Video games have often depicted the task of coordinating and calling in close air support as something that only takes a few button presses and simply illuminating a target or placing a marker on a virtual map. In reality the task for a JTAC is much more tediously and complex, it involves the use of both physical maps and charts and the constant verbal communication to guide an air asset on target. The whole process can take 30 minutes or longer. Soon that will change. Eventually the simplicity of video game depiction will be non fiction.
DARPA, the bleeding edge of R&D for the US military has been working on this task, with a project called Persistent Close Air Support or PCAS. PCAS involves massive technological upgrades between both ground controllers, JTACs and air assets. At is core is a new customized Android tablet computer loaded with situational-awareness and mapping software, and a digital radio that weighs only 5 lb, combined with a laser-targeting device that weighs another 5 lb. Cleverly dubbed the Kinetic Integrated Low-cost SoftWare Integrated Tactical Combat Handheld or KILSWITCH, with these tools a JTAC selects targets and creates a nine line and transmits it to the aircraft. The JTAC can see sensor data and video from air assets and the KILSWITCH even projects weapon release paths and estimated damage radius. JTACs can also take remote control over airborne sensors to aid them in target acquisition. With the automation of much of the communication the time needed from initial call to weapon release is aimed to be under 6 minutes.
KILSWITCH is also designed to show all known friendly positions. Combined with more control of terminal guidance, friendly fire incidents and collateral damage are projected to be greatly reduced. PCAS-Air software is designed to be integrated into any aircraft and is a plug and play system that has been successful combined with aircraft ranging from USAF A-10C to USMC MV-22 and even small ground launched UAVs. In live fire testing, JTAC have been able to call in airstrike against moving targets in less than 4 minutes using smaller precision guided munitions. Finally, having been tested in small numbers in Afghanistan, reports indicate PCAS has achieved its goal of bringing close air support strikes in under 6 minutes with some JTACs commanding airstrikes with as few as three clicks on their KILSWITCH.
Article courtesy of Garand Thumb
Photo courtesy of afsoc.af.mil