US plan to create “rebel JTACs” in Syria?

syrian_rebel_gun_truckAccording to press reporting, the US is considering training Syrian rebels to control airstrikes. Is there a new model for Forward Air Control and Close Air Support emerging from the air campaign against ISIS?

Airpower vs ISIS

Found another excellent article by the Wall Street Journal’s Julian Barnes, who seems to be the most knowledgeable journalist out there on the conduct of Coalition airstrikes against ISIS. A few days ago, I highlighted his piece on B-1 bombers over Kobane. He also co-wrote a key article back in October on US cooperation with Syrian Kurds.

In his 17 Feb article, U.S. to Give Some Syria Rebels Ability to Call Airstrikes, Barnes cites US defense officials describing a plan to train & equip non-Kurdish Syrian fighters (calling them”the new Syrian force”) for controlling airstrikes.

Here’s an excerpt:

A team of four to six rebels will each be given a Toyota Hi-Lux pickup, outfitted with a machine gun, communications gear and Global Positioning System trackers enabling them to call in airstrikes… The U.S.-trained rebels most likely will be calling in strikes on Islamic State fighters, rather than on fixed targets, military officials said. The planes would drop 500- and 2,000-pound guided bombs, a typical load for the B-1s that have operated in Afghanistan as well as Syria. Using the B-1’s sniper pod, which allows the aircrew to precisely target moving objects, the crew could target tanks, motorcycles and other moving vehicles.

He goes on to describe a host of likely challenges with the concept, including the legal and policy complications of rebel teams potentially calling in U.S. bombs on Syrian regime forces. The article reveals the multi-faceted complexity of the Coalition air campaign against ISIS.

One of those facets is the apparent emergence of a new mode of executing what used to be called “close air support” (CAS) missions, to support independent  non-US and non-Coalition ground forces. Of course there’s a huge question as to whether such teams could ever come close to actual Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs).

Whether such “rebel JTACs” could actually do the job of a trained JTACs, and if new-model CAS can replace tried-and-true methods is highly debatable, but there’s a lot of new tech that is rapidly changing the way CAS is employed.  For example:

A look at F-35 close air support tactics development, Defense News, 8dec14
Drones Join Fighter Jets in Striking Targets in Iraq, Defense News, 11aug14
Technology: Modernizing Close Air Support, Defense News, 23jan12
Close air support using UAVs? (Note: This is a think-piece from 2005. Technology & practice have progressed greatly since then)



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