Air Force Tactical Air Control Party in Afghanistan

Operations In Afghanistan

Two TACP surveying a battlefield in Afghanistan.

Senior Airman Colville McFee / U.S. Department of Defense / Public Domain

Tactical controllers are highly qualified air strike coordinators and effective air-ground communicators with firepower assets from fixed-wing, rotary, and unmanned drones as well as coordinators of artillery. They are Ranger and Airborne qualified and are proficient in static line and high-altitude, low-open parachute tactics, as well as in air assault and scuba operations.

Tactical Air Control Party - How To Become One

TACP training begins with basic radio maintenance and operation, then continues with land navigation and combat air support basics, followed by survival school, where they learn survival, escape, resistance, and evasion tactics (SERE).

To become an Air Force TACP, you must first pass the Special Tactics Tactical Air Control Party Physical Fitness Test (ST TACP PFT) as governed by the Air Force Special Operations Command. The entry Air Force PAST Test to qualify for Tactical Air Control Party (TACP)

1.5 mile timed run in less than 10:47

Pullups: six minimum

Situps: 48 minimum in two minutes

Pushups: 40 minimum in two minutes

These are minimum standards and you will be required to perform at a much higher level than the above. Do not make the minimum standards your end goal. You should be at least one to two minutes faster on the run and double these minimum standards on the PT exercises.

From basic training until completion of TACP Special Tactics training takes about a year and is very physically and tactically challenging. Many prepare for this course as if they were preparing for Ranger school with many miles of running and rucking under their belt prior to attending. The final test consists of Pullups, Pushups, Situps, a three-mile run, and a 12-mile ruck. 

"The strong will stand, the weak will fall by the wayside." For Air Force Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) airmen, these words are more than just a motto; they also serve as a battle cry.

Tactical Air Control Party - Their Job

Wherever American military forces are found, TACP airmen are sure to be nearby. Nicknamed the "Air Force infantry" because they spend most of their career assigned to Army units, tactical controllers can most often be found embedded with special operations forces.

"Our primary role is to direct combat strike aircraft against enemy targets," said Staff Sgt. Alan Lesko, TACP noncommissioned officer in charge of the Army's 10th Mountain Division, which supported Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. "We also coordinate artillery fire with airstrikes." To accomplish their mission, tactical controllers served on the front line, often in advance of any other military units.

In Afghanistan, they controlled the battlefield by coordinating strikes of the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft. Whether involved in a low-intensity conflict or full-scale conventional warfare, TACP airmen guided the full fury of American military might.

Known by Army special operations soldiers as enlisted Joint terminal attack controllers (JTAC), TACP airmen provide close-air-support aircraft guidance control to increase the capability of ground combat forces. They also are experts in artillery and in naval combat and attack helicopter capabilities; they use all combat assets to rain destruction on the enemy.

"Some people think we are air traffic controllers, but that's inaccurate," said Airman 1st Class James Blair. "Our mission is terminal control. That means bombs on target and a very bad day for the enemy." TACP's do not control aircraft like CCT's do, TACP's direct the bombs, artillery, and missiles on the enemy positions.

These airmen must be thoroughly proficient in ground combat techniques, and their training goes well beyond that of the Army infantry. Tactical control airmen serve as advisers to ground component commanders in planning and employing combat assets, and are the link between joint and combined forces.

In Afghanistan, TACP airmen coordinated ground and air assaults on terrorist positions provided convoy security for coalition forces and even assisted with presidential security for the fledgling Afghan government.

The fight for peace and freedom takes the tactical controllers into some of the roughest terrain and most inhospitable conditions in the world. Whether they are braving the freezing temperatures and thin air in the mountains of Afghanistan, or in the desolate, searing deserts of Iraq, wherever Special Forces are needed, TACP goes. Often they are the first in and last out.

TACP airmen can be recognized by their black berets. Although the burgundy berets of Air Force Pararescuemen and the crimson berets of Air Force Combat Controllers are easily recognized, the black beret is seldom seen worn by Air Force members.

In the field, tactical controllers wear a battle uniform that is unremarkable, without name or Air Force labels, rank insignia or unit markings. Instead, their uniforms are adorned with small patches that make them visible to American pilots using special night-vision equipment and are clearly marked on the sleeves and boots with each airman's blood type.

Originally Created by TSgt Brian Davidson - American Forces News Service