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TACP-Modernization

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

This Air Force News Service story offers a good update on the Tactical Air Control Party – Modernization effort.

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(Photo: Tactical air control party specialists with the 169th Air Support Operations Squadron survey an enemy-controlled landing zone before calling in close-air support Aug. 14, 2014, at Operation Northern Strike in Grayling Air Gunnery Range, Grayling, Mich. Northern Strike was a 3-week exercise that demonstrated the combined power of joint and multinational air and ground forces. TACPs with the Air National Guard’s 169th ASOS from Peoria, Ill., and more than 5,000 other armed forces members from 12 states and two coalition nations participated in the combat training. SSgt Lealan Buehrer, Air National Guard)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (AFNS) — Embedded deep within an Army maneuver unit lies an Airman. Charged with orchestrating critical close-air support, it’s often the effort of this combat maestro that means the difference between life and death on the battlefield – this specialist is known as a tactical air control party, or TACP for short.

However, the success of close air support doesn’t depend on these Airmen alone, but also the equipment and communication tools they use.

TACP-Modernization, an Air Force Life Cycle Management Center-owned program, is the driving force responsible for acquiring and equipping battlefield Airmen with such tools. This technology has the capability to interface with ground forces, CAS aircraft, UHF satellites, remotely piloted aircraft and command and control intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms.

To meet the needs of a modern day ground and cyber battlefield, the 46-member TACP-M team focuses on reducing reliance on voice transmission and replacing analog equipment with the latest data link and streaming video technology. They do this by addressing three main areas — mounted, dismounted equipment and communication software.

Mounted and mobile

“Mounted mobile communication is a top requirements priority for us,” said Rob Bubello, the Battlespace Communications Branch chief and TACP-M program manager.

TACPs, who advise ground commanders on employing airpower and control aircraft to put bombs on target, utilize two different types of mounted equipment: fixed and mobile.

The mounted, fixed element integrates computer and communications equipment into re-locatable vehicle, rack or transit case-mounted systems for use in tactical operation centers and air support operation centers. This includes the Humvee-mounted ASOC Gateway, Gateway Lite, as well as Dismounted Communication Packages known as DCPs.

Today, TACP-M’s sights are set on producing the next generation of on-the-move technology — Mobile Communication Systems or MCSs.

“The MCS offers a much more robust C2 capability since it provides four channels of voice or data as well as video streaming,” said Maj. Jason Huff, MCS program manager. “In addition, the system is tailored to the vehicle and allows for more room within, which provides easy access to the equipment and more importantly, it offers easier egress access allowing members to exit the vehicle in an emergency.”

The mounted, mobile element, which is very similar to its fixed counterpart, integrates hardware into mobile tactical vehicles employed by the Army and provides on-the-move voice and data capabilities. To date, the program office has fielded 45 communication pallets, which are integrated onto Stryker vehicles that operate within the U.S.’s area of responsibility.

“Another large requirement for us includes DCPs,” Bubello said. “It’s essentially a docking kit, which allows you to combine your existing equipment.”

DCPs, considered part of the mounted equipment component, are comprised of existing hardware such as computers, keypad displays, headsets and antennas. Those items are then coupled with equipment found in air support and tactical operation centers.

Since 2007, TACP-M has managed to acquire and equip 224 Humvees and 45 Strykers with TACP communication systems and plans on integrating 400 more systems into vehicles over the next five to 10 years. They have also fielded 17 operation center Gateways, four Gateway Lights and procured 144 DCPs to date.

Essentially, all these components help modernize digital voice and data communications, allowing for machine-to-machine interface and ultimately reducing what is commonly known to warfighters as “the kill chain.”

Dismounted operations

However, it isn’t solely mounted equipment that TACPs use in the field; therefore, the program team also focuses on acquiring state-of-the-art dismounted technology as well.

