CHANDY RANGE, Thailand -- The U.S. tactical air control party (TACP) Airmen lower tactical vests over their heads with practiced confidence, quietly relaying a composure born of constant training. They strap their helmets on and prepare for the first strike of the day.
This is where their “normal” duties end, though. The TACPs are not focused on honing their own skills today; they are here to train their multilateral partners as part of the Cope Tiger 2019 exercise.
The U.S. operators hand the reins over to three fully-geared Royal Thai air force (RTAF) combat control team (CCT) members, letting them control the air strike.
“Thirty seconds,” RTAF flying officer Jirot Prasoetampaisakul, 2nd Company 3rd Battalion Special Operations CCT member announced over the radio.
With the incoming swooping scream of two Singaporean F-15 Eagles, the target is neutralized, and the mission is a success.
Most images emerging from Cope Tiger center around the flightline, but the subject matter exchange between the U.S. and Thai Airmen demonstrates the diverse training available through multilateral exercises such as Cope Tiger.
The opportunity for the two TACPs from the 116th Air Support Operations Squadron (ASOS) from the Washington Air National Guard, to execute a close air support mission on an unfamiliar range and expand their response capabilities is valuable. The opportunity to mentor their Thai brothers in arms, utilizing airpower from the United States, Thailand, and Singapore on a simulated battlefield, however, is priceless.
“We are working closely with the Thai combat control team exchanging tactics, techniques, and procedures in regards to close air support,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Danny Aboy, JTAC assigned to the 116th ASOS.
Aboy continued saying they are working hand-in-hand in refining the Thais' TTPs and assisting them in establishing an air-to-ground program, coined ground forward air controller similar to the U.S. Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) program.
On this particular mission, the Airmen worked with their Thai military counterparts to direct Singaporean aircraft to enemy targets. Although there were no live munitions used throughout the mission, the ground controllers benefited from the simulated air strikes.
“We are practicing how we fight. The two-way communication that takes place between us and the pilots is essentially the exact same,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Tim Williams, JTAC assigned to the 116th ASOS. “The intent over the next ten years is for the Royal Thai air force to become signatories of the JTAC Memorandum of Agreement and be recognized across the world as a legitimate JTAC program.”
The Thai Airmen will take their newly-acquired knowledge and train their subordinates.
“The three Thai CCT Airmen we are conducting the subject matter exchange with are all in leadership positions,” said Williams. “They will first become GFACs, which is a stepping stone to becoming a JTAC down the road.”
The subject matter exchange supported Cope Tiger objectives in conjunction with the Air National Guard’s State Partnership Program, as Washington is Thailand's state partner. Engagements such as this meet the primary objectives of the SPP by cultivating enduring personal and institutional relationships that enhance, influence and promote a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship.
“Working with multiple nations has been a wonderful experience,” expressed Prasoetampaisakul. “I have learned so much throughout the course of this exercise. I look forward to taking my newfound knowledge and sharing it with my troops.”