Joint Air Attack Team

We’ve talked before about how the post-Vietnam era Army found itself facing down an enormous Soviet Group of Forces in East Germany, and struggling to find a  way to deter them from rolling over NATO forces.

The standard Soviet tactic was the echelon attack. A US brigade might find itself under attack by a full Soviet Motor-Rifle Division. Fair enough. As a rule of thumb, units in the defense are expected to be able to handle an attack by a force up to three times their size. The problem came when the second echelon of Soviet forces would slam into our US brigade, before they have had time to reset after the first attack. And if the second echelon didn’t break through, there was a third echelon behind that. Sooner or later, our US brigade would be overwhelmed.

The key to defeating the echelon attack was  to disrupt the follow-on second and third echelons. We’ve discussed the Cobra and Apache attack helicopters in the deep strike role. And the Air Force would do its part by performing interdiction missions, dropping bridges, disrupting supply and fuel depots.

But there was another tactic, designed to compliment the strenghts and minimize the weaknesses of attack helicopters and close air support aircraft like the A-10. That was the Joint Air Attack Team, or JAAT. Utilizing artillery, scout and attack helicopters, Airborne Forward Air Controllers, and close air support aircraft like the A-10, a JAAT could overwhelm the air defenses of a Soviet unit and pound it into the dirt. Even if the unit wasn’t destroyed, it would be so disrupted that it couldn’t keep to its schedule. This would buy our defending ground brigade time to reset from the first echelon and prepare for its attack.

Here’s a training film from either the late 70’s or early 80’s showing the basic concept.


With the exception of the A-10, all the platforms shown have been replaced. The M-60 tanks have been replaced by M-1s, the OH-58 scouts by updated OH-58D Kiowa Warriors, the AH-1Qs by AH-64s, and the OV-10 by modified OA-10A’s.  Still, the basic concept is still a viable one.

There were a couple of real challenges to making a JAAT work. First, airspace management. It can be a real challenge making sure artillery rounds and airplanes don’t occupy the same airspace. For obvious reasons, the aviators, both Army and Air Force are kinda picky about that. There’s also the challenge of making sure the helicopters and fixed wing air know where each other are, to avoid collisions.

The other challenge was timeliness. It takes some time to put a JAAT together. If the JAAT takes too long to assemble, it can miss its chance to catch the follow on echelon. But if units have trained together before, and have worked out the kinks, it can be put together much more quickly.

7 thoughts on “Joint Air Attack Team”

  1. Why don’t they come up with a new A-10. They have proved over and over that they are a much needed and used platform. I think of how awesome it would be with better engines electronics firepower etc. (not saying that the 30 is lacking anything, but maybe they could improve the targeting etc)

  2. Right now, the A-10A fleet is going through a rebuild to A-10C configuration, mostly concentrating on the avionics and the targeting systems. Everything else pretty much works, so why fix that?

  3. By my time, the JAAT had been tweaked up a knotch or two. We coordinated them as part of the fire control cell at the DTAC. At that level we’d integrate not only A-10s but AF, Navy, and Marine fast movers. Timing was everything, and we often backwalked the time lines to square things. The intent was the very second that the shrapnel from the 155s was coming to rest, then the fast movers should pass over dropping their cluster bombs. Then the A-10s would show up to do that voodoo they do so well. Then shortly after the A-10s had pinned the lead enemy armor columns, the Army attack folks would hit flanks. To make this all happen, the team back at the DTAC had to juggle TOT, Airspace Control Measures, and clear all sorts of fires to avoid fratricide.

    But don’t get the idea it was not fun!

  4. The problems with making all this stuff work in a timely fashion came to a head in Desert Storm, the result was Link-16. Units could send targeting data back and forth in real time. Locations of friendlies could also be sent in real time.

    Nowadays, it’s not unusual for an Army Lt and SGT to work for an Air Force BG at a major headquarters. They make sure all air and ADA assets get sent where they need to go. One SGT told me that the AF command centers have a “God’s eye” view of the theater.

    And to think this all started in the forests of Germany.

  5. All of this happened just after I departed USAFE with the introduction of the A-10s. Prior to that, the fact that the Army’s arty FSCC was not only not physically located with any part of the TACC/DASC system–it was not even formally ‘in the loop” for planning purposes, which meant–as experience in Vietnam showed– it was always dicey getting the Army to turn off an arty fire msn to let a higher priorty strike thru the area. Once the arty guys really zero in and get a rhythm going they do hates’ to turn it off.

  6. I might add that prior to the A-10, we operated in USAFE with F-4s (68-71) under the belief that the air defense capabilities of the SU were so severe that use of airborne FACs was suicidal, so everything was predicated on gnd facs and low-level penetration and short pop-up for tgt acquisition. And during that time frame planning for the JAAT sort of thing was more or less useless as most of the Army’s attack helos were in Vietnam.

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