CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- Throughout the duration of U.S. presence in Afghanistan, coalition troops have fought insurgent forces on all fronts with one unrivaled advantage – aviation.
Coalition service members work around the clock everyday putting aircraft in the sky and on target while making decisions in situations where seconds save lives. Recently, in Regional Command (Southwest), U.K. service members and U.S. Marines with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) have reworked their standard operating procedures in managing airspace to create a seamless transition for aircraft traveling between the Task Force Leatherneck and Task Force Helmand areas of operation. This new method of joint air control will provide coalition ground forces with faster air support among other tactical advantages.
"We have adapted to the differences between how we run things and how the [U.K. forces] run things," said U.S. Capt. Emma Tucker, the officer in charge for the Direct Air Support Center aboard Camp Leatherneck. "We realigned some of our responsibilities, and as a result, we have created a more efficient airspace."
Now, the airspace between the two AO's is jointly controlled as one coalition airspace. To make the transition into one control center, several steps were made to ease into the new environment.
Prior to the new procedures, an exchange of sorts was made between the two control centers to make the transition within the DASC as smooth as the airspace it regulates. Five Marines have been operating within the U.K. control center in Lashkar Gah, which now remains as a liaison post for coalition forces. At Camp Leatherneck, a total of four U.K. service members are slated to work within the DASC. Having a previous joint environment in both control centers contributed to the fluid change into one coalition airspace.
"We received our first U.K. controller Dec. 9, and he started training with our crew. We received the second on Dec. 14, the day before the transition took effect, which helped immensely. He was able to act as a liaison for us. Now, he is training to be a fixed-wing controller," said Tucker, a Louisville, Ky., native. "These changes have made air support easier to manage for the entire RC and benefit the Marine Air Ground Task Force as a whole.
The new coalition DASC will continue to improve upon the new implementations for several months before handing the refined air support centers to 2nd MAW (Fwd) in the spring.
"There is a whole range of great advantages gained [from the joint control center]," said U.K. Royal Air Force Wing Commander Richard Yates, the deputy commander of the 903rd Expeditionary Air Wing. "We can gain from the experiences of the Marines and vice versa. The close relationship between the [U.K and U.S.] is personally, and professionally, rewarding."
The commanding general of 3rd MAW (Fwd), BGen. Andrew W. O’Donnell Jr., stated that the consolidation of the U.S. – U.K. airspace management is the last step for full aviation integration between the two allied nations, and that they are now "truly one team, one fight."