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TITLE AND SUBTITLE 15a. CONTRACT NUMBER 

REQUIREMENTS FOR A JOINT TERMINAL ATTACK N/A 


CONTROLLER PRIMARY MILITARY OCCUPATIONAL 


SPECIALTY IN THE POST-OEF MARINE CORPS 


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AUTHOR{S) 

Maj. Erik J. Bartelt, USMC 


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United States Marine Corps 
Command and Staff College 
Marine Corps University 
2076 South Street 
Marine Corps Combat Development Command 
Quantico, Virginia 22134-5068 


MASTER OF MILITARY STUDIES 


TITLE: 

REQUIREMENTS FOR A JOINT TERMINAL ATTACK CONTROLLER PRIMARY 
MILITARY OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY IN THE POST-OEF MARINE CORPS 

SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT 
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF 

master of military studies 

AUTHOR: 

MAJOR ERIK J. BARTELT, USMC 

AY 10-11 


Mentor and Oral D^ens* 
Approved 
Date: f 



. Streusand 


Oral DefenseTlomlmttee 
Approved/ 


'r. Gelpi 







11 


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 

Title: Requirements for a Joint Terminal Attack Controller primai’y Military Occupational 
Specialty in the post-OEF Marine Coips 

Author: Major Erik Bartelt, United States Marine Coips 

Thesis: The increasing complexity of the battlefield, Enhanced Company Operations, and future 
fiscal austerity require a JTAC primary Militai'y Occupational Specialty. 

Discussion: A Jomt Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) is the link between Marine ground 
units and the aircraft supporting them. This Maiine must be capable of unsupervised, creative 
action m pursuit of his duties. Historical examples of terminal conti'ol indicate an extremely 
complex and fluid task that requires depth of personal expertise to perfoim adequately. The 
more dispersed operating environment since 9/11 prompted the USMC to ti'ain and assign non¬ 
aviator JTACs, in addition to aviator Forward Air Conti'ollers, to terminal control tasks. The 
USMC has adjusted the JTAC program considerably in the last three years, ending in the 2012 
Tables of Organization. Additional modifications ai'e necessary to produce the expert controller- 
required for Enhanced Company Operations. Behavioral psychology studies show that complex 
tasks cannot be learned in a short period of time. Ar-my and Air Force JTAC programs have 
certain strengtlis that the USMC program could incorporate for additional capability. 

Conclusion: The long-term trend from several directions shows that a JTAC primary MOS will 
best serve the Mar'ine Cor-ps’ needs. Extending JTAC tour lengths and creating a primary MOS 
builds experience and realizes significant cost savings for aviation assets. Planned aircraft 
acquisition timelines could create stress on aviator populations contributing to FAC billets. 
Adequate numbers of personnel are available to create a prinwy MOS without affecting other 
skill sets. 



DISCLAIMER 


THE OPINIONS AND CONCLUSIONS EXPRESSED HEREIN ARE THOSE OF THE 
INDIVIDUAL STUDENT AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REPRESENT THE 
VIEWS OF EITHER THE MARINE CORPS COMMAND AND STAFF COLLEGE OR ANY 
OTHER GOVERNMENTAL AGENCY. REFERENCES TO THIS STUDY SHOULD 
INCLUDE THE FOREGOING STATEMENT. 

QUOTATION FROM, ABSTRACTION FROM, OR REPRODUCTION OF ALL OR ANY 
PART OF THIS DOCUMENT IS PERMITTED PROVIDED PROPER 
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT IS MADE. 



Tlie services define a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (ITAC) as “a qualified (certified) 

Service member who, from a forward position, directs the action of combat aircraft engaged in 

[Close Air Support] CAS and other air operations.” ^ In Marine units, this individual is the link 

between the ground commander and supporting aircraft, and can authorize the release of aircraft 

ordnance as approved by the commander. This Marine must be capable of rapid, creative, 

unsupervised, independent action and able to keep track of many tasks at the same time. The 

new Commandant’s guidance includes the following statement: 

“We will better educate and train our Marines to succeed in distributed operations and 
increasingly complex environments. We will invest more in the education of our NCOs 
and junior officers, as they have assumed vastly greater responsibilities 
in both combat and garrison.”^ 

The 2011 Force Stnicture Review Group (FSRG) recommends “revising our manpower 
assignment policies and training tracks to increase the skills and maturity of our junior leaders, 
particularly within our infantry squads and fire support teams’’.^ Ongoing contingency 
operations have demonstrated the critical need for well-trained JTACs to facilitate ground/ air 
integration. Civilian casualty incidents involving aircraft and JTACs have had theater- or 
strategic-level implications. The increasing complexity of the battlefield. Enhanced Company 
Operations, and future fiscal austerity indicate the requirement for a primai 7 JTAC Military 
Occupation^ Specialty. 

