Desolate UN trench line along the mountainous 38th Parallel (also called the Main Line of Resistance or MLR). Heartbreak Ridge, a fiercely contested position, is visible in the background. (U.S. Air Force photo)
View of “Old Baldy,” a key overlook at the front lines, from a Mosquito FAC in early 1953. The relatively static front created a treeless landscape similar to the trench lines of World War I. (U.S. Air Force photo)
USAF Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) radioman with his jeep at the front lines in 1952. Air Force radio jeeps were easily identified by the large silver antennae protruding above the roof. (U.S. Air Force photo)
A single rifle bullet killed the pilot of this Mosquito T-6 in July 1951, forcing the backseat crewman to land it. Sixty-six Mosquito personnel died in combat or were missing in action.Thirty-one became POWs, of which 12 did not survive. About one-third of these casualties were from Tactical Air Control Parties. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Mosquitos at K-6 (Pyongtaek) in the spring of 1951. The maintenance “shop” is the open-air gravel pad on the right of the photo. The taxiways are dirt and the PSP (pierced steel planking) runway is in the background on the left. (U.S. Air Force photo)
" ... The support that our tactical air has given to our ground troops in Korea has perhaps never been equaled in the history of modern war." - Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of U.S. and UN forces in Korea
Close air support missions destroy enemy targets close to friendly ground troops. They require a high level of communication between air and ground forces to prevent accidental casualties. When the USAF became a separate service, it retained the responsibility of close air support for the Army. In spite of problems with aircraft, equipment, and communication between services, close air support missions were vital to the success of UN efforts.
Following Chinese intervention in the war, the Air Force used both tactical fighters and strategic bombers for close air support, attacking vulnerable communist troops in the open, and helping to slow the enemy drive. After the front stabilized in 1951, close air support was less effective against the dug-in communists. Even so, when they left their trenches to attack, close air support once again thinned their ranks.
A joint system of coordinating USAF, Navy, and Marine ground support had its first test in Korea. Perhaps the most important element of USAF close air support was the extensive use of "Mosquito" airborne forward air controllers (FACs) and ground-based Tactical Air Control Parties (TACP). The airborne FACs flew "low and slow," locating and marking targets for other aircraft to attack. Air Force TACP personnel also called in airstrikes and coordinated with ground troops.
The Air Force continuously improved its methods of directing close air support in Korea. Advances in radar, communications, vehicles, aircraft and tactics all helped Airmen protect troops on the ground. The Airmen of the USAF, along with Navy, Marine and UN aircrews, provided more air support to ground forces than ever before.
Click on the following links to learn more about close air support during the Korean War.