Only a select few wear the Black Beret that symbolizes the Tactical Air Control Party (TACP). The Air Force specialists are assigned to Army combat maneuver units around the world. On a battlefield, they form a tactical air control party team that plans, requests and directs air strikes against enemy targets in close proximity to friendly forces. A TACP is generally a two-airman team, working in an Army ground unit and directing close air support firepower toward enemy targets on the ground.
Tactical Air Control Parties provide numerous critical functions on the modern battlefield including: (1) Advising ground forces on aircraft employment and capabilities; (2) Coordinating and controlling aerospace operations and (3) Participating in battle planning.
Tactical Air Command and Control Specialists are part of a team called a Tactical Air Control Party (TACP). The mission is to advise US Army combat commanders on the use of Air Force air power. One example of air power is a fighter aircraft attacking targets close to friendly troops. This is Close Air Support and is a very important part of the TACP mission. It is the TACP's job to control the fighters and to make sure they attack the correct target. This unique mission requires operating on the battlefield. TACPs communicate with other tactical air and ground units by use of state-of-the-art radios, while mirroring the maneuver capabilities of our Army counterparts. Whether it's parachuting out of an airplane from 1000 feet with the 82nd Airborne Division, engaging in a tank assault with the 1st Armored Division, or operating deep behind enemy lines with the 75th Ranger Regiment, the TACP mission is the same.PUTTING BOMBS ON TARGET!
TACPs live, train, and deploy with the US Army units. When deployed, the TACPs live under austere field conditions, and are responsible for the coordination, de-confliction, and execution of all USAF attack aircraft. Qualified individuals, serving as Terminal Attack Controllers (ETACs), provide final attack control to the pilots while the fighters are inbound to the target. The ETAC is responsible for ensuring that the pilot identifies and attacks the correct target while minimizing the risk to friendly ground forces. During peacetime, training is the major focus. This training can take the form of common skills testing (mission readiness), various weapons qualifications, chemical warfare and combat first aid training. At various times throughout the year, Army field training exercises (FTX) are conducted to evaluate combat readiness. The lengths of these exercises vary from a few days to a month.
The US Air Force Air Ground Operations School remains the only US service school devoted to instruction in coordinated joint air ground operations. Army faculty members are provided on a permanent basis by the US Army Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In addition, US Marine and a US Navy officers are permanently attached. Graduating students take with them a unique background and experience for enhancing professional knowledge and furthering continued interservice cooperation
among their contemporaries.
Enlisted Terminal Attack Controller (ETAC -- pronounced E-TACK ) is a Tactical air party member who assists in mission planning and provides final control of close air support aircraft in support of ground forces. Utilizing their knowledge of munitions and their first-hand view of the battle, the ETAC requests the right combination of firepower to eliminate the ground target without causing casualties to nearby friendly ground forces. Once the enemy target has been positively identified, it is marked using smoke or other marking methods. When all the conditions have been met for the incoming aircraft to deliver its ordnance, the ETAC gives the "cleared hot" signal to the pilot, and suddenly, it's a bad day for the enemy.
During combat operations, an Air Liaison Officer (ALO), Forward Air Controller (FAC) or Enlisted Terminal Attack Controller (ETAC) is normally available for control of close air support missions. These individuals are the only authorized Air Force personnel permitted to routinely control CAS missions in support of US Army units or other ground maneuver units, allied or joint, when attached. During emergency combat operations however, when these individuals are not available, a designated individual may direct attacking aircraft for close air support.
Air Liaison Officers (ALOs) and enlisted Ground Terminal Attack Controllers (GTACs) have a unique mission. They wear Air Force uniforms but work closely with the Army. Their combat mission is to live and work on the ground with the army, request and control Air Force Close Air Support (CAS) and integrate it with the army scheme of maneuver on the battlefield.
TACP Modernization Program
To perform its mission, the TACP is equipped with vehicle-mounted communications pallets, manpack radios, and digital communications devices to interface with the ground forces it supports, aircraft conducting the air operations, aerospace command and control (C2) agencies, and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) agencies. The TACP-Modernization effort will provide a technology refresh by adding/replacing manpack radios, a laser range finder, computers and software, and vehicular radios.
The Defense Information Infrastructure System Program Office's TACP modernization program has four main products: a dismounted multi-band radio, a laser range finder, a computer and information software suite and a vehicle mounted radio package. The dismounted radio, called a manpack, is a multi-band, multimode radio that covers the gamut of wave forms. Frequencies covered include VHF, UHF and UHF SATCOM radio. The unit is also compatible with the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System, a system which the Army uses. The total cost for the radio upgrade is more than $10 million. During 2000, a total of 221 Harris PRC-117F Manpack Radios were purchased and delivered to TACP units. In April 2001, Harris Corporation of Rochester, NY, was awarded a contract for an additional 561 radios. The first 230 radios were delivered to TACP units within three months.