Several billets have equivalent responsibilities for terminal control of air-delivered 
ordnance. All four seiwices have JTACs, most of which are enlisted. Marine aviators and Naval 
Flight Officers (NFOs) are called Forwar'd Air Controllers (FACs) after qualifying in the same 
training syllabus, which is called Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) school. ■ The Maiine TACP 
school is a four week course attended primarily by mid-grade 0-3 aviators, E-5 or E-6 and some 



2 


0-3 artillery forward observers. Each infantry battalion receives thi'ee FACs, two of whom work 
at the company level and one who serves as the Air Officer at the battalion Fire Support 
Coordination Center (FSCC). Some tactical aircraft squadrons qualify crews as a Forward Air 
Controller (Airborne), or FAC(A). Joint Fires Obseiwers are personnel normally qualified to 
observe artillery fires who receive additional training to provide tai'geting information to JTACs 
who are not in position to observe a certain tai-get ai'ea. The primai-y means of tracking controller 
experience is with a control, which “consists of at least one aircraft (fixed/rotary wing) attacking 
a surface tai’get. The control begins with a CAS brief, also known as the “ 9-Line Briefing”... 
from a JTAC and ends with either an actual/simulated weapons release or an abort on a final 
attack run. No more than two controls can be counted per CAS briefing per target”.''^ The JTAC 
Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) requii'es twelve controls for initial qualification, and six live 
controls every six months for currency, including three fixed-wing, one night, and one live 
ordnance control (which can count concurrently). JTACs may log two controls every six months 
in approved simulators, making a minimum of only eight controls per year which must be actual 
aircraft.^ Training syllabi also include simulator events. 

The JTAC must have both flexible thinking and broad procedural knowledge to handle an 
amount and variety of aircraft he has probably never faced before in haining. An example of the 
complexity of cuiTent CAS operations occurred at Combat Outpost Keating in northeast 
Afghanistan on October 3,2009. Nineteen aircraft sorties dropped ordnance on 300 Taliban 
attacking the outpost. After initial enemy contact, conti'ol agencies vectored aircraft to the tai'get 
area until ten fighters, two helicopters, and a B-1 bomber were on station at once. The JTAC 
was 20 miles away and coordinated via airborne relay from one of the fighters overhead, while 
getting targeting coordinates from personnel on the COP. There were at least two instances of 



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jets accepting incorrect target coordinates and one of the fighters acting as a Tactical Air 
Coordinator (Airborne) aborting them prior to bomb release. Several flights checked off-station 
to refuel, with only some returning afterwai'ds. A thunderstorm passing through the area 
required akcraft to change stack altitudes, and obscured the ground at times limiting the possible 
ordnance and targeting methods used, with some flights having to drop bombs through the 
clouds without seeing the target.*’ Especially in a counterinsurgency environment where 
sustained contacts are relatively rare, a fight of this magnitude tends to draw all available aircraft 
to that vicinity. A JTAC on the outpost itself likely would have resulted in a faster engagement. 

Historical examples show the difficulty of the terminal conti'ol of CAS ah'craft. Vietnam 
OV-10 FAC(A)s remarked on the tendency of both CAS pilots and the ground chain of 
command to blame poor performance on the FAC(A), and that the FAC(A) often had no 
“wingnian” to assist. Often the ground element didn’t know exactly where it was due to the 
jungle, and CAS fighters had little awai'eness of the ground force either, but were only trying to 
hit the FAC(A)‘s smoke mark. A new FAC(A) described being completely overwhelmed on his 
first ti'ainmg mission in-countiy, although there was no ground force and only thi'ee CAS 
fighters. When the inshuctor took over and demonstrated the rest of the sortie,'he stated that he 
had been controlling “every single day since I got here”, and that “experience alone is not going 
to make you any good over here unless you were good to start with”.® It is reasonable to assume 
drat during most of a year the instmctor would accumulate 200-300 controls at a minimum. One 
FAC(A) who was relieved of duty after poor performance remarked “The problem is if I do 
something wrong here. I’m going to end up hurting somebody else”.'° 

The vast range of employment options and gear available today require a more 
experienced terminal controller than the Marine Corps had prior to 9/11. JTAC equipment and 



4 


employment techniques have proliferated in the last ten years. JTACs must be proficient with 
three or four different radios, Falconview navigation software, the Precision Strike Suite for 
Special Operations Forces (PSS-SOF) imagery program for targeting GPS weapons, video 
downlinks, laser designators, GPS-coupled rangefinders, several infrai'ed pointers, and Gridded 
Reference Graphic techniques, in addition to standai'd map and compass skills. Aircraft weapons 
still include unguided and laser-guided bombs, rockets, and guns of various sizes, but now 
include GPS-guided bombs of predictable and unpredictable trajectories, and missiles with 
various guidance types and warheads. Assorted aircraft targeting pods have different 
combinations of laser designators, infrai-ed pointers, laser spot trackers, and coordinate 
generation capability. Not only does this equipment require greater background knowledge and 
specific techniques to use, but the JTAC must adapt and execute myriad degraded branch plans 
when any of his equipment, or the aircraft equipment, malfunctions. Advanced technology 
creates more options, but does not eliminate the requirement to be able to revert to Vietnam-era 
tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). 

