks would be reduced and the ground control-
                                                                  lers’ visibility, mobility, and communications ability would be limited.
                                                                  Therefore, the airborne and ground controllers’ ability to identify and
                                                                  mark targets and communicate targeting information to attack aircraft
                                                                  would be degraded. Despite these limitations, the Air Force considers
                                                                  the controllers key to the successful accomplishment of close air support
                                                                  missions.

                                                                  The ground controllers could use Army helicopters and armored vehi-
                                                                  cles, if available, to overcome visibility and mobility problems. The Air
                                                                  Force also expects that the ground controllers will need assistance from
                                                                  Army fire control personnel to identify and mark targets. These person-
                                                                  nel, which provide targeting information to Army artillery, could also
                                                                  provide emergency control of close air support aircraft.




                                                                  Page 20                                                 GAO/NSIAD-SO-116   Close Air Support
     1

                                                  Chapter 2
                                                  IncreasIng Threat    Limits Effectiveness   of
           I                                      Airborne Forward     Air Controllers




   i.
   If’Threat Environments
High:                                             According to the Air Force report, the airborne and ground controllers’
                                                  current capabilities are expected to be severely limited in sustained
                                                  high-threat areas. The airborne controllers would be forced to fly lower
                                                  and further from the targets to survive. Because of these restrictions,
                                                  the Air Force expects that airborne controllers will basically be used to
                                                  relay information between ground and air forces. Figure 2.4 shows the
                                                  Air Force’s projection of the airborne controllers’ safe operating area in
                                                  current high-threat environments.

Figure         4: Airborne Controllers’ Safe Operating Area in Current High-Threat Environments
         -I-




    Al

    30




    Kllometerr
                                                                                              Target
                                                            m       Restrlcled wee



                                                  Source: Air Force report


                                                 The Air Force report projected that the airborne controllers will have to
                                                 fly lower and further from the targets to be safe from enemy air
                                                 defenses by 1995. Moreover, sophisticated jammers will make it difficult
                                                 for the airborne controllers to communicate with ground controllers who
                                                 will have assumed responsibility for most basic forward air control
                                                 tasks. The report stated that jamming can be overcome by having the




                                                 Page 2 1                                              GAO/NSIAD-90-116   Close Air Support
                                             Chapter 2
                                             hwreasing Threat    Limb Effectheness    of
                                             Ah-borne Forward    Air Controllers




                                             airborne controllers fly close to the ground controllers to receive infor-
                                             mation and then fly to a prearranged contact point to convey that infor-
                                             mation to fighter aircraft. According to Tactical Air Command officials,
                                             when both the airborne controllers and attack aircraft have Automatic
                                             Target Handoff Systems, the airborne controllers would receive target-
                                             ing data from ground controllers and have that data displayed in the
                                             cockpits of the aircraft. The airborne controllers would then reenter the
                                             data for transmission to the attack aircraft. Figure 2.6 shows the Air
                                             Force’s projection of the airborne controllers’ safe operating area in the
                                             1996 high-threat environment.

Fdre    2.5: Airborne Controllers’ Safe OPeratlna Area In the 1995 High-Threat Environments




   ~ltlt”da
   :In feet




       3ooo




       1000




   :Kllometa


                                                          m       Ae8trlcted   area


                                             Source: Air Force report


                                             According to the Air Force report, ground controllers will be responsible
                                             for identifying targets, communicating accurate information on the
                                             targets to attack aircraft, and controlling attack aircraft during their
                                             final approach to the target. However, intense threats to ground control-
                                             lers (including air-to-surface weapons, artillery, chemical weapons, and



                                             Page 22                                          GAO/NSIAB90-116   Close Air Support
     \


         Chapter 2
         Inc~eaeing Threat   Limits Effectiveness   of
         Airborne Forward    Air Controllers




--
         small arms fire) and the controllers’ limited visibility, mobility, and com-
         munications will moderately restrict their ability to perform these tasks.
         Consequently, according to joint Army and Air Force guidance, the
         ground controllers may need to use available assets such as Army heli-
         copters, vehicles, and fire control personnel to perform their tasks.




         Page 23                                         GAO/NSLAD-90-116   Close Air Support
                                                                                               .

Chipter 3

Force Structure and Cost Implications

---

      I
                      As of October 1989, the Air Force had 145 combat forward air control
                      aircraft in its fleet. It plans to have 163 aircraft in its fleet by the mid-
                      1990s and use most of these aircraft in a central European conflict,
                      which is generally classified as high threat.

