Forward Air Controllers in Action: Saving Colleagues or Navigating Towards a Target in a City

 25. 07. 2020      category: Army of the Czech Republic

Forward Air Controllers represent the eyes for artillerists and pilots of combat machines. They can, with perfect accuracy, guide aircraft, helicopters and artillerymen to the targets to be destroyed. They must also be able to help a wounded colleague. This was also a part of the training of the JTAC unit in Náměšť last week.

The soldiers have completed CLS (Combat Life Saver) training, which focuses on providing extended first aid in combat. This knowledge is crucial for Forward Air Controllers:  They are a desired target for the enemy and the probability of them getting wounded is therefore higher than for other units.

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Picture: Transporting the wounded into a helicopter | army.cz

Realistic training is necessary

The comprehensive medical training took place under the baton of CLS instructors from the Training Center of the 71st Mechanized Battalion Hranice. They found themselves in the role of instructors, observers and evaluators of the performances. The soldiers from Hranice appreciated the possibility to train with Forward Air Controllers: "The soldiers of our unit trained drills at a higher medical level and experienced a relatively real situation, which again shifted them to a more realistic perception of a possible combat situation," said the chief instructor of the VC 71st Mechanized Battalion, Lieutenant General Michal Pluhař about the cooperation with the unit of advanced Forward Air Controllers (Joint Terminal Attack Controller, JTAC).

boj-v-budovePicture: Combat in a building | army.cz

Members of the support company 225th Combat Support Squadron also made use of the training opportunity. Two Mi-171S helicopters took part in the training, whose five-member crews practised methods of close air support and removal of the wounded from the enemy zone, the so-called CASEVAC (Casualty Evacuation). Two weapon systems were placed on board each helicopter, which covered the ground units with training ammunition based on the instructions of individual Forward Air Controllers.

Combat in the city places high demands on the JTAC

In recent decades, the settings of combat operations have shifted to urban agglomerations, and training must adapt to this. The barracks buildings in Vícenice were ideal spaces to practise these tactics.

"One of the basic differences in the procedures of our unit’s member in a built-up area compared to open terrain is, for example, in the area of communication," says the commander of the JTAC unit. "We have to carefully consider where we will have to be in moments of radio communication and take into account connection outages. Simply put - without connection, we are not able to guide the aircraft to the destination."

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Picture: Treating the wounded on board of a helicopter | army.cz

Another pitfall lies in the enormous demands on the selection and use of aviation ammunition. "There is a much greater risk of collateral damage, so the Controller must evaluate what type of air ammunition should be used: For example, ammunition with delayed explosive reaction that explodes on the required floor of a building. Often, the whole situation takes place in the "danger close" mode, i.e. dangerously close to friendly units," he describes.

The spatial effect of the battlefield also plays an important role, as the enemy may suddenly appear in the windows or doors of high-rise buildings or literally around every corner. All this and many other aspects force the Forward Air Controller to make a flawless decision for the right type of air attack while pressed for time.

"The Forward Air Controller must consider the direction of attack in relation to the current position of friendly units and the enemy, but must also take into account, for example, the orientation of the streets and surrounding buildings. Only in this way can he/she effectively support the work of not only ground units, but also of the air crew and make the most of the aircraft's weapon system’s potential," said the commander of the advanced Forward Air Controllers unit.

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Picture: Soldier monitoring the security of his surroundings | army.cz

The unit of advanced Forward Air Controllers has existed since 2001 in the number of dozens of members and is deployed at Náměšť Airport. The main task of the advanced Forward Air Controller is to help the ground commander to harmonize the activities of the Air Force with other elements in combat in order to eliminate the enemy and protect their own units. During the years of its existence, it has climbed to be one of the top among similar units within NATO, and its members participate in a number of foreign operations of the Czech Army.