Studies in behavioral psychology indicate that a fast, creative, thinker has some innate 
traits, but also needs time to develop their knowledge base. Expert decision-making consists of 
both reacMiig a solution quickly, and being able to synthesize a solution for a problem that has 
not been seen before. One study suggests that some individuals are inherently more able to deal 
with a complex multitasking environment.” Another suggests that expertise is based directly on 
depth of knowledge, which experts access rapidly in a self-regulating manner that appeal's 
intuitive. This study further observes that novices across many unrelated disciplines require 
baselines of procedures as “scaffolds” for mformation.'^ 



5 


Studies of commercial aircraft crews reveal the true nature of multitasking. There ai'e 
many parallels to JTACs controlling aircraft in a complex environment. Procedures and 
checklists attempt to create lockstep operations, but an actual complex environment is semi- 
predictable (“tasks and events cannot all be exactly anticipated”) and semi-controllable 
(“Initiation of tasks is not entirely under... [JTAC] control”). Repetition of tasks can create 
familiarity and speed by making parts of the process operate without conscious thought, as when 
more experienced pilots devote less conscious attention to flight control movements than a 
novice. Some tasks do require conscious thought: “1. when the task is novel, 2. when the task is 
perceived to be critical, difficult, or dangerous, 3. When a habitual ...response to a situation must 
be overridden to respond in an atypical way, and 4. to choose among competing goals or 
activities...”.''^ By these criteria, a JTAC is operating at the conscious processing level for most 
tasks. Errors during complex operations occur in four typical situations: “1. inteiTirptions and 
distractions, 2. tasks that cannot be executed in the nomial, practiced sequence of procedures, 3. 
unanticipated new tasks that arise, and 4. multiple tasks that must be interleaved.” Most of 
these situations arise on any JTAC control, thus terminal control is an exhemely dynamic and 
error-prone evolution. People multitask by doing single tasks in the appropriate sequence and 
switching between them at the appropriate time. Switching tasks at the appropriate time, and 
then remembering to switch back to finish the first item, are tasks in themselves and take up 
mental processing power. The study notes that checklists or monitoring by another crew 
member are the most effective safeguai'ds against errors in a complex, time-sensitive task. Each 
new control introduces a slightly different problem that the JTAC has not seen before. There is a 
vast number of permutations of aircraft type and number, ordnance and guidance peculiaiities, 
available fuel, available time, stack position, ground scheme of maneuver and tempo, Rules Of 



6 

Engagement restrictions, and weather. Instead of applying a known procedure as in an artillery 
call-for-fire, the JTAC must develop a creative solution based on experience and developed 
schema (mental templates) and heuristic rules-of-thumb. 

JTACs were a key component in the overthi'ow of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. 
Some Air Force JTACs attached to Special Operations Forces early in OFF conducted 10 to 30 
controls per day for almost a month prior to the fall of the Taliban. Only a few months later, 
poor CAS planning occurr'ed during Operation Anaconda, a deliberate assault on the Shahi Kot 
valley. Lack of coordination measures and late involvement of air planners resulted in multiple 
JTACs requesting fires in a small target ar'ea with little deconfliction. 

The USMC had few non-aviator JTACs prior to OIF I.^^’ As OIF continued, the 
recognition that two company-level Foi'war’d Air Conti'ollers per battalion was inadequate caused 
the Marine Corps to add a JTAC additional MOS for ground-comb at-arms Staff NCOs and 
officers. Infantry units attempted to get TACP school quotas on an ad hoc basis. Washout rates 
at TACP school were high, due to lack of experience and training rather than basic personal 
deficiencies. Personnel who did graduate were often small unit leaders who had other 
responsibilities besides terminal control. There is-still a significant amount of wasted resources 
due to failure, as stated in a 2010 study: “Failure rates are now approximately 10 percent. 

Training costs are estimated at approximately $500,000 per student for the four-week 
qualification course.”'* 

The USMC adjusted the JTAC progi'am considerably in the last three years. The new ^ 
structure recognizes that the same person should not execute the responsibilities of a small-unit 
leader and a JTAC. Most JTAC billets will now reside in the artillery regiments to improve 
centralized training. The 2012 artillery regiment Table of Organization (T/0) calls for a liaison 



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element with thi'ee qualified E-5 or E-6 JTACs and nine Joint Fires- Observers (JFOs), which 
will join each infantry battalion prior to deployment. This sriucture allows for a JTAC or FAC 
with each infantry company, and a JFO with each platoon. The JTACs hold a secondary 8002 
MOS and retain their 0861 (artillery foiw/ard observer) primary MOS. The artillery liaison chief 
is another E-6 who also holds the JTAC MOS but is not necessarily cuiTent. The liaison chief 
typically travels with the battalion FSCC and has primary responsibilities for artillery 
coordination, but could possibly provide some assistance to, and gain experience from, the 
battalion Air Officer. 

