Close air support (CAS) is air action by fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft against hostile targets that are in close proximity to friendly forces and requires detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of those forces.
This is important to point out because people seem to think that only A-10s can do CAS. This is patently false. While the A-10 may be damned good at CAS, it’s not the only aircraft capable of doing so. In fact, it accounts for only a small number of CAS sorties in theater today.
CAS is one of the few missions that is common across all services. There is one governing instruction called JP 3-09.3. It is the CAS bible. As someone who has flown CAS in both the Air Force and the Navy, I appreciate the commonality. As supremely frustrating as it is that the Air Force and Navy are often 180 degrees out in tactics and language, it’s nice that when it comes to supporting the door-kickers, we’re all speaking the same language for a common goal.
It should be noted that the Army doesn’t consider its helicopters as CAS players. Instead, they are treated as another maneuver element just like infantry or armor. As a result, one does not need to be a qualified controller for them to attack a target.
Members of the 25th Fighter Squadron demonstrate what Close Air Support is all about, from the seat of an A-10C.
The simple definition is that CAS is the direct support of troops on the ground by air assets. Any aircraft that can employ ordnance can do CAS. From hot air balloons in World War I to B-1Bs today, if it has the capability to expend some type of ordnance, it can do CAS.
A 10 saves my life
The A-10 Thunderbolt II is a single-seat, twin turbofan engine, straight-wing jet aircraft. The A-10 was designed for close air support (CAS) of friendly ground troops, attacking armored vehicles and tanks, and providing quick-action support against enemy ground forces.
It entered service in 1976 and is the only production-built aircraft that has served in the USAF that was designed solely for CAS. Its secondary mission is to provide forward air controller – airborne (FAC-A) support, by directing other aircraft in attacks on ground targets. Aircraft used primarily in this role are designated OA-10.
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