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MAWTS-1 Marines introduce FAC(A) to Swedish Air Force

By Sgt. Tatum Vayavananda | | August 28, 2013


U.S. Marine Corps Aviators, along with Swedish Air Force counterparts, conducted an introduction to Forward Air Controller (Airborne) operations and Close Air Support for the first time in SwAF history, August 5-23, on Malmen Military Base, Linköping, Sweden.

“This is a brand-new profile for us; we’ve never done this before,” said SwAF Maj. Stefan Engström, the FAC(A) program manager, SwAF JAS-39 Gripen Operations, Tactics and Evaluations division. “We are learning how to integrate fires and integrate [operations] between ground and air units.”

Marine aviation instructors from Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One, Yuma, Ariz., introduced FAC (A) and CAS concepts, tactics, and procedures for evaluation into the Swedish Air Force’s aviation training with SwAF pilots from the 21st UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter Wing and the Gripen OT&E division.

“I was happy about the Marine Corps supporting this [engagement] because, by its nature, they are integrated; they are a small ‘armed forces’ in itself and they’re good at it,” said Engström.

Currently, SwAF UH-60 Black Hawk missions consist of only casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) support; the course taught and practiced FAC (A) and CAS for the first time in Swedish military history to these airframes.

“This is an absolutely new concept for these guys,” said Capt. Kyle D. Haire, a tactical reconnaissance specialist in aviation development and tactics evaluation, MAWTS-1. “These pilots have been doing phenomenal and the level of competency has gone from zero to almost 100-percent in the last three weeks.”

A Forward Air Controller, or sometimes known as a “Joint Tactical Air Controller,” is an element of Close Air Support that coordinates attack elements and ensures accurate fires on the intended target while mitigating fratricide. Guidelines for standardization, qualifications and experience are standardized by NATO joint publications and used by coalition nations that support real-world overseas contingency operations. A FAC (Airborne) takes the role of the ground-based JTAC and operates on a fixed-wing aircraft or helicopter.

“The rotary wing is very good at assault support, the JTAC is good at controlling air but not at any part has the airborne asset controlled fires and supported the ground combat element from the wing side,” added, Haire, a Bakersfield, Calif., native.  

The course introduced concepts of: basic rotary and fixed-wing employment, artillery observation, NATO guidelines and standards for joint publications. Flight simulators were used to familiarize concepts to the SwAF pilots with the last week being the “flight phase” of practical, real-world applications on the SwAF UH-60 Black Hawk and Saab JAS-39 Gripen fighter jets in Linkoping’s training airspace.

“This training is important because it further integrates their capability; it is an absolute combat force multiplier and [the Marine Corps] matches these guys well; we’re both very small, everyone knows each other, and both are a middle-weight fighting force,” said Haire.

According to the SwAF OT&E division, the Swedish Air Force will use this military engagement to evaluate these concepts and operations before deciding whether or not to further implement it into SwAF aviation doctrine.

“The thought of Marine Corps troops requiring CAS and a Grippen showing up on-station or a Swedish Black Hawk controlling fires in-and-around Marines drives us to make sure they are good at what they do,” said Capt. Thomas J. Duff, AH-1W Cobra FAC(A) subject matter expert, MAWTS-1.

This bi-lateral engagement was an example of efforts to bolster capacity for interoperability between partner and allied nation’s militaries with U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe in the U.S. European Command area of responsibility.

“At our level, when you work with other services, you build friendships because you have a bond; you both joined the military for the same reasons,” said Duff.

“It’s important to have allies and work with other countries and it has been awesome; we both think tactics, we both love serving our country, and we both love flying. I hope the Marine Corps continues to take the lead on integrating with foreign services because they could be providing CAS for Marines on deck one day.”