Each artillery battalion has an E-7 prior JTAC who is also the JTAC evaluator and 
primai-y trainer. The artillery Regii-nental Air Officer shop is the focal point of training for non- 
deployed JTACs, and includes one E-8 JTAC on a three year tour to assist with training 
management. Ideally, each 0861 serves In a thi'ee year JTAC billet as an E-5 or E-6, so that any 
E-7 or higher continuing to serve has JTAC experience.Second company-level JTAC tours 
will be “extremely limited”. Given a typical cai'eer path with one or two 3-year billets outside 
the MOS, the primai'y ti'ainer at an artillery battalion will likely do only one prior tour as a 
company JTAC, and in the post-OEF environment may only do one deployment as a JTAC. 

This method of spreading JTAC experience in most 0861s facilitates broad artillery community 
experience but will not concentr'ate training to produce the required level of expertise for 
Erilranced Company Operations. 

TACP schools added a fourth week to the course in 2005, reflecting increased complexity 
of the CAS environment. The newly revised TACP syllabus contains 14 live controls augmented 
by approximately 21 simulated controls during the 1000-level JTAC qualification, conforming to 
the inter-service JTAC Memorandur-n of Agreement (MOA). Controllers require additional 



8 


2000-level ti'aining before they are considered Combat Ready and designated a Marine TAG 
(MTAC) or Marine FAC (MFAC). The 2000-level lists about 14 simulator controls, and several 
specific skills train to with live aircraft as assets become available. The training progi'am nests 
the minimum required joint MOA currency controls into the 2000-level. By not designating 
FACs/ JTACs as “Combat Ready” until after most 2000-level events are complete, the Marine 
Corps confirms that post-TACP school training prior to combat deployments is essential. Pre¬ 
deployment training at the Enhanced Mojave Viper exercise should result in completion of most 
of the 2000-level events, although trainers there suggest that many JTACs ai'e still not 
completing 2000-level training prior to deploying. Live events that are listed as optional, but 
not requked for either MTAC or MFAC Combat Ready certification, include difficult and likely 
events: day and night landing zone control, and multiple section integration. These events are 
optional due to the difficulty of scheduling assets, but do leave experience gaps in Combat Ready 
JTACs if they are not completed. Several events that ai'e required for FAC Combat Ready 
training, but not for JTACs, such as airspace management, FAC(A) integration, and unmanned 
aircraft integration,^'’ indicate that the JTAC role is slanted towai'ds lower-level execution and is 
not expected to be proficient at some higher-level planning and coordination functions. 

Since the first year of a new JTAC’s tour is likely spent in TACP school and then 
finishing up the 2000-level syllabus, he is very much in a student status for much of his three 
year tour. The training syllabus provides a baseline of knowledge, but several events take more 
experience to get good at. Relatively new JTACs tend to have difficulty in several specific areas. 
A troops-in-contact situation usually doesn’t allow for detailed planning, and aviation fires are 
needed quickly. The standard in the training manual for most 2000-level events is 15 minutes 
from aircraft check-in until issuing the nine-line brief, which is often too slow to support a 



9 


rapidly developing situation. When there ai'e two or more adrcraft elements in the same tai'get 
area it is the JTAC’s responsibility to deconfiict them. Newer JTACs often ignore one flight for 
extended periods while talking to another, especially when flights airive and depart at different 
times. The JTAC should get unmanned aircraft out of the way of falling bombs, and definitely 
needs to get them out of the way of a diving manned aircraft. Transport helicopters in the tai'get 
area force the JTAC to coordinate their approaches with CAS aircraft attacks. Maneuvering 
ground forces change the allowable fires geometry, and a targeting solution that worked as little 
as one or two minutes ago may be inappropriate. 

How many conti'ols constitutes proficiency? The author noted a jump in confidence and 
better ability to improvise after approximately 50-60 controls spread over at least 4 or 5 training 
events, based on FAC(A) training with already experienced pilots new to joint FAC(A) 
procedures. The Army’s Ranger Regiment trainers desire between 40 and 75 controls before 
even initiating JTAC qualification.^^ Mai'ine “Playboy” FAC(A)-equivalent crews in Vietnam 
also had a strict qualification program: 

“.Normally, 10 strikes were controlled under snpei-vision of a designated TAC(A) as a 

precondition for qualification by the 1st [Marine Aircraft Wing]. Though it may have 
seemed that the TAC(A) designation was too jealously guai'ded, it was this adherence to 
high standai’ds that was the lifeblood of an effective program. It took some crewmen as 
many as 30 Playboy missions to accrue 10 sti'ike control evolutions. 

Ten strikes probably resulted in at least 50-60 individual controls. Another experienced 

instiuctor believes it takes more than a year after initial schooling for a JTAC to develop some 

proficiency and credibility witlrin a unit.^^ 

JFOs are typically E-3s or E-4s, and ai'e the main feeder population for new JTACs. 

