High demand for tactical air controllers is outpacing the Corps’ fixed wing capacity to support training requirements, according to the Corps’ recent aviation plan.
To plug the gap, the Corps is looking at a couple of options to include expanding contracted air services and professionalizing the joint terminal attack controller, or JTAC, by creating a primary military occupational specialty, or MOS, according to Capt. Karoline Foote, a Marine spokeswoman.
The 8002 JTAC field is currently an exception MOS, meaning it’s an additional skill set that may require a Marine to hail from a particular job field before earning the occupation. Turning the JTAC field into a primary occupation could expand the pool of potential candidates, and increase incentives and funding for the occupation.
In April, the Defense Department announced it may award contracts worth more than $124 million through 2024 to several contract aviation companies to provide adversarial and offensive close air support for the Navy and Marines, which will sharpen pilot skills and help certify tactical air controllers.
The Corps highlighted in its 2019 aviation plan that its demand for JTACs, forward air controllers, forward air controllers airborne and joint fires observers has increased “dramatically over the past decade” in support of overseas operations.
To meet operational demands, the Corps says it needs a total of 597 JTACs and forward air controllers spread across active and reserve Marines, which the Corps says translates into a requirement to produce 279 JTACs every year.
And the demand for JTACs and forward air controllers is likely to continue to grow, especially as those skills have been flagged as integral to the Corps’ future force designs to counter rising near-peer adversaries, the Corps detailed in its aviation plan.
Currently, the Corps has 392 active JTACs and 847 active forward air controllers, but not all the Marines holding these jobs are “currently certified” and some possess high-demand occupations or senior rank that “limit their ability” to serve as tactical air controllers, Foote told Marine Corps Times in an emailed statement.
But, “the Marine Corps is employing our current inventory of JTACs and forward air controllers in a manner that continues to meet the operational requirements for deploying units,” Foote said. “We are exploring options to expand our means of generating the necessary capabilities provided by JTACs and FACs.”
A U.S. Air Force combat control airman from the 320th Special Tactics Squadron and U.S. Marine Corps joint terminal attack controllers from the 5th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, III Marine Expeditionary Force, call in close air support March 10, 2017, at the Irisuna Jima Training Range, Okinawa, Japan. (Senior Airman John Linzmeier/Air Force)
The Marine Contracted Air Services Program currently supports adversarial and close air support training in the U.S.
The Corps’ 2019 aviation plan noted that nearly 50 percent of the fixed wing certification requirements are met through the contract close air support program, and it is also dedicated to initial JTAC/forward air controller training.
April’s Defense Department award announcement for contract aviation support went to Airborne Tactical Advantage Company, Coastal Defense, Draken International and Tactical Air Support.
Airborne Tactical Advantage is one several companies that falls under the larger Textron Inc., which includes a portfolio of businesses that provide a range of services from aerospace to defense.
One of those companies, Textron Aviation Defense, owns a turboprop plane that has undergone experimentation as part of the Air Force’s light-attack endeavor. The Marine Corps has expressed interest in the light attack experiment.
In a press release, Textron Airborne Solutions said Airborne Tactical Advantage’s L-39 Albatros and Textron Aviation Defense’s Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine would provide JTAC and forward air controller training for Navy and Marines.
Fifty percent of the contract air support will be performed at Naval Air Station, Fallon, Nevada, with the rest divided equally between the Corps’ air station at Cherry Point, North Carolina, and the Marines’ sprawling training center aboard Twentynine Palms, California, according to the DoD contract announcement.