For example, multiband man-pack radios began fielding in late 2010, followed by small wearable computers in 2011. Within the same year, pocket laser range finders, handheld laser markers and mini thermal monoculars also entered field testing. Later in 2013, equipment such as full motion video receivers and TOC light/heavy computers found their way onto the battlefield.

Master Sgt. Jeff Kennedy, a battlefield Airman who’s currently assigned to the Hanscom AFB program office, is one of approximately 2,000 TACPs in the Air Force; he and others like him know all too well the importance of having the latest technology.

“It is crucial to have the most up-to-date tools,” said Kennedy, looking back on a recent tour in Afghanistan. “Being able to quickly and efficiently communicate out there is a life or death situation.”

According to the TACP, it’s not only the efficiency of the equipment that has an impact, but also the size and weight. “We have a saying … things should be smaller, lighter, faster,” Kennedy said. “Ounces equal pounds, pounds equal pain. It’s something the program team takes into consideration when procuring new equipment.”

With this in mind, TACP-M moves toward acquiring more efficient pieces of dismounted equipment.

To instance, the team recently introduced 202 additional Soldier ISR Receivers, or SIRs, that will help bring full motion video capability to dismounted TACPs like Kennedy.

In addition, small wearable computers are being replaced by TACP computer kits, which are comprised of an integrated computer, vest and cable systems.

“We’re building cheaper, more specialized kits,” Bubello said. “In this case, a larger, ruggedized, tactical body-worn computer system with simpler message-focused software is the direction we’re headed. It will ultimately provide the operator the means to accomplish their task at a much faster and efficient pace.”

Staying connected

The final piece of the puzzle, and the team’s third area of focus, is close air support system software, commonly referred to as CASS.

The purpose of CASS is simple – to develop and sustain a common software application, one that establishes a baseline across all TACP systems.

“What’s the point of having high-tech gear if we have outdated software?” Kennedy said.

The Air Force currently uses CASS version 1.4.4, but Rockwell Collins, acting on a recently awarded contract will produce version 1.4.5 by October. It was a selection that led to a 60 percent savings for the service from the previous contract.

With CASS playing a substantial role in TACP-Modernization, the Air Force is optimistic that the new version will be fielded in fiscal year 2015.

So what’s to be expected? A software version that improves TACP mission effectiveness via Human Machine Interface, data that can be exchanged between dissimilar air and ground platforms and a dismounted simplified interface environment for battlefield Airmen. The 1.4.5 version will also focus on software applications for the dismounted operator as well as a more complex scale software capability found in air operation centers.

On the ground, TACPs are a safety net for Soldiers, their frontline mission is essential. Through the use of CASS, mounted and dismounted equipment, TACP-M ties it all together by balancing the operators’ present day needs with tomorrow’s modernization.

The Air Force Twist – Sage Green Boots with MultiCam

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

As we see MultiCam being worn more and more at home station by Airmen, we’ve begun to notice that it is being increasingly worn with Sage Green boots rather than the Tan models worn in theater.

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Here is a great example as members from the 320th Special Tactics Squadron carry the POW/MIA Flag from the 24-hour vigil run at Marek Park track to the POW/MIA recognition breakfast held at the Rocker NCO Club Sept. 19, 2014 on Kadena Air Base, Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kristine Dreyer)

Happy 67th Anniversary US Air Force

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Established September 18th, 1947, the United States Air Force is today comprised of more than 680,000 Airmen, made up of active duty, reservists, guardsmen and civilians, who support more than 5,600 aircraft, 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles and 63 satellites.

Our Air Force is the world’s preeminent air, space and cyberspace force with an ability to rapidly adapt to uncertainty, ensuring future success.