With the organization of one JFO per platoon and one JTAC per company, the Marine Coi-ps 
requires roughly one-thh'd of JFO-qualified personnel to fill the JTAC pool as they advance in 




10 


rank and experience. The JFO syllabus contains academic insti’uction and seven training events 
in the simulator for qualification, with another 15 simulator and four live aircraft events after 
qualification in the 2000-level syllabus. The formal JFO agreement encourages but does not 
mandate any live aircraft events. While some JFOs will self-select out of JTAC ti-aining due to 
their end of service, there are still several candidates to choose from for each JTAC billet. These 
students are currently evaluated based on their entry-level ability to perform what will be a very 
complex skill set. 

How is the Marine Coi-ps selecting the most capable JTAC ti-ainees? Initial screening of 
the entry-level 0861 and follow-on screening as an E-4 after some JFO experience should 
provide a better picture of JTAC candidates than we currently acquire. Several experienced 
ti'ainers have made comments to the effect of “Some guys just get it, and some guys never 
will”.” This indicates a failure to properly select personnel before expending resources on 
advanced training. Trainers proposed a standai'dized enfr*y-level JTAC test at least as far back as 
2005.^° Similar tests assist in selecting aviation students. The cuiTent selector is a minimum 
General Technical (GT) score, although other Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery 
(ASVAB) elements may be predictive: “The ASVAB CL [Clerical] score appears to be a good 
indicator that could be used to compliment the ASVAB GT score, just because of the high 
number of Marines that had a CL score of 102 or greater. The TACP community could consider 
adding a minimum ASVAB CL score as well.”^' The key element of a JTAC selection test 
should be the ability to multitask. This involves qualities such as selective attention, short term 
memoiy, and deferred attention. One study concluded that working memoiy is predictive of 
individuals who ai'e good at multitasking, along with fluid intelligence.^” FAA screening tests 
for Air Traffic Controllers identify the ability to pay attention to many aircraft at once.^^ A 



11 


standardized test called SynWin test allows flexible measuring of multitasking ability without 
having a specific knowledge base.^"^ Experienced FACs and FAC(A)s such as those in the 
MAWTS-1 Air Officer Department could take the test to establish a baseline score. Individuals 
outside the aitillery and reconnaissance communities could also take a standai'dized mental 
capacity test, increasing the available pool of JTAC candidates. Radio operators and Direct Air 
Support Center (DASC) personnel are possible JTAC candidates due to some skill rtansfer.^^ 
Combining an entiy-level selection process with an incentive bonus requires a JTAC primai 7 

'^C 

MOS, as bonuses are typically targeted towards a primary MOS. 

A common anecdotal argument states that assault support pilots (from CH-53, CH-46, 
MV-22, and ICC-130 backgrounds) have minimal required skill sets as a terminal controller, thus 
are no better suited to this job than TACP-trained ground personnel. Having observed several 
assault support pilots who are successful FACs, the author argues that it is their multitasking 
ability that makes them successful. A behavioral study of JTAC qualities states “ Aviators are 
exhaustively screened for specific KSAs [key skill areas] that translate naturally to duties FACs 
perform. Such KSAs include spatial abilities, visualization, mental geometry, reasoning, mental 
math, and the ability to quickly process a great deal of information in a rapidly changing 
envh'onment,” These pilots have also been training in aviation communication cadence and 
tliree-dimensional airspace deconfliction for at least three years before their FAC tour. In this 
case the assault support pilot has been training in these skills at least as long an E-5 JTAC trainee 
has been preparing fire support knowledge. 

Comparison to other service JTACs shows differences in their training programs. The 
US Army’s Ranger Regiment has a program to train its own JTACs. The timeline is longer than 
the USMC program. E-4s become JFO qualified, and new E-5s attend the Joint Firepower 



12 


Control Course (elements of which ai’e rolled into the USMC TACP school). Trainers see JFO 
and JFCC schools as refresher training rather than a separate needed capability. From thi’ee to 
five years time in service, each prospective JTAC gets practice controls during exercises. A 
senior E-5 with approximately five years in fire support billets and 40-75 training controls is sent 

on 

to a formal JTAC qualification course. While there are more opportunities for live training 
events in the Rangers, the typical student at a JTAC-producing school has two more years of 
experience and many more live training evolutions prior to school, compared to a USMC trainee. 

Air Force JTACs have a primary MOS, but the service emphasizes combined-aiiTis 
engagements less than the USMC. Most USAF trainees do not train with actual indirect fire 
assets during qualification.^® One h'ainer noted that many qualified USAF JTACs newly 
assigned to Army Ranger units are overwhelmed with multiple aircraft elements and integration 
with indirect fire,'*° showing a simpler approach to h'aining in the USAF schools. Upon 
assignment to an Air Support Operations Squadron, USAF trainees require approximately thi'ee 
years to become JTAC-qualified. After entry-level school, the trainee is assigned to a JTAC for 
approximately two years as his radio operator. Progression at this point is dependent on the 
skills and capability of the supeiwising JTAC. The training emphasis is on operating 
autonomously, and USAF JTACs are expected to plan at any level up to division, besides 
directly controlling for a platoon- or company-size unit. Initial JTAC qualification is typically as 
an E-4. Many JTACs are still assigned to Special Forces A-teams as E-7s. Since only one Air 
Force pilot is assigned to an Army infantry battalion as an Air Liaison Officer (instead of three 
aviators in Marine units), enlisted controllers frequently fill AirO responsibilities, often as a 
break from controlling in forward ai*eas. Sustained contingency operations since 2001 have also 
necessitated qualifying USAF JTACs with less experience.'*’ Over time the Air Liaison Officer 



