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Denmark, Canada hone close air support skills alongside USAF JTACs

The unit seal for the Tactical Air Control Party battery at Varde, Denmark. Danish JTACs are participating in Atlantic Strike VI, a U.S. Central Command Air Forces-sponsored exercise focused on improving air-ground coordination during urban close air support operations. The slogan translates to "our anger hits you hard." (Courtesy Photo)

The unit seal for the Tactical Air Control Party battery at Varde, Denmark. Danish JTACs are participating in Atlantic Strike VI, a U.S. Central Command Air Forces-sponsored exercise focused on improving air-ground coordination during urban close air support operations. The slogan translates to "our anger hits you hard." (Courtesy Photo)

AVON PARK, Fla. -- Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, specialists in airpower embedded in ground units to assist Airmen in delivering the effects of airpower, are used to working in multi-service and multi-national operations. In order to replicate the collaborative environment of the modern battlefield, planners at Atlantic Strike VI invited close air support specialists from every branch of the military and several coalition nations.

"We're thrilled to again welcome our coalition allies to Atlantic Strike," said Maj. Raymond Brennan, the Atlantic Strike exercise director. "We believe this venue provides a unique opportunity to focus on air-ground coordination and use the latest close air support equipment in dynamic combat scenarios."

For the first time, Atlantic Strike planners included the use of mortar fire into deconfliction scenarios. This portion of JTAC training teaches skills required to ensure fighter aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles can safely operate in the same airspace as coordinated fires, such as rockets and artillery. To add an additional level of realism to the activities, planners called on members of the Canadian Army -- an experienced mortar team recently deployed to Afghanistan.

"Atlantic Strike VI worked out for both of our nations," said Capt. Andrew Nicholson, Gun Position Officer with the 81mm mortar team from Canadian Forces Base Shilo in Manitoba, Canada. "Our team is in the training phase of our deployment schedule, so this event is a welcome chance to use our equipment in a simulated combat environment."

"Atlantic Strike gives us the rare occasion to work closely with other parties we will surely partner with on the battlefield," added Capt. Nicholson. "Even though we all speak English, it's often differences in terms or procedures that could hamper a mission -- we're able to get a sense of how U.S. JTACs will operate under fire while they're able to see what our forces bring to the fight."

In addition to the 20-plus person mortar team, Atlantic Strike VI is hosting two Canadian JTAC teams. "In environments such as Afghanistan where operations are coalition-led, it's vital for those controlling aircraft to practice together prior to engaging the enemy -- any opportunity to practice these skills is welcome," said Captain Nicholson.

JTACs from Denmark also joined the training lanes. Capt. Peter Ronning, a JTAC and Executive Officer from the Danish Tactical Air Control Party battery at Varde Barracks, brought a team of four Soldiers to train alongside U.S. military members. "The diversity of aircraft and training scenarios available during Atlantic Strike is unlike any sort of prior training we've received," said Capt. Ronning.

A veteran of Afghanistan deployments, Capt. Ronning's team has been impressed with the realism they've encountered in the Avon Park military ranges. "We intend to strongly recommend that all our JTACs attend Atlantic Strike exercises prior to deployment to Afghanistan," said Captain Ronning. "This training is exactly the type of experience a JTAC needs to be proficient in controlling aircraft in combat."

An observer from New Zealand is also studying Atlantic Strike training scenarios with an eye to possible future involvement.

"We hope to continue our tradition of coalition participation at Atlantic Strike" concluded Major Brennan. "Working together to develop better close air support tactics, techniques, and procedures will increase our combat effectiveness as we continue to fight the global war on terrorism."