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Nonlinear, Noncontiguous Operations and the Control of Indirect Fires and Close Air Support

December 7, 2004

Operation Iraqi Freedom offers insights into the conduct of future wars. In the coming “savage wars of peace,” units widely dispersed across disputed territory will be conducting a wide range of simultaneous missions, combat as well as peacekeeping. Opposition forces can appear at any time, operating against support and logistics elements as well as traditional combat units. In this new type of nonlinear war, all units, whether combat arms or combat support, must identify friendly and unfriendly forces on an ever-changing battlefield and operate communications systems with enhanced networking functions. The latter, combined with new capabilities in processing and integration, can radically transform the control of indirect fires (IF) and close air support (CAS).

Traditionally, control of IF/CAS resides with scarce highly trained specialists. Even with innovative approaches by the Army and the Air Force to cross-train IF and CAS controllers they are numerically limited and may not be present everywhere they are needed. Paradoxically the awesome power of U.S. IF/CAS arms, if misdirected, can pose the greatest risk to U.S. land forces in future operations.

Given the Army’s superiority in trained Soldiers and advanced equipment, only a foolish enemy will directly confront a combat unit. In unconventional—but in the 21st century, more prevalent— stability operations the Army will oppose small units of irregular forces, remnants of the previous government or those in opposition to the existing government combined, in some areas, with terrorists. To deal with these adversaries, platoon-sized or smaller elements will be needed to find, fix and destroy the enemy.