                      The Air Force is renovating its OV-10s to extend their useful life until
                      the aircraft can be replaced. It plans to make an annual reassessment of
                      its need to continue renovating the aircraft. The Air Force also plans to
                      modify 385 A-10s and OA-10s to improve their flight safety and target-
                      ing systems and 498 aircraft to improve their navigation systems. The
                      estimated cost of the modifications is about $172 million, Additionally,
                      the Air Force has begun testing several modifications to improve the
                      A- 1O’s and OA- 1O’s communications, navigation, and targeting.
      1
      /
                      As of October 1989, the Air Force had 145 forward air control aircraft
Fdrce Structure       in its fleet: 48 OV-lOs, 46 OA-37s and 51 OA-10s. Most of these aircraft
Changes               are located in the United States. According to the Air Force project man-
                      ager for the fleet, the Air Force plans to continue to station most of the
                      forward air control aircraft in the United States and deploy from there
                      to meet overseas commitments.

                      The Air Force’s goal is to have 153 OA-10 and 10 OA-37 forward air
                      control aircraft by the mid-1990s. The reassignment of the remaining
                      102 A-10s will occur as they become available from the fighter force.
                      According to the Air Force, the 163 aircraft will be used to support the
                      Army’s operations. Most of these aircraft will be allocated to support a
                      European conflict, which is generally classified as high threat. Air Force
                      officials explained that the aircraft in a high-threat conflict would be
                      used to relay targeting information between control elements on the
                      ground and attack aircraft.


                      To meet its close air support and airborne controller missions, the Air
Cdst of A-10 and      Force plans to modify 385 A-10s and OA-10s to provide the aircraft with
O&-l0 Modifications   targeting systems to improve the accuracy of munitions delivery and
                      with autopilot and ground collision warning systems to improve flight
                      safety. The estimated cost for these modifications, $92.3 million, has
                      been appropriated. The Air Force plans to buy kits and modify the air-
                      craft during their scheduled depot maintenance. Installation of the kits
                      is scheduled to begin in April 1990 and be completed in December 1991.

                      The Air Force also plans to modify 498 A-10s and OA-10s to provide the
                      aircraft with global positioning systems, which are expected to provide


                      Page 24                                        GAO/NSIAD-90-116   Close Air Support
                Chapter 3
                Force Structure   and Cost Implications




                accurate information on the aircraft’s position and to improve naviga-
                tion The projected cost of this modification is $79.8 million. The Air
                Force received $14.6 million for the modification for fiscal year 1990
                and planned to request the remainder of the funds through fiscal year
                1997. Future plans for this modification are contingent on the number of
                aircraft in the inventory. Modifications to the first aircraft is scheduled
                to begin in fiscal year 1993.

                The Air Force also has a program to test several potential modifications
                to the A-10s and OA-10s. One planned modification, the Automatic Tar-
                get Handoff System, is a communications system in the aircraft that can
                receive targeting information electronically from ground forces or other
                aircraft. Its estimated cost is about $47,000 per aircraft. Another
                planned modification is the Forward Looking Infrared Radar. The Air
                Force is evaluating three of the radars for low-altitude day and night
                navigation and target detection, which could cost from $450,000 to
                $600,000 per aircraft.

                The Air Force is incorporating variations of these systems in an A-10 to
                test their integration into the aircraft. The estimated cost of the test is
                about $7 million.


                The Air Force is renovating OV-10s to extend their life until they can be
Cost of ov-10   replaced. The Air Force estimates that the renovations will extend the
Mo&fications    aircraft’s service life through 2010. The renovations, which include
                rewiring, corrosion protection, and replacing parts, as necessary, are
                being made at the Ogden, Utah, depot maintenance facility. As of Octo-
                ber 1989, the Air Force had renovated 17 OV-10s at a cost of about
                $640,000 per aircraft and had about $6 million for fiscal year 1990 to
                modify nine more aircraft, The Air Force plans to make an annual reas-
                sessment of its need to renovate additional aircraft until the aircraft are
                replaced or the fleet is renovated.




                Page 26                                      GAO/NSIAD-SO-116   Close Air Support
Chanter 4

CJonclusio33.s


                 Current air defense threats would limit the airborne controllers’ effec-
                 tiveness in high-threat environments. The Air Force projects these
                 threats to intensify by 1996, which would decrease the airborne control-
                 lers’ effectiveness even further. Replacing current OV-10s and OA-37s
                 with OA-10s may not provide the Air Force with measurable improve-
                 ments in its forward air control capabilities in high-threat environments
                 now or by 1995.

                 The Air Force’s plans to upgrade the OV-10s would extend their service
                 life through 2010 but not improve their ability to perform the airborne
                 controllers’ tasks of identifying and marking targets and communicating
                 information on the targets’ locations and battle area to the attack air-
                 craft. The Air Force also plans to upgrade its A-10s and OA-10s to
                 improve their communications, navigation, and targeting. Even with the
                 more survivable and upgraded OA-10s the airborne controllers may not
                 be able to perform their targeting tasks in high-threat environments.

