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Warfighters gather to train for close air support operations: Atlantic Strike VI evolves into 'the most focused JTAC training available'

Airman Josh Lacki prepares to fire at "enemy" troops during Atlantic Strike VI Nov. 6 at Avon Park, Fla. Airman Lacki is a tactical air control party member from the 11th Air Support Operations Squadron at Fort Hood, Texas. He is part of the opposition forces during the exercise to challenge joint terminal attack controllers working with Army platoons to use airpower in urban close-air-support operations. The exercise is scheduled to last through Nov. 9. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Stephenie Wade)

Airman Josh Lacki prepares to fire at "enemy" troops during Atlantic Strike VI Nov. 6 at Avon Park, Fla. Airman Lacki is a tactical air control party member from the 11th Air Support Operations Squadron at Fort Hood, Texas. He is part of the opposition forces during the exercise to challenge joint terminal attack controllers working with Army platoons to use airpower in urban close-air-support operations. The exercise is scheduled to last through Nov. 9. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Stephenie Wade)

An Air Force member portraying an enemy sniper launches flares during a night engagement to simulate heavy machine gun fire as part of exercise Atlantic Strike VI Nov. 6 at Avon Park, Fla. Atlantic Strike VI is a semi-annual training event sponsored by U.S. Central Command Air Forces at the Avon Park Air Ground Training Complex. The training scenarios are aimed at preparing joint terminal attack controllers and Army joint fires observers for urban close-air-support operations prior to deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Stephenie Wade)

An Air Force member portraying an enemy sniper launches flares during a night engagement to simulate heavy machine gun fire as part of exercise Atlantic Strike VI Nov. 6 at Avon Park, Fla. Atlantic Strike VI is a semi-annual training event sponsored by U.S. Central Command Air Forces at the Avon Park Air Ground Training Complex. The training scenarios are aimed at preparing joint terminal attack controllers and Army joint fires observers for urban close-air-support operations prior to deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Stephenie Wade)

A simulated enemy village is engulfed in smoke, signaling a successful airstrike by A-10 Thunderbolt II close-air-support aircraft during Atlantic Strike VI Nov. 6 at the Avon Park Air Ground Training Complex in Avon Park, Fla. Joint terminal attack controllers embedded in Army units direct aircraft to target precise locations during scenarios designed to simulate intense combat engagements. Atlantic Strike training is focused on preparing JTACs and Army joint fires observers for urban close-air-support operations prior to deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Stephenie Wade)

A simulated enemy village is engulfed in smoke, signaling a successful airstrike by A-10 Thunderbolt II close-air-support aircraft during Atlantic Strike VI Nov. 6 at the Avon Park Air Ground Training Complex in Avon Park, Fla. Joint terminal attack controllers embedded in Army units direct aircraft to target precise locations during scenarios designed to simulate intense combat engagements. Atlantic Strike training is focused on preparing JTACs and Army joint fires observers for urban close-air-support operations prior to deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Stephenie Wade)

AVON PARK, Fla. -- More than 200 warfighters from around the world gathered this weekend in the little-known Avon Park Military Training Complex in central Florida to combat a simulated enemy force comprised of insurgent groups, roadside bombs and hidden snipers. In order to complete their missions, teams of blended forces must use the warfighters most flexible and powerful tool: airpower.

Atlantic Strike VI, a semi-annual training event sponsored by U.S. Central Command Air Forces, is aimed at preparing Joint Terminal Attack Controllers and Joint Fires Observers for urban close air support operations. For the 800 military members spread across several operating locations, including MacDill Air Force Base, Homestead Air Reserve Base and Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., Shaw AFB, S.C., Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C. and Robins AFB, Ga., the intense training event begins today; battles continue day and night through Nov. 9.

Maj. Raymond Brennan, the Atlantic Strike exercise director, briefed a standing-room-only auditorium full of JTACs from the Air Force and Marines, lessons learned officials, aircrews, Air Support Operations Center personnel, Army Joint Fires Observers and scout platoon members, as well as mock-opposition forces, in order to welcome and brief participants on the week's activities.

"USCENTAF has worked for months to prepare dynamic scenarios designed to challenge your JTAC teams and aircrews with realistic situations gathered from our current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan," Maj. Brennan told the training audience. "We'll begin with two days of training by military members and industry experts on the latest software and hardware advances, and then each JTAC team will rotate through four distinct combat scenarios."

"The focus of this training is the employment of airpower during urban close air support operations," explained Major Brennan. "These operations execute tactics, techniques and procedures for close-air support, cordon and search, counter sniper, counter ambush and counter improvised explosive device operations."

During the week-long event, JTAC teams support Army platoon maneuvers in force on force engagements and control integrated ordnance and mortar fires on the live fire range. Inside the town of Avon Park teams operate from a mobile forward operating base to support urban and rural convoy scenarios.

Atlantic Strike participants are outfitted with the most current equipment and software available. Industry and contractor experts provide hands-on training to ensure proficiency prior to mission execution. Once systems and procedures are validated in the controlled training environments, USCENTAF officials work to rush these proven technologies and best-practices to the battlefield.

For example, the prototype Air Support Operations Center Gateway, first used during Atlantic Strike IV in 2006, has been brought to full-production status for use during Atlantic Strike VI. For the first time, the production model will participate in the battlefield datalink network; enabling digital targeting and enhanced battlespace management.

"As the tactical extension of the Air Operations Center, the ASOC continues to evolve and gain new capabilities to support aircrews, ground forces and the Combined Forces Air Component Commander," said Lt. Col. Ken Craib, commander of the 682nd Air Support Operations Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. and ASOC director during Atlantic Strike VI. "We're validating a host of new advances in preparation for the first combat deployment of the ASOC Gateway vehicle early next year."

Evolution has been the hallmark of Atlantic Strike as warfighters continuously help to refine the training to better prepare JTAC and JFO teams prior to deployment. "Information really moves in both directions -- JTACs let us know what they're encountering in Iraq and Afghanistan and this helps to shape our training, during Atlantic Strike we validate and improve on procedures and new technologies such as Tactical Air Control Party Close Air Support System," explained Capt. Casper Nathe, the Atlantic Strike Operations director and 18th Air Support Operations Group director from Pope Air Force Base, N.C.

The most current TACP-CASS software will be introduced to JTACs during training modules with industry experts. Afterwards, JTAC teams will test the software during live fire training lanes.

One of the new additions to Atlantic Strike VI is the inclusion of an 81mm mortar team from Canada. "We're continuing to add realism to each iteration of this event," said Capt Nathe. "Learning to deconflict airspace -- whether it's mortar fire or aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicles -- is a vital task for JTACs to master as they'll surely see these types of assorted airborne activities during deployments."

"Coalition members have seen the value Atlantic Strike provides their deploying members," added Captain Nathe. During Atlantic Strike VI, JTAC teams from Denmark and Canada, as well as observers from New Zealand, will work alongside U.S. forces, continuing the tradition of integrating coalition forces into scenarios.

"This is a diverse group of participants for a reason," said Major Brennan. "This replicates the modern battlefield -- teams from every branch of the military working with multi-national forces in a tactical environment to project airpower and protect ground forces in close contact with the enemy -- making this training absolutely vital to ensuring our forces are ready for combat."