The US Air Force Might Not Be Adopting OCP Yet But Some Airmen Are Already Wearing It

Friday, September 5th, 2014

After the US Army’s recent announcement that they were switching wholesale to the Operational Camouflage Pattern, Airmen starting wondering if they were going to make the change as well next Summer. Well, not so fast. To be sure, the USAF has closely monitored the Army’s camouflaging efforts, but for the immediate future, the Air Force won’t be making an across the board uniform change. For home station wear, they are going to stick with the ill-named Airman Battlefield Uniform in glorious Digital Tigerstripe. Unfortunately, the Air Force’s vanity pattern sports the same grey-tones as the Army’s soon-to-be-replaced Universal Camouflage Pattern with an additional fourth color; Slate Blue. There’s a reason the Army is replacing UCP; it doesn’t live up to its name.

First Sergeant Recycles $250K in OCP Uniforms for Bagram Airmen
Photo: MSgt Nicholas Kollett, First Sergeant for the 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron stands in front of shelves of recycled Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern uniforms at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, July 7, 2012. (US Air Force photo/Capt. Raymond Geoffroy)

But, Airmen have been wearing MultiCam since SOCOM first started issuing you it in the mid-2000s. AFSOC airmen continue to wear MultiCam garments to this day.

Battlefield Airmen Wearing MultiCam

Once the Army adopted MultiCam as OCP in 2009, Airmen operating in direct support of the Army began wearing it as well. Since then, more and more Air Force Elements wear the pattern. Officially, all Airmen deploying to OEF started receiving their OCP mobility gear from the Army’s stocks in 2011.

Operation Southern Strike III
Photo: USAF – SSgt Nathan Goedert, military dog handler, provides security during Operation Southern Strike III in the village of Jandad Kalay, Spin Boldak district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, Sept. 9, 2012.

Even today, those in several Battlefield Airman specialties wear MultiCam/OCP for their day-to-day uniforms. In fact, MultiCam has been spec’d for a wide variety of uniforms and equipment as part of the community’s Battlefield Airman Management System which procures and issues mission specific gear. Additionally, several related but non-BA specialties also regularly use OCP kit such as EOD. However, everyone wears the ABU to PME and other USAF courses. It’s the standard issue uniform for all Airmen.

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But now, something major has happened. USAF’s Global Strike Command has decided to issue OCP to many of its Security Forces. Specifically, Security Forces Airmen at three Air Force Global Strike Command bases, Minot AFB, North Dakota, Malmstrom AFB, Montana and F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming as well as those in the 620th Ground Combat Training Squadron serving at Camp Guernsey, Wyoming. After a mission analysis, the command determined that it was the best option for those protecting our Nuclear Deterrent capability. This new ensemble is called Model Defender by the command. Hopefully, it is a model for the future as well.

“What we were trying to do with this was build the best system for our nuclear defenders and the environment they operate in,” said Gregory Simpson, resource advisor for Security Forces contingency and requirements at AFGSC…”If you get in a firefight in the field and you’re laying down fire, who are you going to see first? Obviously that guy [in ABUs,]” said Chief Master Sgt. Scott Daigneault, senior enlisted manager for the Force Improvement Program at AFGSC. “The difference is almost night and day. Your eyes skim right over the guy in OCP and zone in on the guy in ABUs. He just doesn’t fit in in that [missile field] environment.”

GSC in OCP
Photo: Security Forces Airmen perform a training patrol at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. The Airman on the left is wearing an OCP (MultiCam) uniform, where the Airman on the right is wearing ABUs. (U.S. Air Force Courtesy Photo)

This move by GSC may well be a catalyst for further adoption. In the early 80s, the US military began a transition to the Woodland camouflage patterned Battle Dress Uniform from the old OG-507 fatigue uniform. Initially, special operations units made the switch followed by those that directly supported the Army such as TACPs and Combat Weather. Next, units with dedicated ground missions such as Security Police and Combat Comms adopted the BDU. Finally, at the end of the decade, the Air Force made the full swap with Basic Trainees receiving the uniforms at BMTS in 1988. In the photo below from that year, you can see the MTIs in BDUs but the trainees continue to wear fatigues.

