Instructor: More training needed in guiding bombs to targets
Stars and Stripes May 10, 2008
GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — The military should provide more hands-on training for soldiers who help guide aircraft’s bombs to their targets, according to an instructor from Spangdahlem Air Base’s Joint Fires Center of Excellence.
The center trains joint terminal attack controllers, called JTACS for short. JTACS are ground-based personnel who spot enemy targets and direct aircraft to bomb them. It also trains Joint Fires Observers, or JFOs, who are Army personnel who perform similar functions when a JTAC is not available on the ground, according to Staff Sgt. Larry Melton, an instructor with the center.
The JTACs get five weeks’ instruction including 10 days guiding real aircraft during bombing runs at Grafenwöhr Training Area. But the JFO training only lasts two weeks with just a day working with aircraft, he said.
“The JFO training is watered down JTAC training. I would like to see a third week added dedicated to what these (JTAC) guys have been doing this week (guiding aircraft on bombing runs at the training area)," he said.
The Air Force has a shortage of JTACs, which means such personnel are rarely with units outside the wire, added the 28-year-old Douglasville, Ga., native.
For example, when Melton was in Afghanistan in 2003 his unit was ambushed but did not have a JTAC assigned to it.
Because he had the most knowledge about calling in airstrikes, he coordinated close air support in the battle, which involved aircraft dropping a bomb that broke up the enemy attack and allowed a wounded soldier to be airlifted out, he said.
It is common for a JFO on the ground with a unit to use a radio to help a JTAC 20 miles away guide pilots to their target. The JFO can identify terrain features, buildings, vehicles and tell the pilot where the enemy is, Melton said.
“Nine times out of 10 the pilot wants to talk to the person on the ground directly,” he said.
Another instructor from the center, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nick Picoc, 29, of Ewa Beach, Hawaii, said close air support is the “latest craze downrange” because it is the quickest way to react to contact with the enemy.
“It is decisive, and we are even using it with UAVs,” or unmanned aerial vehicles, he said.
Picoc recalled an incident in which Air Force jets helped soldiers from 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Regiment (now 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment) defeat a complex ambush in Mosul, Iraq, in 2005.
“Four Strykers were surrounded on three sides with vehicles running in an out shooting mortars and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) at them. Within a minute we had F-18s overhead. They dropped two bombs and shot two or three mavericks (missiles) and they (the Strykers) were able to get out,” he said.
This week at Grafenwöhr, JTAC students have been training with Belgian F-16 jets and Apache attack helicopters from Company A, 3rd Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment.
One of the students, Senior Airman Ryan Brodton, 25, of Atlantic City, N.J., came to the course from Pope Air Force Base, N.C.
“It is a good way to integrate air power on the battlefield,” said Brodton, who expects to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan. “I could do more as a JTAC with a bunch of planes with bombs than a typical soldier could do with a weapon.
“I just think this is something that is the way of the future. We are not fighting wars like we used to. This is a big thing and it is the best way to maximize my effectiveness at war for my country.”