Trinity Close Air Support
The UK Air Support Operation Centre in Afghanistan
The UK Air Support Operations Centre, or ASOC, lies at the heart of the RAF’s contribution to Air-Land Integration. Based at Trenchard Lines, Upavon, the Unit plays a key role in the provision of Close Air Support (CAS) to Maritime, Land and Special Forces components prior to deployment on operations. The Unit also holds a team at very high readiness to support these elements for contingency operations around the world. Most importantly the ASOC provides direct support to Op HERRICK from within the US-led 717th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Squadron, or EASOS, in Kabul. The 717th EASOS acts with the delegated responsibility of the overall Air Commander to oversee the execution of CAS throughout Afghanistan. The UK ASOC continually provides personnel for 3 of 11 key operational posts, training and operating hand-in-hand with their US colleagues, currently the 4th ASOS based at Manheim, Germany.
The ground situation in Afghanistan remains intense and as a result the demand for CAS continues to be extremely high. A great deal of flexibility is required to achieve effective provision of CAS with limited assets, and the ASOC is pivotal in ensuring that the highest priority taskings are met as expeditiously as possible. The most important of these is a Troops in Contact (TIC) situation, where an imminent and overwhelming threat demands the immediate allocation of CAS. Flt Lt Ben Roberts (ABM), a Senior Air Director (SAD) at the ASOC from Apr-Aug 11 said:
“TRINITY is basically the 999 call, pan Theatre, for ground troops caught in a heavy fire fight and our main aim is to provide support as quickly as possible. In 120 days I responded to well over 1,000 TICs. Supporting the troops on the ground like this; it doesn’t get much more satisfying.”
Using internet-based chat programs, satellite communications and more traditional radios sited across Afghanistan, CAS aircraft can be reallocated by TRINITY at a moment’s notice. This is made possible through working in concert with the various Airspace control agencies, such as MISER in the South West of the country, providing ‘safety of flight’ and deconfliction in what has become some of the most congested airspace worldwide. Flight safety is critical in a theatre where Air Power has become so extensively employed.
It is vital that the ground commander gets the support he needs in a timely fashion, and the ASOC is under a remit to respond rapidly to TICs. Sqn Ldr Phil Skorge (RAF Regt), a Director of Operations (DO) also recently returned from theatre and said:
“From the ground commander declaring a TIC situation to the CAS asset checking in with the Forward Air Controller is a critical period that we strive to make as short as possible for obvious reasons. The team deals with a variety of complications, such as air-to-air refuelling and national reservations, in ensuring this is the case. Needless to say, a lot of restrictions are lifted for such an event and one gets the sense that everyone is pulling together to respond without delay. Having command of all Air Component CAS aircraft means that we can always respond with the fastest available asset, even if it is on the other side of the country.”
The SAD is the key player in ensuring that response times are minimised. Calls for support to TICs can come into the ASOC via many means; some of these are using the systems outlined above but, on occasions, have included a ground commander ringing up on a mobile phone! The Joint Air Request Network Operator (JARNO) is a vital part of the ASOC team and is responsible for manning the main radio link to all ground commanders across Afghanistan. LCpl Dan Clark (Royal Signals), a JARNO at the ASOC said:
“Being the direct link to up to 500 Forward Air Controllers is a high pressured job but I really feel like I have been working at the very sharpest edge of the Air Land Integration world whilst deployed in Kabul.”
Factors the SAD and his team then have to consider include the amount of ‘playtime’ an aircraft can offer, the weapons fits and the specific support requested by that ground commander. Flt Lt Phil Druce (ATC), a SAD at the ASOC from Oct 10 to Jan 11 commented:
“Each type of asset can bring something different to the fight and ground commanders will request specific CAS effects to achieve their mission. At the ASOC we have to consider these requests and ensure we are sending the correct type of aircraft to achieve the required effect. The pressure of the job makes it both challenging and rewarding as the team is making a real difference to the fight on the ground.”
The Director of Operations (DO) is in overall charge of the ASOC’s operational output. Troubleshooting issues with the Air HQ in Qatar is extremely important and analyzing events at the end of a shift are essential in identifying where improvements can be made, thereby ensuring that air power continues to improve its contribution in Afghanistan. Sqn Ldr Rich Milburn, a DO at the ASOC said:
“The breadth of the job has been extremely rewarding. At the ASOC we have influence over the whole Theatre, providing Air for all Ground Forces. And being at the HQ in Kabul we have been fortunate enough to become involved in other projects such as the reintroduction of Theatre-wide radio systems, in extremis support to significant acts of terrorism within the Capital, the updating of National caveats and use of ROE and remapping the AWACS and Radio Relay aircraft orbits to be more flexible in line with the changing ground situation.”
It is not just TICs that the ASOC gets involved in. It is an integral link between Land Forces and the Air Component. As regions of the country continue to be handed back to Afghan authorities at an increasing rate, the amount of requests to support the Afghan National Army and National Police with CAS is also increasing and the ASOC is at the forefront of prioritising any support offered to Afghan National Security Forces. Great strides have also been made in recent months to help coordinate Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) assets in the support of ground troops and the ASOC has an increasing role in co-ordinating CAS for personnel recovery operations. As an example of the variety of its involvements in Theatre, the ASOC played a central role in ensuring that there was appropriate Air support during an avalanche last year. During this environmental incident many Afghan civilians and aid workers were stranded in the mountains in the North East of the country. The rapid presence of CAS overhead gave the people reassurance that further aid was on the way, and the advanced sensors on scene helped identify isolated groups awaiting rescue.
UK ASOC personnel will be integrally involved in the provision of CAS to troops on the ground, throughout Afghanistan, until the end of the conflict. Fulfilling this role is a tremendous responsibility but the job satisfaction gained is immense.
For more information or to enquire about a more in depth brief being presented at your unit contact Flt Lt Ben Roberts on Military Ext 94344 5270 or Civilian 01980 615270. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org