Tactical Air Control Party (TACP)
A Tactical Air Control Party, commonly abbreviated TACP (pronounced TAC-P), is usually a team of two or more United States Air Force Tactical Air Controllers (AFSC 1C4X1), sometimes including an Air Liaison Officer (a qualified aviator), which is assigned to a United States Army combat maneuver unit, either conventional or special operational, to advise ground commanders on the best use of air power, establish and maintain command and control communications, control air traffic, act as an inter-service liaison, control naval gunfire, and provide precision terminal attack guidance of U.S. and coalition close air support and other air-to-ground aircraft.
Along with being assigned to all conventional Army combat units, TACP airmen are also attached to Special Forces, Navy SEALs, and Army Rangers, as well as Joint Special Operations Command units and multi-national Special Operations task forces, primarily as communications experts and precision airstrike controllers.
In addition, TACP members can be assigned to AFSOC Special Tactics Squadrons to train Air Force Combat Controllers, traditionally responsible for austere airfield air traffic control, in the tactics, techniques, and procedures of close air support control.
Enlisted members are known as ROMADs (formerly standing for "Radio Operator, Maintainer & Driver") because of their time as assistants to officer-only Forward Air Controllers. The acronym is now widely accepted as standing for "Recon, Observe, Mark & Destroy" in reflection of the modern role of the TAC).
TACP members wear black berets with a distinctive red, blue, and green cloth flash and silver crest. Air Liaison Officers are authorized to wear the black beret, flash, and rank while assigned to a TACP unit, but not at any other point in their career.
Contrary to old doctrine, TACP FAC's, now called "JTAC's", are enlisted men that provide close air support. Only a few officers were grandfathered into the FAC program; those few are the only officers remaining capable of providing close air support.
TACPs trace their roots back beyond the original TACPs supporting both the US Army Special Forces Command (USASFC) and Rangers to World War II. It wasn't until after Desert Storm that Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) formalized an agreement with Air Combat Command to provide TACPs at USASOC, USASFC, JFKSWCS, every Special Forces Group and Special Operations Aviation Regiment, in addition to the TACPs at Ranger Regiment and the 3 Ranger Battalions.
During the fall of 1994 the initial cadre of 32 hand-picked personnel reported to USASOC. With an initial charter to provide SF personnel with Close Air Support (CAS) training, their operational tempo quickly increased. Shortly after standing up, the newly-christened SOF TACPs were deploying with Special Forces from SF Operational Battalion to Operational Detachment level. It wasn't until 1998 that ACC recognized the SOF TACP selection process as a way to select only best personnel to support Army SOF. Only experienced ETACs are authorized to attend. Selection is done over 6 days and is set-up to test the individual's maturity and mental and physical capabilities. TACP skills and capabilities mirror their Army counterparts. Being Airborne qualified is mandatory; however, current members are qualified in many areas including HALO, HALO jumpmaster, Static-line jumpmaster, Air Assault, Pathfinder, SCUBA (US Army Combatant Diver) and Ranger.
Operation Just Cause
Enduring Freedom (OEF)
Iraqi Freedom (OIF)
Often seen running on Hurlburt Field roads with ruck sacks, M-16s and bright orange helmets are the tactical air control party students from Detachment 3, 342nd Training Squadron. The students take part in a 73-day technical training course broken down into six blocks of instruction, physical training and a weekly ruck march lasting up to four hours complete with up to 85 pounds of gear.
After graduation, TACPs are embedded with the Army and will have to be able to use their training in combat.
The first block covers basic career knowledge and associated publications. Part two is the portable communications section where they learn several different procedures and radio language skills.
The third block involves day and night foot navigation, vehicle navigation, convoy training and small unit tactics. It's considered the "make-or-break" block of the school.
Students are taken out in the field for a six-day land navigation, global positioning system, map plotting and compass training exercise. Students live in the dirt and have only what they carry on their back. They'll learn to overcome fear as they train, many times alone, on navigating with map and compass in the dark through the woods.
All the while, the instructors are observing their movements through GPS trackers. They will often ambush the students simulating an actual combat situation. The students are deprived of sleep and put under constant physical duress to see how well they work as a team.
Students on the six-day maneuvers have two opportunities to pass the navigation tests. Should they fail this portion, they fail the course and are gone. If the student quits during the six days, he's not allowed to go back to Hurlburt Field, he's banned to a "graveyard" where they spend the remainder of their time filling sandbags.
The next block of the training is aircraft and vehicle recognition and air support coordination. The students will be taught how to better understand joint air operation centers and the tactical air control systems. They will be tasked to operate several radios while utilizing aircraft in support of ground operations.
The final block is where all the training comes together. The students go on a three-day "real-world" scenario. They plot targets on maps, request aircraft for close air support using assigned call signs and work convoy procedures. The instructors have set up improvised explosive devices to make sure the students are moving in teams, keeping guard and helping each other as a team.
After graduation, the next step is attending Air Force survival school. A select few will then move on to Army basic airborne school. All the graduates then move onto their assignments at a Army combat maneuver unit. These units can vary from airborne infantry, mechanized or heavy armor tanks. For the next two to three years, they'll be in training to eventually become joint terminal attack controllers or JTACs. After that, a TACP can try out for assignments where they would be attached to Army Special Forces and Ranger teams.