NAMEST, Czech Republic - Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) from seven nations participating in the multinational live exercise Ample Strike go through theatre-realistic scenarios to keep their skill set current and readily available for potential missions.
"Excellent physical fitness, a cool head, superior English language skills and a perfect overview of the battlefield - this is only a fraction of what every JTAC has to bring to the fight. Their main task is to support ground units in calling in air support to engage targets in highly-efficient precision strikes," said JTAC instructor Lieutenant M.C. from 22nd Helicopter Base Náměšť nad Oslavou. "JTACs are responsible for allocated airspace and for everything that flies in it; basically, they are ground-based air traffic control right on the battlefield," he added.
Their main task is to support ground units in calling in air support to engage targets in highly-efficient precision strikes
The main means of communication are radios used to communicate with the supported commander, aircraft, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles and indirect fire weapon systems. An integral part of the equipment of each instructor are positioning devices to determine the exact position of the target during day, night and in poor weather conditions. Their kit also includes night vision goggles, GPS, target marking devices or video downlink (VDL).
Czech Gripens supported the training providing close air support to JTACs on the ground. Photo courtesy of the Czech Air Force.
Czech JTAC team relays target information ready to call in fire support during Exercise Ample Strike 21. Photo courtesy of Czech Air Force.
The VDL system is installed in aircraft containers called PODs that are carried on fighter jets like the Czech JAS-39 Gripen or unmanned aerial systems such as the US MQ-9 Reaper. The JTAC on the ground is linked into the system to see the situation on the ground from the aircraft's perspective.
"This modern technology makes our work more efficient," said the Lieutenant. "However, we must still be able to use the basics like maps and compasses. They can't break, you'll never run out of battery power on these and you always have them on hand. They don't weigh a lot and I wouldn't go without them.
JTACs also work with ground forces specialists such as the Joint Fires Observers (JFOs) and target acquisition and reconnaissance experts. Simply put, they are the JTACs' eyes that provide orientation on the battlefield.
we are able to relay target information to the supported commander, who will decide on the possible method of destruction, such as air force, elements of indirect fire or organic weapons
"As part of the exercise, the JTACs perform Close Air Support (CAS) tasks in cooperation with the ground forces specialists of all participating nations. We pass on target information and coordinate indirect air support, and we "mark" targets during night missions, "added Superintendent Jakub Hudeček, JFO from the 132nd Artillery Division. "Thanks to our equipment, we are able to relay target information to the supported commander, who will decide on the possible method of destruction, such as air force, elements of indirect fire or organic weapons," explains his senior target acquisition specialist Sergeant J.B. from the 4th Rapid Deployment Brigade.
However, ground force specialists have no means to control air on the battlefield or to task air strikes; only JTACs can do that and are therefore an important interface in Close Air Support and air-to-ground missions.
What is common to all three specialties is the basic skillset that ranges from excellent knowledge of communication procedures, topography and the English language. They use so-called nine-liners and codes to communicate with the pilots. "One example for such a code is the term playtime - playtime 40 minutes describes the timeframe a pilot can support us," said Lieutenant M.C. "The work of a JTAC is very demanding in all directions and not everyone is suitable for this position. It is a very responsible job, and you have to keep a cool head, because even under fire you must constantly be aware of where your unit is, but also where the opponent is," he concluded.