13 


program became less robust, as Air Force pilots do not have the initial mfanti 7 -centered 
schooling of Maiine pilots, and many fly aircraft that have no interaction with ground units. By 
making the Air Liaison Officer a primaiy non-pilot career field in 2010, the Air Force has kept 
officers in the AirO-equivalent billet longer, but decreased the cross-pollination between USAF 
pilots and Army infantiy units. USAF JTACs rotate into the Adr Support Operations Center, a 
rough equivalent of the USMC Direct Air Support Center (DASC). A similar program could 
create avenues for billets outside the artillery regiments for USMC JTACs to rotate into and gain 
“big picture” aircraft routing and plamiing experience, and qualify DASC Marines into the JTAC 
MOS if the aitillery community encounters a personnel shortage or retention problem. 

Simulators ai'e a key component of USMC JTAC haining. TACP school, the follow-on 
2000-level syllabus, and proficiency training all emphasize simulator events. Simulator 
operators believe that simulator events prior to a formal TACP course increase understanding 
and performance at the formal course, although it is difficult to quantify the value of the 
simulator versus an actual aircraft control. Obseiwations by simulator instructors after initial 
TACP school indicate a substantial spectmm of individual proficiency during 2000-level events. 
No simulation is perfect, but it is usually possible to run more of a given mission in a certain 
time, to freeze the simulation, or restait an event if the student manifests problems.'^" Rehearsing 
radio communications and procedures before a similar live event is the greatest benefit of 
simulators.^^ Studies in recent WTI classes indicated that this rehearsal resulted in faster live 
engagements versus not using simulators at all.'^ This is effective for baseline training, but 
simulating a combat control shortly before execution is unlikely due to many unknowns. The 
simulator, especially the domed vaiiety, looks impressive, but the real value is the instimctor, not 
the simulator itself The JTAC is usually not co-located with his Air Officer in a dispersed. 



14 


deployed scenario. Without an experienced instructor, the simulation does not enhance student 
learning. The JTAC just goes through the motions. 

The much larger number of JTACs forces tighter conh-ol of available aviation assets."^^ 
Proactive units will get more training, but overall there is less opportunity for JTACs to get large 
amounts of controls. With the T/0 due to take effect in 2012, there will be a total of 547 
JTAC/FAC billets (including 285 JTACs), an increase from 260 FAC billets before OIF 
This increase in JTACs has requned the USMC to contract Gaining aircraft using inert bombs to 
fill some training control requirements.Pressure to not source more than twelve, or even eight, 
actual conti'ols per JTAC per yeai- (the sunk cost of maintaining the program) will grow with 
looming budget cuts. Each new JTAC and most FAC billets require at least 20 controls during 
the first yeai' (initial qualification plus the desired 2000-level Combat Ready training). If the 
JTAC receives only the minimum live control opportunities, he is fully qualified and current 
during his three-yeai‘ tenure with only 30 live controls (fourteen initial conti'ols at TACP school, 
plus eight for cuirency during the other two yeai's), plus simulated controls. With a 1:2 dwell 
ratio where each Mai'ine deploys one-third of the time, the USMC will get one deployment out of 
tills JTAC at a point where he is established, confident, and capable of acting independently. 
Longer tour lengths will increase overall proficiency, and reduce TACP school requirements. 
Maintaining continuous JTAC currency for six years instead of three years avoids half of the 
current JTAC TACP school seats and re-prioritizes approximately $24 million per year in 
support costs (at $500,000 per school seat). Using the cuiTent personnel model of one E-6 and 
two E-5 JTACs per deploying infanti-y battalion,"^^ mandating that the E-6 is a second-tour JTAC 
leverages the three years of experience he gained in his first billet. Feeding some qualified 
JTACs into Air/ Naval Gunfire Liaison Companies (ANGLICOs) or Maiine Special Operations 



15 

Command (MARSOC) units for a second JTAC tour maintains diversity of assignments and 
eases gaining requirements for the gaining unit. MARSOC assignment policies cuii'ently allow 
JTACs to stay there for five year's, creating much greater experience and proficiency than at an 
ai'tillery regiment.'*^ 