Another integral part of enhancing the TACP's capabilities is the new Mark VII Eyesafe Laser Range Finder. The laser range finder, which looks like a regular pair of binoculars, provides accurate distance measuring and location information on whatever target is in the operators field of view. Previously, the TACPs can only estimate the range to a target. With the laser range finder, they will look through the range finder at a target, which will emit a laser beam onto the target. The beam immediately bounces back and provides the exact coordinates of the target, which are relayed up to the pilot. The contract with Litton Laser Systems of Apopka, Fla., provides for 184 units to be built at a cost of $9 million. The first unit was delivered in March, 2002.
New software and computers are also part of the modernization plan. Previously the TACPs were using paper maps. Putting their data on a computer generated map that constantly updates itself takes their maps and documentation and put it all into a computerized format. TACPs will know their location, the enemy's location and they will also track incoming aircraft.
The computer and software will receive data from the laser range finder, and together with data on the computer and information transmitted via radio, will display a battlefield map along with accurate coordinates for enemy targets. It's sort of like air traffic control software, which sees the aircraft and tracks it on the map. The software requirements are being met by modifying an existing software product, Rosetta, manufactured by ANZUS Inc. of San Diego, CA, to meet the special needs of TACPs.
Rosetta is currently being used by the Air Force, Navy and Army in other applications.
TACP members throughout the world supported U.S. Army units such as the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, the 24th Infantry Division, and the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment with their close air support (CAS) requirements. Enlisted Terminal Attack Controllers (ETACs) were also tasked to support multinational coalition forces including the French Foreign Legion, Saudi, Egyptian, Pakistani, Syrian, and Kuwaiti ground forces.
Tallahasse Technologies of Tallahasse, Fla., with their Tacter-31, is the vendor for five prototype handheld computers used during testing. It's a ruggedized type of computer that can go in the mud and underwater up to a meter deep. Cost for the 437 computers along with the software package is roughly $20 million. The entire dismounted system package, which includes the computer, radio and laser range finder, will fit into a single rucksack.
The history of Close Air Support began somewhere over the muddy trenches that stretched from Flanders' Fields to the Pyrenees Mountains during World War I. It was there that the courage, daring, skill and innovation of the first CAS pilots forever earned the respect of the troops on the ground. These lessons were mostly forgotten by World War II, however. The emphasis was on high altitude bombing by heavy bombers to support ground troops. Close air support was considered the least desirable of missions and was performed when nothing else better could be found or when the situation was critical on the ground.
CAS was quite effective through Korea and Vietnam but it took those two wars to change the way the Air Force looked at the CAS role. The original use of the term ROMAD was in Vietnam Conflict, when fighter pilots were dispersed to Army manuever units to direct close air support (CAS). These Battalion Air Liason Officer (BALO) pilots needed enlisted troops to operate, maintain, and transport the massive radio systems used to communicate with aircraft. These enlisted folks were known as ROMADS for Radio Operator, Maintainer, And Driver. The enlisted airman was limited in their role because the Battalion Air Liason Officer was the only person authorized to control airstrikes.
With the development of the A-10, close air support was finally taken seriously. The A-10 provided the army with awesome tank killing power and they wanted Air Force fighter pilots on the ground, working directly with them, to control it. Through the sixties and seventies, small Air Force detachments sprung up at each army division, providing a local group of Air Force Air Liaison Officers(ALOs). Eventually, the enlisted terminal attack controller career field was created and the new units called Tactical Air Control Parties (TACPs) had enlisted continuity to offset the continuous rotation of fighter pilot ALOs. Only in the Air National Guard does the ALO career field co-exist with the enlisted ROMAD [Recon Observe Mark And Destroy] career field.
In the mid 1980's the Air Force saw a problem in maintaining pilots in the cockpit and the Army units. The result was the Enlisted Terminal Attack Controller (ETAC). The ETAC is a highly trained and proficient ROMAD who takes the controlling aspect away from the officer. ETACs are assigned to Tactical Air Control Parties (TACPs) in all types of manuever units from Airborne, Air Assault, Armor, Mech, Ranger, and Special Forces.
US Army Ranger TACP members spearheaded the parachute invasion of Panama. In-country TACPs, supporting the 193rd Infantry were among the initial ground assault force. 82nd Airborne Division TACP members later parachuted into the invasion and were quickly followed by the 7th Infantry Division TACP air-land forces. Airstrikes were controlled by ETACs utilizing the AC-130 "Spectre" gunship, A-7, OA-37, and helicopter gunships.
TACP members from the U.S. Army Rangers spearheaded the invasion of Grenada. They were followed by members of the 82nd Airborne Division TACP. Enlisted TACP members controlled the bulk of the Close Air Support missions, which helped pave the way for the ETAC program.
TACP members have also been deployed in support of operation Restore Hope (Somalia), Operation Uphold Democracy (Haiti), and back to Kuwait.