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Close Air Support: Battering from Above

" ... 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.

18th Fighter-Bomber Wing Jacket
Mosquitoes in Korea
Tactical Air Control Parties

Click here to return to the Korean War Gallery.