Forward air control

Forward air control

A forward air controller (FAC) is a qualified individual who, from a forward position on the ground or in the air, directs the action of military aircraft engaged in close air support of land forces.

Forward Air Controller is an official acronym that came from World War II when the Allies were rapidly advancing across France and the Low Countries towards Germany. British and American fighter planes were making Fighter Ground Attack (FGA) missions through low level bombing and strafing German military targets and logistic targets.

Enemy targets in the Forward Edge of the Battle Area (FEBA) are de facto close to friendly forces and therefore friendly forces are at risk of friendly fire through proximity during an FGA attack. The danger is twofold: the pilot cannot identify the target clearly, and is not aware of the locations of friendly forces. Camouflage, constantly changing situation and the fog of war all increase the risk. The FAC is intended to prevent such incidents. Air attacks behind enemy lines on camps, storage areas and lines of communication is known as air interdiction and does not require an FAC.

The Vietnam War brought special challenges to the task of the FAC. Much of Vietnam and most of Laos were inadequately mapped. The civilian population was intermixed with the Viet Cong and People's Army of Vietnam. Single, double, and triple canopy jungle made observation difficult. As a result, FACs often flew low altitude sorties in low performance aircraft such as the O-1 Bird Dog. These FACS, usually U. S. Air Force fighter pilots from Air Commando Squadrons, operated under stringent rules of engagement. Quite often, they spotted their enemy only by the muzzle flashes of ground fire aimed at them.

Forward Air Controllers would then call for fighter-bomber support and fire a white phosphorus smoke rocket to mark enemy forces. The fighter-bombers would then be "cleared in hot" to "hit my smoke."

Because of their effectiveness as a force multiplier, FACs were sometimes assigned to covert operations, and upon occasion worked with the Central Intelligence Agency.

The USAF also operated a specialist dedicated airborne "fast mover" FAC team, known as Misty in Vietnam. These teams piloted F-100Fs, and were founded by Colonel Bud Day.

It was recognised that co-ordination between ground and air forces would improve target acquisition and provide added security for friendly forces so the concept of the Forward Air Controller came into being. From the beginning the FAC was working into the [Joint Force] environment and since 2004 the term FAC has been superseded by "Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC)" in the USAF and US Navy, which puts a percentage of SEALs through JTAC training.

FAC's and TACP's in Great Britain are trained at the Joint Forward Air Controller Training Standards Unit (JFACTSU) []

The United States Marine Corps has the capability to provide ground and air forces from within its own resources and when doing so are not operating in a Joint Force environment and they retain the term FAC.

The primary function of an FAC is the safety of their own troops but is trained to identify and designate targets using a data transmission, laser or direct positive voice radio control. Military forces only had a radio in World War 2 so the FAC used his eyes and voice to direct the pilot and the pilot used his ears and eyes to accurately attack the target.

FACs were initially ground personnel but later FACs operated both on the ground and from within aircraft operating in the FEBA. FACs were designated as Primary or Secondary depending upon their appointment. A Primary FAC is a designated FAC unit titled Primary Forward Air Controller (PFAC) operating a Tactical Air Control Party (TACP). Secondary FACs have another primary appointment but could use their FAC training and qualification when appropriate and includes company level commanders and helicopter pilots. TACPs were appointed to forward units and as Air Liaison to tactical ground unit headquarters.

Major improvements in technology in the 1980s/1990s brought the laser, GPS and battlefield data transfer into service, which enables FGA to be constantly updated by the FAC/JTAC throughout the attack, which reduces the danger to friendly forces and increase the accuracy of the weapons being delivered.

The United States armed services signed the JTAC Memorandum of Agreement in late 2004 when Joint Fighter Ground Attack (FGA) Close Air Support (CAS) operations have to be controlled by someone who has been trained to the minimum "joint" standard and be qualified by their service to (for all intents and purposes) legally control Close Air Support. The British standardise FAC (JTAC) operations at the Joint Forward Air Control Training Standards Unit (JFACTSU) [] . The USA and Great Britain are members of NATO and the standards referred to are ratified across NATO enabling qualified and appointed FACs to control FGA of any NATO country when authorised to do so.

United States Marine Corps

The United States Marine Corps is the only United States service to refer to its JTACs as FACs. The USMC requires that:

*FACs must be a winged Naval Aviator or Naval Flight Officer with at least 2 years operational flying experience.
*FACs must have attended and graduated from the Expeditionary Warfare Training Group (EWTG) Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) course.

At the completion of the TACP course Aviators are granted the 7502 FAC Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) and are considered certified and qualified JTACs.

Non-aviator JTACs in the United States Marine Corps must meet the following requirements:
*They must be a Staff Noncommissioned Officer or above, and must have a combat arms MOS.
*To be eligible for JTAC training the individual must be in or slated to serve in a JTAC billet per unit T/O's.
*Must complete JTAC primer course at EWTG (Soon to be a distance learning program).
*Must attend and graduate from EWTG TACP (Certified but not qualified) at this point the Marine is authorized the 9986 Skill designator.
*Must complete the 300 level training syllabus after TACP school per the USMC TACP T&R (Qualified JTAC)

After completion of one the DoDs JTAC courses non-aviator Marines are given the secondary MOS of 9986, that of a qualified JTAC/FAC.

ee also

*Joint terminal attack controller
*Tactical Air Control Party
*Artillery observer
*Friendly Fire
*Air Force Combat Control
*Air-Naval Gunfire Liaison Company


* [ US Marine Corps TACP Training Development Conference]
* [ Marine Corps Order P3500.37A: T&R MANUAL, TACP]
* [ AIR FORCE INSTRUCTION 13-112, (JTAC) Training Program]
* [ JCAS AP MOA 2004-01, US JFCOM Memorandum of Agreement]
* [ JFCOM Article on JTAC standardization]

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