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Wednesday, February 28, 2007
BHR’s ACE Conducts FAC-A Training
By MCSN Mark Patterson II and MC2 Dustin Mapson, USS Bonhomme Richard Public Affairs
USS BONHOMME RICHARD, At Sea (NNS) -- USS Bonhomme Richard’s (LHD 6) (BHR) Air Combat Element (ACE) conducted Forward Air Command Airborne (FAC-A) training on San Clemente Island on Feb. 22.
One UH-1 Huey, three AH-1W Super Cobras and four AV-8B Harriers completed multiple strikes on various targets located at the Shore Bombardment Area (SHOBA) on San Clemente Island during the training evolution.
“One of the major missions of the AH-1s and UH-1s is to provide close air support as an airborne extension of the terminal air control party on the ground,” explained Maj. Roger A. Hardy, the AV-8B weapons and tactics instructor. “They do this via a forward air controller (FAC).”
According to Capt. Travis L. Patterson, the AH-1W weapons and tactics instructor, a FAC is typically a person positioned forward on the ground who controls aviation assets and target strikes, whereas a FAC-A does virtually the same job from the air.
“If for some reason the FAC on the ground is unable to see the target, or is on the move, he can pass control to a FAC-A,” said Patterson, “Once control is passed and before a FAC-A can attack, they must first have approval from the FAC on the ground.”
According to Patterson, a FAC-A supports ground commanders by pin-pointing enemy locations and either taking them out completely or marking the target for further air support from accompanying Harriers.
“Targets can be marked a few ways,” said Patterson. “A visual mark like smoke, guns or rockets can be used, but the preferred way that we do it is by using a laser.”
“We have sensors on board harriers that can pick up the laser energy,” said Hardy, “Once the target is picked up, we can then tie it to the weapon system and drop the bomb.”
“FAC-As provide great flexibility for the ground commanders to be able to provide fire anywhere in his battle space while minimizing collateral damage,” added Hardy. “We need a very detailed understanding of what is going on and the FAC-As provide that integration, that link between the ground forces and the shooting platforms. The idea is we are going to put a 500- to 1000-pound bomb or a Hellfire missile very close to where friendly forces are operating because they need that kind of firepower right up close to them.”
According to Aviation Ordnanceman 1st Class (AW/FMF) Derrick Smith, putting a mission like this together is almost like preparing a meal at a fine restaurant.
“We look at the munitions being dropped as the final plated version of the meal,” said Smith. “But before that meal came out, a lot of specialized work went into preparing that meal. Aviation Ordnanceman are kind of like prep cooks on the line. You never see the work they do, but if your food doesn’t come out right, you know something went wrong.”
Smith said these types of missions require a collective effort.
“Our role is making sure the weapon is properly made and ready for delivery when mission requirements call for it,” said Smith. “If the end result of the mission is a successful strike, then we know that the entire team, from the ordnanceman up to the pilots, did their job correctly.”
Hardy added the FAC and FAC-A combine to offer forward armed reconnaissance that is fully adaptable to the situation on the ground.
This training evolution not only allowed the pilots of BHR’s ACE to practice their proficiency on the range, but gave them a look at what may be to come.
“This is what’s going on in Operation Iraqi Freedom,” said Hardy, “We are training for that mission setting.”
BHR and its embarked Marine Corps elements are currently underway as part of Expeditionary Strike Group 5’s participation in Composite Training Unit Exercise in preparation for an upcoming deployment.