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May 06, 2005

TINS! "First, the good news..."

...is that Denizen Dbie AFSister got all excited last night over a post at ALa's that hasn't been posted at this time of the morning, but probably will by the time you guys get here.

*checks watch, winces*

Ummmm--make that *might* be, by the time you guys get here. But since she hit 50,000 yesterday, drop in anyway and give her a boost to 100,000, okay?

To the TINS. Caveat omnes: After reading most of this, you might construe it as a slam against A-10 drivers. It isn't. R-e-a-d the whole thing...

First, the Good News--when the new Commander of our ARNG Aviation Brigade decided he wanted a detachment of his AH-1F (C-Nite/FLIR) Light Nightfighters to deploy to Annual Training with his UH-60 Air Assaulters for a fairly aggressive series of NVG Aerial Escort Security missions, he shook out some additional flying hours for our trainup two months before “Show Time.”
Now, the Bad News--because our original Flying Hour program only allowed 1.5 hours per crew, per month, only two of us, the Battalion SP (Standardization Instructor Pilot) and yours truly, had been maintaining NVG currency--but not proficiency. In other words, we were good, but we needed to be perfect.

First, the Good News--my Company Commander sat down with us and we set priorities for Refresher Training and after a month of Tuesday-, Thursday- and Saturday-night goggling, we had our required five mission-trained crews.
Now, the Bad News--two weeks before Show Time, Brigade discovered that the Air Force essentially owned the skies over Ft. Postage Stamp, VA, and, since DivArty would be hub-to-hub on the ground, decided that the situation was tailor-made for daytime Joint Aerial Attack Team (JAAT) missions. The way a JAAT works is, artillery fire buttons the armor up, then the Cobras pop out of the trees to fire up the Air Defense systems, then the A-10s nip in to bust up the tanks, then the Cobras beat up the Air Defenders again while the A-10s skedaddle, then the tubes suppress while the Cobras duck back into the trees. Repeat until white flags sprout in the kill zone or the Cobras run low on ammo. If it's done right, it's a thing of beauty. If it's not, it's a recipe for suicide.

First, the Good News--since our tactical training area is sandwiched between R-5001 and R-5002 (oh, go ahead, Neffi--look at the Washington Sectional), we’ve got a lot of JAATs under our collective belt--mostly “wet” (for the non-mil Denizens and Visitors, "live fire").
Now, the Bad News--due to “resourcing constraints,” none of us had done a JAAT in at least two years and it had been a full year since any of us had put any rounds downrange.

First, the Good News--we had a Range Window on R-5001 the day before we were to deploy and the Battalion Master Gunner’s gunnery matrix gave us priority so we wouldn’t fall behind schedule.
Now, the Bad News--between holding the pace of the range to a crawl and a shortage of gunnery IP’s, I would have to stay on the range an additional day to get our last two detachment shooters current--with one Tuna Surprise MRE to last me from supper to breakfast to lunch to supper...

First, the Good News--figuring that nothing we do in training is worth killing somebody, my CO revised his original plan; he and I would fly a single-ship penetration of the Mason-Dixon ADIZ, do a zone recon of our little corner of Ft. Postage Stamp (we always do a hazard recon--see “Why I Hate Wires” March 29, 2005. No, I'm not gonna link myself and you need the practice researching the archives...) and figure out our options on-site. And I’d already 'phoned the Safety Officers for Post and Brigade; they were a wealth of information on our three-grid-square maneuvering area and range fans, active artillery firing points and gun-target lines, current laser operations and the ingress/egress routes of our A-10 JAAT-mates. After we were satisfied, we’d link with our other four crews at the Air Assaulters’ home station for a complete sitrep.
Now, the Bad News--the original AMC got the flu, so we'd have to break in a new one during the mission, and, in addition to DivArty shooting indirect from the south-through-west quadrants, Marine TOW LAVs were doing direct fire from the north. Oh, and just to keep us from getting complacent, two OPFOR Stinger teams were roaming our corridor, ready to engage all comers, i.e., "us." The situation was starting to grow fur.

First, the Good News--we got a solid face-to-face brief and new hazard maps from Brigade’s ASO, and did a thorough recon of our maneuver area. We were able to get two-days’ worth of plan, brief, rehearse, fly two dry JAATs, debrief, refine, rebrief and rehearse some more. Since we were the A-10s’ final exam for a Balkan deployment, their FAC Evaluator, Hard Rock, took the onus of the Nine-Line brief, our AMC (Air Mission Commander) briefed target ID and the JAAT clock while I controlled the Cobras. Since the fast-movers’ attack corridor was our western “no-fly” line, we had to settle the nagging question about their “hard-floor” of 500 feet (MSL? AGL?); sitting in the treetops of our battle position put us at about 430 MSL (our own “hard floor” was rock). The ground-attack guys would be cueing on the laser spot from a GLID/COLTS, so we did a final laser-protective glasses showdown.
Now, the Bad News--I got the Tuna Surprise MRE for lunch both days.

It gets better (or worse, depending on your point of view)--click on Extended Entry for the rest.

The day of the first wet JAAT, the ceiling was too low for the A-10’s to play; to keep us sharp, Hard Rock provided us with “notional” (militarese for “pretend”) attackers over UHF. Our CO identified the targets, briefed “Call ‘Thunder’ (A-10s sixty seconds from weapons release), ‘Lightning’ (30 seconds from weapons release) and ‘Break’ (A-10s egressing)” and started the JAAT clock.

