Forward observers train for close air support missions
November 18, 2011
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii -- Forward observers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, participated in the Joint Fires Observer training course Nov. 7 through Nov. 9 here. The course curriculum covered calls for fire and field artillery aspects and key points regarding close air support on the battlefield, said U.S. Air Force Maj. Scott Downey.
Downey, an A10 fighter pilot with the Idaho Air National Guard and the officer in charge of the JFO course, said the bulk of the training focused on the forward observers' ability to gather and submit the nine-line close air support report used by pilots to engage hostile forces during close air support operations.
"At the heart of the close air support world is what we call a nine-line which is a standardized format for delivering nine points of information in a timely manner," Downey said. "They have to sound a certain way, a certain speed, a certain cadence, and that's what the world knows on how to deliver close air support information."
Sgt. Ross Murphy, a forward observer with the fires and effects coordination cell for 2nd BCT, said the nine-line report contains information regarding enemy positions and landmarks that helps the joint terminal attack controller and the pilot coordinate a direct route to the target with maximum effectiveness.
Once the required information is gathered, it is then sent to a JTAC. A JTAC is a service member who, from a forward position, directs the action of combat aircraft engaged in close air support. The JTAC then sends the information in the nine-line to the pilot providing the close air support.
In the event that no JTAC is available, Downey said that the forward observer must interact directly with the pilot. The course covered this as well, Downey said. He added that time is of the essence when reporting information, and the course enforces repetition to build competence and confidence in the students.
"Without this training, it may take up to 30 minutes to gather that information in the nine-line and submit it in the correct process, and on a battlefield, a lot of casualties may be suffered in 30 minutes," Downey said. "With the training, it may only take 10 minutes."
Downey, who said he has been a JFO course instructor for three years and deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan, said the course was tough but rightfully so. Of the 24 initially enrolled students, only 15 graduated, he said.
"It seems like a tough attrition but neither blue nor green wants someone out there who doesn't completely understand it," Downey said of the Air Force and Army standards for the JFO course. "Unfortunately sometimes there are students that know the process, they know the information, but they say the wrong words at the wrong time. It's tough but it's what makes a standard."
Murphy said the simulations presented the toughest challenges with so many things to be mindful of when compiling the information for the nine-line report.
"The simulations were the most challenging part because everyone there has a basic understanding of the nine-line, but the safety, the situational awareness, the target description and the munitions used made it more difficult to be 100% accurate," Murphy said.
Despite the number of students removed from the course for academic reasons, Downey said it's the graduates that keep him hopeful.
"To know these guys are going out there prepared should they be ambushed their first day in country, they can possibly save Americans' lives, that's what makes it worth it," he said.
The 15 graduates of the JFO course should serve to keep Downey's hopes high as they carry their advanced skill set with them in preparation for the brigade's future training operations, applying those skills and imparting their knowledge to other forward observers that may one day serve in combat operations.