Close air support

In military tactics, close air support (CAS) is defined as air action such as air strikes by fixed or rotary-winged aircraft against hostile targets near friendly forces and require detailed integration of each air mission with fire and movement of these forces and attacks with aerial bombs, glide bombs, missiles, rockets, autocannons, machine guns, and even directed-energy weapons such as lasers.[1]

U.S. Army paratroopers assigned to the Company B, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, observe a U.S. Air Force F-16 Falcon during close air support training at Pocek Range in Postojna, Slovenia, March 12, 2015.

The requirement for detailed integration because of proximity, fires or movement is the determining factor. CAS may need to be conducted during shaping operations with Special Operations Forces (SOF) if the mission requires detailed integration with the fire and movement of those forces. A closely related subset of air interdiction (AI), battlefield air interdiction, denotes interdiction against units with near-term effects on friendly units, but which does not require integration with friendly troop movements. The term "battlefield air interdiction" is not currently used in U.S. joint doctrine. CAS requires excellent coordination with ground forces. In advanced modern militaries, that coordination is typically handled by specialists such as Joint Fires Observers (JFOs), Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs), and forward air controllers (FACs).

The First World War was the first conflict to make extensive use of CAS, albeit using relatively primitive methods in contrast to later warfare. Even so, it was clear that coordination between aerial and ground forces via radio communication typically made such attacks more effective. Appropriately modified, the British F.E 2b fighter became the first ground-attack aircraft, while Germany produced the first purpose-built ground attack aircraft in the form of the Junkers J.I; the Sopwith Camel was another successful early platform. Both the Sinai and Palestine Campaign and the German spring offensive of 1918 made extensive use of CAS aircraft. The interwar period saw CAS doctrine continue to advance, although theorists and aviators would often clash over its strategic value. Several different conflicts, including the Polish–Soviet War, the Spanish Civil War, colonial wars in the Middle East and the Gran Chaco War, were noticeably impacted by CAS operations.

The Second World War marked the universal acceptance of the integration of air power into combined arms warfare. Although the German Luftwaffe was the only force to use CAS at the start of the war, all the major combatants had developed effective air-ground coordination techniques by the conflict's end. New techniques, such as the use of forward air control to guide CAS aircraft and identifying invasion stripes, also emerged at this time, being heavily shaped by the Italian Campaign and the invasion of Normandy. CAS practices continued to advance in further conflicts, including the Korean War and the Vietnam War; major milestones including the introduction of attack helicopters and the creation of aerial gunships, such as the Bell AH-1 Cobra and the Douglas AC-47 Spooky. While many CAS aircraft have been propeller driven, several jet aircraft, such as the A-10 Thunderbolt II (Warthog) and the Su-25 (Frogfoot), have been developed as well.


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