MIDDLETOWN, Pa. --
Under the guidance of three Joint Terminal Attack Controllers from the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, Ukrainian forward air controllers moved one step closer to becoming NATO certified JTACs as they communicated with and controlled NATO aircraft for the first time during Clear Sky 2018.
The 148th ASOS JTACs participated in Clear Sky 2018, a joint, multinational exercise that took place Oct. 7-20 in multiple locations throughout Ukraine.
The three JTACs took part in the air-to-ground portion of the exercise, providing close air support training to Ukrainian forward air controllers and pilots.
The necessity for this training was identified by an air liaison officer from the 148th ASOS, when he supported a U.S. air forces in Europe-requested Ukrainian Air Force bilateral engagement in June of 2017.
“Specifically, our role in that was to facilitate the early stages of getting them NATO certified JTACs,” said an ALO with the 148th ASOS.
With Ukraine seeking NATO membership, their forward air controllers will have to transition to certified JTACs, certified through the NATO program, per doctrine, said the ALO.
The operations training manager with the 148th ASOS said the training was to familiarize Ukrainian forces with the 12 steps of the CAS execution template, CAS 9-line brief, and provide general knowledge on some NATO aircraft and their capabilities in day and night operations. The JTACs garnered support in the air-to-ground integration piece from Polish F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, U.S. MQ-9 Reaper aircraft and Ukrainian Su-25 aircraft.
Going into the training, the instructors didn’t really know what to expect. The operations training manager said the Ukrainians were eager to learn and everyone hit the ground running.
“We enjoyed the motivation of the Ukrainian forward air controllers,” said the operations training manager. “Their rate of learning, with their eagerness to learn, was extremely motivating for us as instructors.”
The operations training manager said the language barrier was the biggest hurdle in the training. Three interpreters were used, one assigned to the 148th ASOS, one with the Ukrainians FACs and one more was used in the cockpits of the Su-25 aircraft to assist the pilots.
Since the NATO standard is to control CAS aircraft exclusively in English, the Ukrainian FACs began writing out their radio transmissions in English and then read them verbatim over the radio to the pilots. They then progressed forward using the crawl-walk-run concept of training.
The biggest difference-maker during the training was having the opportunity to educate the pilots on the CAS execution template, so they knew what information they would be receiving from the controller, said the operations training manager.
The highlight of the training was during the night CAS mission where the Ukrainian forces controlled a U.S. MQ-9 aircraft. It was an opportunity to showcase what they had learned.
“It was the first time, historically speaking, Ukrainian FACs talked to a NATO aircraft, in English, and the first time the FACs used the CAS execution template in its entirety,” said the operations training manager.
The ALO agreed that the night CAS mission was a culmination of all the hard work the Ukrainians had put into the training.
“The first time that they actually controlled, from start to finish, using the full 12 steps, going through the entire process of check-in to check-off, the first time they started doing that in English, was paramount,” said the ALO.
The ALO spoke of the importance of not only transitioning out of old doctrine, but also changing their mindset moving forward into their new roles.
“Changing their mindset and showing them that the JTAC role is not just telling aircraft to go do something, but rather, becoming a fully-integrated force of combined joint fires and moving them away from the Soviet doctrine of just going out and destroying a bunch of stuff, to hopefully being able to shape that battlefield and take care of your guys, being concerned with collateral damage and the idea of valuing life to the utmost,” said the ALO.
The JTACs said they saw quantifiable results in the short time period they were there and also had the opportunity to increase comradery through team-building events with the Ukrainians.