Enhanced MAGTF Operations also dictate a more experienced JTAC with more than 
three year's “on the radio”. This concept increases distance between companies in an infantry 
battalion. The battalion operates in a radius up to 165 nautical miles (NM), and the company up 
to 15NM.^° Line-of-sight VHF-FM tactical radios can typically reach less than 15NM.^' As an 
Air Officer, the author typically monitored aircraft UHF traffic at 30-40NM but man-portable 
radios often do not have sufficient transmitting power for two-way communication at this 
distance. Besides requesting aviation assets, the AirO’s other main function is to ensure that a 
company-level JTAC is not endangering adjacent companies with either proximity of impacts or 
fires geometry.^^ With a battalion in close proximity, most FSCCs practice positive approval of 
missions instead of silence-is-consent, and JTACs expect a positive “Mission is approved” from 
the Air Officer prior to authorizing release of ordnance. Distance may decrease these 
deconfliction requirements, and battalions can establish company-specific areas allowing for 
fires approval at the company level. However, another very useful function of the Air Officer 

CO 

involves “teamwork CAS”, described in 2004 after Operation A1 Fajr in Fallujah. By active 
listening on the JTAC’s frequency, the Air Officer can facilitate follow-on aircraft, observe 
downlinks that tlie JTAC may not have working, and derive precise target grids for GPS-guided 
weapons, which decreases the JTAC’s workload gi'eatly and serves as a check-and-balance on 
the JTAC who may be taking fire. There will certainly be a communication link between the 
JTAC and Air Officer if the range is too great for liiie-of-sight radio (SATCOM, high frequency 



16 


radio, or Internet chat), but the Air Officer loses much of the nuance of the JTAC/ aircraft 
interaction if he can’t listen directly. Many Ah Officers facilitated in this manner in Fallujah, 
Ramadi, and ongoing ops in OER Dispersing the infantry battalion beyond line-of-sight 
distance removes a very valuable backup pi'ocess, and requires a more experienced JTAC who 
needs less assistance, which second-tour JTAC experience at the company level facilitates. 

The concept embedded in the training manual where the Air Officer plans and the JTAC 
executes may not be feasible with Enhanced Company Operations. The Air Officer can function 
as a request conduit for dispersed companies, but may not offer detailed planning assistance if he 
has little familiarity with the local ai'ea. When a company commander wants to talk “air” he will 
look at the JTAC, and the JTAC needs to have the experience to plan as the single available 
representative. A 2008 joint OIF fact-finding trip report noted that USAF Senior Airmen [E-4] 
and Staff Sergeant [E-5] controllers assigned to Army units “...are generally unable to contribute 
significantly to ah/ground planning”. Debriefs from Enhanced Mojave Viper training events 
indicate that E-6 controllers ar’e more willing to speak frankly to an 0-3 company commander.^^ 

Recent after-action reviews from OEF operations already indicate the trend towar'ds 
Enhanced Company Operations. Operations showed a complex, kinetic environment with 
required integration of multiple air and ground assets in close proximity to friendly units. 

Reports from mid-2010 mentioned frequent mdirect fire integration with casualty evacuation 
helicopters landing at random point-of-injury zones, CAS attacks supporting casualty evacuation 
helicopters, control of blocks of airspace delegated from the DASC to infantry battalions, non- 
USMC diverted CAS aircraft (which negates the habitual relationship with USMC CAS), 
deconfliction of aircraft from guided and unguided cannon and rocket-artillery, and JFO 
integration. The company FAC or JTAC often operated from a company FSCC instead of 



17 


moving on pati'ols, due to the great number of squad-sized patrols and outposts.^® In this 
paradigm the JTAC has to take on many roles of the theoretically more experienced Air Officer, 
manage multiple contacts at once, and deconflict aircraft, mortars, and artillery in his battlespace. 
This kinetic counterinsurgency environment required similar JTAC skills to those needed for 
more conventional, forcible-entry operations (as called for by the “two-fisted fighter” concept). 

The OEF environment has several advantages over future theaters. Units can spend their 
entire workup period slanting their training towards particular temain, and ideally train with at 
least some of their supporting aviation units. Updates and turnover with the outgoing unit can 
happen months in advance, allowing a high level of prepai'ation. JTACs in theater now ai-e 
talking to aircraft much more frequently than they will in a post-OEF training environment, in 
effect making up some of the pre-deployment haining deficit in theater in a way that will not be 
possible for future pop-up contingencies. These attributes may allow individual success at a 
‘certain level of competency where a brand-new area would not. 

The use of the aitilleiy liaison chief as the senior infan try battalion JTAC probably would 
have worked well in haq where most units were located in or around dense urban ar-eas and the 
use of artillery was limited. In conU'ast, OEF, with its more dispersed rural population, split 
artillery battery operations, and widespread fielding of precision artillery rounds such as 
Excalibur, affords more opportunities to employ artillery in its traditional role. The experience 
of a prior JTAC as the artillery liaison chief is valuable, but artillery liaison dirties will limit his 
ability to assist or trade-out with the battalion Ah Officer or mentor dispersed company-level 
JTACs. Split-battery operations or the requirement to put liaison teams at multiple company 
positions will further reduce the ability of the liaison chief to mentor JTACs, and further increase 
the necessity for artillerymen to become experts in artillery duties at earlier ranks. 