1988 BMTS Photo

I think there are two issues afoot here and one has primacy over the other. First and foremost is cost. By their own admission, the Air Force has a rather large inventory of ABUs and accessories in stock with the Defense Logistics Agency. Think of DLA as a distributor that the AF (and other services) is required to purchase from. DLA doesn’t want to be stuck holding the bag with tens or even hundreds of millions of Dollars worth of clothing in the event the AF would want to change patterns so they require that the services buy out their inventory first. Based on current budget issues, the AF can think of lots of other ways to spend their money.

General Welsh Visit
Photo: Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Mark A. Welsh III talks with Senior Airman Michael Walker, 91st Security Forces Operations Squadron, during a tour of the U-01 launch facility trainer here, Nov. 21. The tour was part of Welsh’s first visit to Minot since becoming the chief of staff. (U.S. Air Force photo/A1C Andrew Crawford)

Second, is service identity. So long as you can’t really afford the swap, it’s good to tell yourself that you’re preserving the Air Force’s identity as a service by maintaining a distinctive uniform. Never mind that in the long run that it’s wasteful, that the folks who actually run the AF (pilots) don’t wear the darned thing and that it will never live up to its name as a battle uniform. In fact, the tigerstripe pattern was developed specifically to give the USAF a distinctive look after Chief of Staff of the Air Force James Jumper was referred to as a “Soldier”.

I do believe that one day, everyone in the USAF will be wearing OCP. But, just as it was in the 80s with the transition from Green Fatigues to BDUs, the Air Force will do so incrementally, at its own pace.

A Look At USSOCOM’s Human Performance Program from a CCT Perspective

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

In this USAF video by Andrew Arthur Breese for AIRMAN magazine, we get an inside look at USSOCOM Human Performance Program from the perspective of Combat Controller SMSgt Kenneth Huhman. I remember when he was a SrA and he was a great young man, very fit and full of potential. Well, these ensuing 15 years or so have taken their toll on him. Fortunately, the days of “take some Motrin and suck it up” are going away and sports physiology and medicine are rightfully being applied to our combat athletes. The Human Performance program is helping Special Operators like SMSgt Huhman overcome injuries and reach their full potential. Hopefully, one ay soon, programs like this will be available for military personnel.

Line of Fire Tactical Gloves Receive USAFGSC Safe to Fly Certification

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Authorization letter safe to fly

Click to view .pdf

The US Air Force’s Global Strike Command has issued a Safe to Fly certification for two of Line of Fire Tactical’s gloves; the Flyby and Sortie on all aircraft that utilize touch screen Electronic Flight Bag systems. They feature TEGS grip and Sensa-Touch technology.

Flyby

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Sortie

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Seeking AF Tattoo Policy Expertise

Monday, August 18th, 2014

We’ve got an Air Force reader with a problem. He’s a hard charging Airman that has a pretty extensive tattoo collection. He’s being told that if he doesn’t have his ink removed, he’ll be denied reenlistment, have his ALS date cancelled, meal card stamped “no dessert”, etc.

Do any SSD readers have any insight into tattoo waivers for serving Airmen (of any rank)?

New CCT Poster

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

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Air Force Paratroopers Place 3rd at Rhode Island LeapFest

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

As a retired USAF Paratrooper, I am always proud to see my fellow jumpers in blue do well. Love those OCP uniforms. Let’s see the rest of the Air Force swap over as well. Congratulations!

According to the TACP Association, members of the 18th ASOG, 18th WX squadron (and one TACP) placed 3rd (out of 55 American and international teams) at last weekend’s annual International jump competition in Rhode Island. They made four total jumps with static line chutes and were graded on accuracy and time.

They missed second place by 4 seconds, and first place by 9 seconds.

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(Pictured: MSgt Misiak, TSgt Allen, SSgt Romero-Napolitano, MSgt Williams. Photo from TACP Association)

Great TACP Recruiting Image

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

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