New USAF F-16 CAS Training Squadron Planned for Nellis

NELLIS AIR Force Base in Nevada plans to restructure the 57th Operations Group to enhance its focus on close air support (CAS) integration, US Air Force officials announced on August 16. 

The group’s mission will include high-end fight training as well as an increased emphasis on tactical-level close air support with experts to integrate fires in joint operations, advancing the joint CAS enterprise and preserving the USAF’s CAS culture.

General Hawk Carlisle, the commander of Air Combat Command (ACC), said: “CAS is one of the most important jobs we have and over the past 15 years we’ve developed exceptional capabilities and expertise in this mission area.  The changes we’re making at Nellis are an important step in refining our CAS skills through future generations of airmen so we can continue to provide ground forces with all the advantages airpower brings to close combat.”

In March 2015, ACC hosted a Future Close Air Support Focus Week, which brought together joint experts and leaders to assess the current state of the CAS mission, discuss future challenges and requirements, and determine items for further study to ensure the effectiveness of this critical mission.  One of the recommendations from the forum included standing up a CAS-dedicated organization to help preserve what has been a highly effective CAS culture and help meet the close air support challenges of tomorrow.

The USAF intends for the 57th OG to include the CAS-dedicated organization with a tactical air support squadron, which would provide dedicated air support to the Joint Terminal Attack Controller Qualification Course and USAF Weapons School, together with Green Flag and Red Flag exercises, capitalizing on the existing CAS expertise and schoolhouses currently at Nellis AFB.

The USAF says that the tactical air support squadron will initially consist of eight permanent F-16 Fighting Falcons relocated from Hill AFB, Utah, with potential for expansion to a total of 16 at full operational capability.  In addition to the newly assigned F-16s, the 57th OG will also leverage geographically separated contract light aircraft as cost-effective augmentation to enhance JTAC training with USAF fighter aircraft.

The USAF has already begun to evaluate the effect of basing the additional F-16s at Nellis AFB. Final decisions will be made regarding the new squadron upon completion of the environmental impact analysis process.

Upon reaching full operational capability, the 57th Wing at Nellis AFB will conduct all graduate-level CAS training, as well as operational training for the forward air control mission. The wing currently conducts the JTAC weapon’s instructor course, the air liaison officer qualifying course, and Green Flag, the USAF’s series of premier air-to-ground training exercises.

Commenting on the plans, Jennifer Miller, the deputy assistant Air Force secretary for installations, said: “The 57th Operations Group is uniquely positioned to become the Air Force’s centre of excellence for close air support training.” 

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