18 


Several considerations could create stress on the aviator population, reduce the pool of 
available aviators to turn into FACs, and increase the need for experienced JTACs. The Mai'ine 
Coips fields an entire new generation of aircraft, including the UH-IY/AH-IZ, KC-130J, MV- 
22, and F-35, before 2020. The aircraft ai*e generally more complex and more expensive to fly. 
While simulators will be widely available, it is reasonable to suppose that more complex aircraft 
will take longer to master and there will be pressure to keep aviators in squadrons longer on their 
first tour. AH-lWs will be taken out of service for the rest of the decade to be remanufactured 
into AH-lZs, decreasing the AH-Is available for CAS training and JTAC controls, and 
increasing the time needed to train new AH-1 pilots to a given level of proficiency. Fleet 
Replacement Squadrons and program offices for the AH-IW, UH-IN, F/A-18, EA-6B, and AV- 
8B will remain in place at the same time newer aircraft squadrons are standing up, creating 
additional pressure on aviator staffing. Tire training squadrons for new aircraft ai'e a sunk cost 
for the inid-2010s regardless of budget cutbacks or new program delays. Especially with the F- 
35 it is likely that pilots will remain at the squadrons longer to build community experience, 
decreasing F-35 FAC tours for the first several years of that program. One trainer remai'ked that 
the F-35 expense and capabilities will both change JTAC TTPs and decrease training sortie 
availability.'^^ NFO accessions started to decrease in FY 09 from 35 per year to zero by 2018.'^® 
Remaining NFOs (especially F/A-18D) may get pushed to FAC tours but the long-term trend is 
towai'ds fewer available. One of the current light/ attack squadrons converted from a Reserve 
squadron that was already heavily involved in CAS sorties for active-duty JTAC training, so the 
net increase in CAS sorties from this squadrons is not as great as it appears. The single-seat AV- 
8B and F/A-18C FAC(A) programs have created additional sortie di'aw against available JTAC 
sorties. It is likely that this requirement will cany over into the F-35. JTAC qualification of 




19 


Unmanned Aerial Vehicle mission commanders further increases competition for CAS training 
sorties. The 2011 FSRG cut 3 infantry battalions, but added an ANGLICO company and 
increased MARSOC endsti'ength, so demand for JTACs will likely not decrease.^® Planned new 
pilot accessions are virtually unchanged from FY 09 to FY 18 (323 to 344), showing that cuiTent 
additional squadrons mostly come from efficiencies in pilot billets, and may decrease again with 
the FSRG results.The 2011 FSRG recommends disbanding nine flying squadrons while 
shrinking to 186,600 Marines, versus the current 202,000 Marine plan.®^ Many unknowns remain 
regarding future budget cuts, but these will likely contribute towai'ds either a smaller population 
of available pilots or sending less experienced ones to FAC billets. 

There ai’e some cons to creating a primary MOS for JTACs. The generally accepted 
“critical mass” to make a primai-y MOS is 300 personnel, whereas the cuirent number of JTAC 
billets in the 2012 T/0 is 285. The total 0861 population after increases to support JTACs is 
approximately 800 by FY 14,*^^ indicating that fencing off a separate primai*y MOS of 
approximately 300 is possible while maintaining a viable 0861 MOS (especially since some 
JTACs would come from the 0321 reconnaissance MOS instead of detracting from the 0861s). 
Creating an acceptable career progression “pyramid” is also a consideration.^^ Since it is current 
practice to have an 0-3 FAC at the company level, there shouldn’t be a reason not to have an E-7 
as either tire liaison chief or even a company JTAC. There are additional senior billets that 
would further facilitate a JTAC cai'eer path. The Assistant Air Officer for each MEU is currently 
an 0-3 who is also the Maritime Raid Force FAC, but this billet could be filled by an E-7. The 
five standing Marine Expeditionary Brigade headquarters mentioned in the 2011 FSRG report 
could also use an E-7 or E-8 as the Assistant Air Officer. Additional E-7s or E-8s as TACP 
school instructors, and E-9s with the Division FSCCs and Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics 



20 


Squadron 1 are further appropriate senior JTAC billets. Q-eating a primary MOS also makes 
JTACs available for tasking to non-MOS billets, however Marines do these anyway for 
promotion eligibility, and even if a disproportionate share of non-JTAC 0861s were tasked to 
non-MOS billets, there would be regular 0861 billets that JTACs would probably need to fill. 

A primai-y JTAC MOS demonstrates the importance of the skill to the Marine Corps. 
With the slower operational tempo after OEF, it is likely that a.JTAC will take most or all his 
three year tour gaining broad experience, but will not return that experience to the Marine Corps 
as an expert at the company level where it is needed. A second tour “on tire radio” at the 
company level maximizes tire USMC’s return on investment and sets the individual up with 
broad knowledge for the E-7 and E-8 trainer tours. A downsizing Marine Corps will allow 
selective retention of more capable individuals. The current proliferation of procedures and the 
complex, kinetic environment, coupled with increasing dispersion of units, require an individual 
who can creatively plan aird execute in a multitude of situations. 



21 


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22 


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23 


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24 


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