The 155s fired on-the-mark, pounded the impact area for five minutes and gave us “Rounds Complete” with an illum airburst. We were too heavy for OGE (Out of Ground Effect. This regime requires a whole bag of power, which we didn't have available--yet) hovering, so we’d set up a racetrack pattern--the AMC and I were Red 1, with Red 2, White 1 and Mauve 1 (just don’t ask, okay?) in trail. Hard Rock checked in with “Thunder”--my cue to call, “Cobras Cold--Acknowledge.” Hard Rock called “Lightning” and proceeded to dazzle us with his repertoire of A-10 pilot-talk.

By the second attack, we had burned off enough fuel and ordnance to allow us OGE power, so we filled-in line-abreast and began hover fire from treetop height. I *love* rockets...

We debriefed and began prepping and rehearsing the new AMC. During the rehearsal, he asked if we thought we could safely call “Cobras Cold” on “Lightning” rather than “Thunder,” allowing us an extra 30 seconds of firing to lose some more weight and make it “tactically-correct” for the A-10 drivers. We timed it out until each crew was comfortable with the margin; aside from that change, the new AMC decided he didn’t want to mess with success.

We then computed what we’d each have to shoot-off/burn-off during our racetrack to achieve OGE-capability and threw in some additional conservatism for Mauve 1’s ship--he was having trouble keeping the engine temp within limits, and we suspected it was in serious need of a compressor cleaning.

The next wet JAAT was CAVU (Ceiling Absolute, Visibility Unlimited; aka, CAFB--no, I won't--there are Ladies present) and--what a surprise--hot as blazes; it appeared the only variables from the first JAAT would be the “Cobras Cold” time and the A-10s’ for-real participation. We arrived on-station and began our “Trolling for Stingers” pattern.

Five minutes after the AMC gave his target ID to Hard Rock, the fast-movers still hadn’t checked in; AMC gave Hard Rock a call to request notionals--we’d only have 15 minutes on-station unless we fired some ordnance, and soon. Hard Rock was happy to oblige, so our AMC started the JAAT clock.

Halfway through the artillery firing, the A-10s checked in. Hard Rock once again became a FAC and gave the Nine-Line Brief; the AMC briefed “Call ‘Thunder,’ ‘Lightning,’ ‘Spot’ and ‘Break,’” then reset the clock to four minutes. We launched an impressive array of rockets, TOWs and 20mm until the artillery resumed, finally got to OGE-weight and assumed our line-abreast, treetop defilade firing positions.

A-10 Lead called that he’d be 30 seconds late at the IP (Initial Point--where they commence their inbound run)--additional time for us to fire off some weight--I mentally revised my own stopwatch to account for those extra 30 seconds. The 155s fired for two minutes and popped the airburst illum for “Rounds Complete.” We resumed our suppression.

I stopped beating up an innocent APC hull and peeked at my stopwatch--okay, 3+15 into the original clock. That additional 30 seconds for A-10 Lead’s late arrival (I resumed my outside scan) meant we should be hearing “Thunder” in another 15 seconds and “Lightning” in--

HOLY-EEE-YOW!! ”Knock it off!! KNOCK IT OFF!!” came over the VHF just as an A-10 flashed from behind the trees and zipped along from left-to-right about thirty meters in front us--at our altitude--followed a split-second later by his overly-trusting (or overly-sanguine) wingman. Our CO got off an “Abort! Abort!” call when he was sure our suicidally-inclined JAAT-mates wouldn’t break directly into one of us. The million-dollar question was now, "Hey, Red 1--why didn’t you call us cold?!?” “How? He never called ‘Thunder’ and he was ‘way too early!” I was exonerated by Hard Rock’s confirmation and a quick situational-awareness check.

I wasn’t at the Air Force’s debrief, so I didn't find out how A-10 Lead managed to arrive 30 seconds late at the IP, fly through the live artillery gun-target line, descend below his hard floor (at that point, the question of MSL or AGL was rather moot), make his run (on the wrong target) perpendicular to our own line of fire and still arrive a full minute early, ready to provide us with some air-to-air practice before he broke for his (“Look out, boys--here they come again!”) second attack.

What’s really scary is that his wingman either didn’t feel like saying anything or didn’t know that what they were doing was the Ultimate Soup Sandwich.

Okay, Tuttle--nice little feel-good bedtime story, but what’s the point?

Hoped you’d ask that--and here’s the Good News--we’d done everything right:

1. The CO used input from all of us for crew selection, crew coordination, multiple mission briefs, rehearsals, dry-runs, After-Action Reviews, a detailed Risk Assessment and Management Program and Sticking with What Works and

2. Individually, we kept situational awareness and covered each others’ blind spots (as far as possible); the only pilot who could see far enough to the left to cue on the A-10s’ approach from that angle and make a “Knock it off” call, did so (yup--good ol’ Mauve 1).

Oh, yeah--and now the Bad News--if the A-10s had arrived on time for the initial JAAT clock and then “did what they did when they did,” they would have arrived directly in front of our firing position while we were still in our treetop-hugging, 50-knot racetrack firing runs...

And I can visualize at least four different (but equally messy) outcomes to that particular scenario...

And this wasn't a slam at all A-10 pilots, just the two who happened to be a wee bit too complacent about playing with Cobras who had their fangs out.