                 The Air Force plans to shift the responsibility for these tasks to the
                 ground controllers and use the airborne controllers to relay targeting
                 and battle area information between the ground control elements and
                 attack aircraft. This information can be passed directly from the ground
                 controllers or through other Air Force ground control elements to the
                 attack aircraft. The Air Force considers its airborne controllers neces-
                 sary to add possible battle area information for use by attack aircraft
                 and overcome possible limitations to the ground control elements’ abili-
                 ties to communicate with attack aircraft.

                 According to the Air Force, the ground control elements’ direct commu-
                 nications with attack aircraft could be enhanced in the future with a
                 system that would allow an individual on the ground to transfer infor-
                 mation electronically to an aircraft and reduce potential degradation
                 caused by jamming. If found to be effective in operational testing, this
                 new system would reduce the possibility of communications degradation
                 due to jamming and the potential need for airborne controllers in high-
                 threat areas. Thus, the Air Force would not need to renovate additional
                 OV-10s or reassign A-10s. Although a version of the system could be
                 available on an A-10 in September 1990 and on F-16 aircraft starting in
                 July 1990, the Air Force does not plan to conduct operational testing
                 until late 1991 or early 1992. We believe that operational testing could
                 be conducted with these aircraft in mid-1990 to demonstrate improved
                 communications from ground control elements to attack aircraft.




                 Page 26                                     GAO/NSIAD-90-116   Close Air Support
             !   ,



-1
                         Chapter 4
                         Cmclueions




         I
                         Because the Automatic Target and Handoff System being installed on an
Recommendations          A-10 and F-16 aircraft could improve direct communications from the
                         ground control elements to attack aircraft and thus make airborne con-
                         trollers unnecessary in high-threat areas, we recommend that the Secre-
                         tary of the Air Force

                     l expedite the operational testing of the system and use the results to
                       reassess the need for airborne controllers in high-threat areas and
                     . make the reassessment before more funds are spent to renovate OV-10s
                       and reassign A-10s.

     I


                         The Committee may wish to consider whether the Air Force’s planned
Matber for               changes for its forward air control aircraft should proceed before alter-
Conkressional            native means of communicating between ground controllers and attack
Conbideration            aircraft are assessed.


                         The Department of Defense generally concurred with our findings. How-
Agency Comments and      ever, it partially concurred with our recommendations and did not con-
Our Evaluation           cur with our matter for congressional consideration.

                         The Department stated that the airborne controllers are the only air-
                         borne element that can control fighters to the battle area, thus making
                         them critical elements to the successful completion of close air support
                         missions. It pointed out that airborne controllers can be used to perform
                         search and rescue, convoy escort, and other roles depending on the situ-
                         ation The Department also stated that developmental tests of the Air
                         Force’s version of the Automatic Target Handoff System will not be
                         completed until September 1991 and operational tests will not begin
                         until late 1991 or early 1992. The Department did not agree that the Air
                         Force should reassess the need for air controllers in high-threat areas
                         before more OV-10s are renovated and A-10s reassigned. It concluded
                         that delaying the on-going programs would delay needed renovation of
                         OV-10s and degrade the Air Force’s support to the Joint Forces
                         Commander.

                         The airborne controllers are to control the fighters by providing them
                         with updated targeting and mission planning information. Since the air-
                         borne controllers in high-threat areas will be removed from the target
                         areas, they must rely on ground control elements to provide them with




                         Page 27                                     GAO/NSIAD9O-116   Close Air Support
chapter 4
Conclwiom




targeting and mission planning information. The ground control ele-
ments can communicate directly with the fighters with existing commu-
nications equipment and the Automatic Target Handoff System could
improve direct communications between the ground and attack aircraft
in high-threat jamming environments. Thus, we believe the system could
obviate the need for the airborne controllers in high-threat areas.

We believe that operational testing of the Automatic Target Handoff
System could be conducted much earlier using the Army’s version of the
system, which would not degrade the Air Force’s support to the Joint
Forces Commander. The data transmission capabilities of the Army’s
system were demonstrated on an F-16 in December 1989 and the inte-
gration of that system on an A-10 could be completed in September
1990. The Air National Guard plans to have the system installed on
F-16$ starting in July 1990. We believe that operational testing could be
conducted with these aircraft in mid-1990 to demonstrate improved
communications from ground control elements to attack aircraft.

We recognize that the airborne controllers can be used to perform other
roles, depending on the threat. However, the Air Force has justified
these airborne controller aircraft based on their airborne controller role,
and we believe better alternatives may exist to perform the other roles.




Page 28                                      GAO/NSIAD-SO-116   Close Air Support
Page 29   GAO/NSLAD-90416   Close Air Support
Ap&mdix I

 Major Contributors to This Report



Division, Washington,
Dt:* .
                        Richard G. Payne, Regional Management Representative
Norfolk Regional        Frank R. Marsh, Evaluator-in-Charge
Ofifice                 Carleen Cogdell, Evaluator
      )                 John H. Pendleton, Evaluator
                        Ruth M. Winchester, Evaluator




(392476)                Page 30                                  GAO/NSLAD-SO-116   Close Air Support
1