TACP: taking the fight to the enemy

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jarrod Grammel
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
Most service members grab their rifle or machine gun when they go into combat. However for joint terminal attack controllers, a radio is their main weapon.

As the lead member of an Air Force tactical air control party, JTACs are trained to use their radios to coordinate close air support to support ground troops.

"As a JTAC, I'm a forward observer," said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jess Hager, 11th Air Support Operations Squadron JTAC. "I go out and provide aircraft with intelligence for where to put accurate bombs on target."

The effective use of air power in modern conflicts has proven to make a difference in combat. JTACs are the link between the aircrew and the ground forces.

"My job is so important because I'm the one who directly communicates with aircrew, enabling them to get bombs on target without fratricide or collateral damage," said Hager. "What makes the job unique is the amount of responsibility that is placed on us."

Because of the responsibility that is placed on them, JTACs carefully plan and coordinate their missions with the ground forces before they go out.

"The most challenging part is mission planning," said Hager. "It takes the longest time because you have to coordinate with ground-support elements, and make sure you know what threats are in the area and the threats that exist to the aircraft."

JTACs are typically attached to Army units where they work closely with joint fires observers, a trained observer that acts as a force-multiplier to the JTAC. JFOs are trained in two out of the three types of close air support, type I requiring the most training.

"A JFO is a trained forward observer who is trained in type II and III close air support," said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Morris, 18th Airborne Corps joint fire observer's manager. "Most other forward observers don't have that level of training and expertise. When JFOs go out they are a big addition to the JTACs.

"What is unique about JFOs is that it is a specific skill identifier within the Army," he added. "They go out and transmit data to the JTAC who coordinates with air assets to support the ground commander."

However, constantly working with different units and services has its challenges, said one JTAC.

"The most challenging part about my job is the integration with services that don't exactly know our capabilities," said Master Sgt. Sean Jordan, Detachment 1 15th Air Support Operations Squadron superintendent. "Every time we get with a new unit we have to gain their trust because it is a big responsibility to be dropping bombs next to somebody."

JTAC's skills and experience give them a unique objective- go out and take the fight to the enemy on the ground.

"We are one of the only career fields in the Air Force that has a direct combat role on the ground," said Jordan. "Most Airmen are either supporting operations or are pilots in the air. Our mission is to be on the ground and engage the enemy."

To learn the techniques and skills they need to survive in a combat role on the ground, they attend rigorous technical training. Once they graduate tech school they become a radio operator, maintenance and driver, and continue their training to become a certified JTAC. JTACs are the only ones certified to clear pilots to drop ordnance.

"Tech school was intense," said Hager. "Then once we get to our unit, we start on-the-job training, and continually push through training and evaluations.

"In my unit we make sure all guys are current and capable of completing the mission," he added. "Training is so important because with a lack of training there is a possibility you could harm friendlies."

JTACs not only work with the Army when they deploy, they usually live on an Army post with them.

"Everywhere we go - we are with the Army," said Jordan. "More often than not, we are living and breathing on an Army post. Every day of our lives we are in a joint-service environment."

In current operations, where effective use of airpower can mean the difference between mission success and failure, JTACs use their training and knowledge to provide pilots with the information they need.

"The best part of my job is being able to support friendlies and going out and killing the bad guys," said Hager.