US Air Force: Tactical Air Control Parties (TACP)

Tactical Air Control Party TACP USAF
Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) (Photo: USAF)

USAF Tactical Air Control Parties (TACP) are teams of 2 or more Tactical Air Command and Control specialists (1C4X1) assigned to conventional Army units and Special Operations Forces. US Air Force Special Operations Forces, also known as Tactical Air Control Party (TACP), are Enlisted Terminal Attack Controllers (ETAC) who often work aligned with US Army Special Operations Forces, Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, Delta, and DEVGRU operators.

Role

The primary role of the TACP is to advise, assist and control the use of close air support assets. As a Forward Air Controller (FAC), the TACP calls in close air support in the form of bombs, missiles, rockets, and strafing fire from attack aircraft, sometimes near friendly ground units. The FAC role is carried by enlisted airmen known as Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs).

Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) operators during the training
Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) operators during the training (Photo: USAF)

The TACPs members also provide close air support/terminal guidance control for exercise and contingency operations, on a permanent and continuous basis, with a mission to increase the combat capability of the US Forces. Members of the TACP also provide additional expertise in Artillery, Naval Gunfire, and Attack Helicopters.

TACPs also pass on their expertise to other units and advise ground commanders on the use of airpower. This role is usually carried out by an Air Liaison Officer (ALO). ALOs are typically qualified USAF aviators.

TCAP five-fold mission is:

  • Support of US Army Special Operations Command, US Army Special Forces Command, John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, 1st, 3d, 5th, 7th and 10th Special Forces Groups, US Army Rangers, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Joint Special Operations Task Forces, and other special operations units.
  • Advise the ground commander on the capabilities and use of tactical airpower.
  • Assist the ground commander in the planning and employment of tactical air support.
  • Provide a link with the Theater Air Control System.
  • Conduct Emergency Close Air Support/Terminal Guidance Operations training.

Operations

Tactical Air Control Party operators supported these public known operations in the past, like many others which are not publicly known:

  • Urgent Fury
  • Operation Just Cause
  • Desert Shield/Storm
  • Iris Gold
  • Joint Endeavor
  • Joint Guard
  • Desert Fox/Thunder

Elite soldiers from US Air Force Tactical Air Control Party are among the best SOF in the US military.

Urgent Fury - US Invasion of Grenada
Urgent Fury – US Invasion of Grenada (Photo: US Army)

Training and selection

During the fall of 1994, the initial cadre of 32 hand-picked personnel reported to USASOC. With an initial charter to provide Special Forces personnel with Close Air Support (CAS) training, their operational tempo quickly increased. Shortly after standing up, the newly-christened Special Operations Forces Tactical Air Control Party ACPs deployed with Special Forces from Special Forces Operational Battalion to Operational Detachment level.

It wasn’t until 1998 that ACC recognized the Special Operation Forces Tactical Air Control Party selection process to select only the best personnel to support Army SOF. Only experienced ETACs are authorized to attend. Selection is done over 6 days and is set up to test the individual’s maturity and mental and physical capabilities. TACP skills and capabilities mirror their Army counterparts.

Being Airborne qualified is mandatory; however, current members are qualified in many areas, including HALO, HALO jumpmaster, static-line jumpmaster, Air Assault, Pathfinder, Scuba, and Ranger.

TACP operators with 124th Fighter Wing
TACP operators with 124th Fighter Wing (Photo: USAF)

Squadrons

The TACPs are organized into squadrons.

17th Air Support Operations Squadron (17th ASOS)

From October 2008, the 720th Special Tactics Group, Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), includes a dedicated TACP squadron, namely the 17th Air Support Operations Squadron (17th ASOS) of around 60 special operations forces Tactical Air Control Party Airmen and support staff. JTACs with the 17th ASOS deploy with the 75th Ranger Regiment.

Since 2011, the 17th Air Support Operations Squadron has Operating Locations (OLs) aligned solely with the 75th Ranger Regiment, having previously also had OLs with the active-duty Special Forces Groups (1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 10th).

The 17th ASOS has several Operating Locations (OL):

  • HQ element, based at Fort Benning, Georgia, supporting the 3/75th Ranger Battalion, the RSTB
  • OL-E, based at Fort Lewis, Washington, supporting the 2/75th Ranger Battalion
  • OL-A, based at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, supporting the 1/75th Ranger Battalion

13th Air Support Operations Squadron

The United States Air Force’s 13th Air Support Operations Squadron (13 ASOS) is a combat support unit located at Fort Carson, Colorado. During combat operations, the 13 ASOS provides tactical command and closes air support assets to US Army ground commanders.

The 13 ASOS’s mission is to successfully integrate joint firepower, including artillery, attack aviation, and naval gunfire, to support Army operations worldwide.

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