From the Field / By LTC Candice E. Frost and CW5 Jerry D. Hollars: One of the primary concerns of ground commanders is executing missions while protecting forces and equipment. Soldiers providing security while capturing or killing the enemy becomes a manpower-intensive effort and minimizes the commander’s primary mission effectiveness.
In an atmosphere of military downsizing, aviation and intelligence must provide better intelligence oversight directly to ground commanders freeing up more manpower and resources. This is done through the expansion and modernization of its Aerial Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (A-ISR) capabilities.
Staying one step ahead of the enemy enables leaders to make decisions more quickly through A-ISR and saves American lives. “This ‘ISR’ capability has revolutionized intelligence,” said James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, at the Defense Strategies Institute’s 2014 meeting. “It’s enabled the ‘find, fix, finish, analyze, and repeat.”
Taking Up the Slack
The importance of A-ISR to Military Intelligence, Aviation, and Ground Forces is highlighted by the actions of Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tavis Delaney in 2011 when after a 13-hour battle in Afghanistan there were 270 dead Taliban Fighters following communication connectivity and coordination with the MC-12.
Records indicate over 200 Taliban forces entrenched themselves in fighting positions preparing for two days to ambush American Soldiers. The platoon was pinned down and under attack from 360 degrees around their position. Delaney, the Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) assigned to the unit, attempted to contact close air support, but could not establish communications with the circling F-18 aircraft. A nearby MC-12 overheard the communication and immediately reacted. It was at that moment the more than 12-hour battle changed course.
The MC-12 coordinating fire on the enemy positions resulted in massive enemy casualties without loss of life of a single U.S. Soldier. For these actions, Delaney was awarded the Silver Star. Delaney emphatically referred to the MC-12 as a “game changer” on the battlefield.
The MC-12 is not just an aircraft, but a complete collection, processing, analysis and dissemination system. It provides extraordinary levels of situational awareness directly to ground commanders who are in direct contact with the enemy. The MC-12 is a medium- to low-altitude, twin-engine turboprop aircraft.
The aircraft is a military version of the Hawker Beechcraft Super King Air 350 modified with a variety of sensors, line-of-sight and satellite communications data-links, and a ground exploitation cell. It also has robust voice communications capabilities to pass information to maneuver command posts facilitating cross-sensor cueing and situational understanding.
The aircraft is also equipped with an electro-optical infrared sensor. This sensor includes a laser illuminator and designator in a single sensor package. The aircraft can transmit full motion video and other intelligence directly to troops on the ground allowing Soldiers to find, fix, target, track, engage and assess the enemy.
Previously, the MC-12 Liberty mission was an Air Force mission but in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 the Army assumed both the aircraft and mission. To support this mission the Army began training courses for both the pilots and the sensor operators at Fort Huachuca. The aviator portion of the course, Aerial Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance Aviator Qualification Course, is seven weeks long.
The course trains rated aircrew members to conduct A-ISR through the use of the MC-12 Multi-Mission Aircraft. The first portion of this course focuses on training in individual and aircrew proficiency while accomplishing critical tasks to safely operate the aircraft. Unique to this course is that it goes beyond an aircraft qualification course because it also teaches aviators to function as a cohesive-integrated aircrew with the sensor operators.
In October 2014, ten pilots and eight sensor operators executed the first Special Electronic Mission Aircraft (SEMA) training on the MC-12 in conjunction with an Aerial Sensor Operator (ASO) Course at Fort Huachuca. This dynamic course addressed growing needs in both the intelligence and aviation community for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support directly to ground forces.
The five-week training for the MX-15 sensor operators, or ASO course, instructs Soldiers in basic geographic intelligence, aviation indoctrination, radio, weather operations and crew coordination. Following this training the second portion of the course instructs trainees on academic and flight sorties with regard to operating the MC-12 sensors in mission profile during day, night, and instrument meteorological conditions.
A final capstone exercise allows the student aviators and sensor operators to join each other and undergo a series of events exposing them to the rigors of duty performance. The scenarios entail receiving an operations order and executing a mission as an integrated crew in a dynamic mission set involving an opposing force. The mission phase consists of ten missions conducted during day and night phases. The missions start with basic tasks and increase in complexity.
As tactical situations change, concurrent adjustments to the courses keep the MC-12 crewmembers at the cutting edge of A-ISR efforts. The courses lean forward and plan on incorporating more JTACs adding both realism and enforcing proper tactical radio terminology. The U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence (USAICoE) coordinates with Air Force A-10 pilots for inclusion into the training scenarios adding a joint training for both the Air Force and Army personnel.
The MC-12 operators gain experience managing Air Force aircraft in a stack with Army aircraft. USAICoE is also in discussions with Air Force JTAC to conduct live-fire exercises at local ranges utilizing the MC-12 laser designation systems.
The MC-12 courses are dedicated to ensuring the course graduates are on the cutting edge of tactics, techniques and procedures. The training received in these courses not only benefits commanders in the accomplishment of their missions but provides the security and over-watch saving lives.
LTC Candice E. Frost is the commander of the 304th Military Intelligence Battalion and CW5 Jerry D. Hollars is the senior training developer and instructor pilot for the RC-12 and MC-12 aircraft at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.