Air Force JTACs train colleagues for combat as “OPFOR”

  • Published
  • By Capt. Nathan Broshear
  • U.S. Central Command Air Forces Public Affairs
Insurgents wait beside a roadway for an Army convoy. As the Humvees pass, they launch their attack, blasting improvised explosive devices and rockets at the vehicles. Air Force joint terminal attack controllers embedded with the Soldiers respond by calling for an impromptu airstrike. A-10 Warthogs swoop in to quickly neutralize the threat as the convoy continues on its mission.

This scene isn't from the Iraqi desert or the dusty roads of Afghanistan, rather, it's part of U.S. Central Command Air Forces' Atlantic Strike V pre-deployment training event at the Avon Park Air-Ground Training Complex in Avon Park, Fla. Three times a day, OPFOR, or opposition forces, made up of tactical air control party members and 9th Air Force augmentees challenge Atlantic Strike participants during convoy and urban scenarios peppered with real-life lessons brought back from recent deployments.

Atlantic Strike planners worked with joint terminal attack controllers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to develop training lanes incorporating enemy tactics and other experiences participants will soon face when they head for the USCENTCOM area of responsibility. Army convoy commanders learn to rely on JTACs for precision air support while battlefield Airmen gain a better sense of their role in various combat scenarios.

"What JTACs and Army convoys will have to contend with here are the same tactics enemy forces have recently used in theater," said Tech. Sgt. JimBo Michael, a JTAC with the 18th Air Support Operations Group at Pope Air Force Base, N.C., and ground force commander for the opposition forces at the Atlantic Strike pre-deployment training. "Many of the participants won't be familiar with how they will be engaged -- even those with multiple deployments."

"We're creating the 'fog of war' for our colleagues ... by overwhelming the JTAC with multiple taskings at once," Sergeant Michael said.

"Our primary focus is to create realistic, safe and effective training to practice air-ground operations," explained Senior Airman Donald Carpenter, a JTAC with the 19th Air Support Operations Squadron at Fort Campbell, Ky. "We're providing all the challenges one might find in battle: sporadic machine gun fire, improvised explosive devices, Arabic phraseology, sniper positions and even friendly non-combatants."

Anti-aircraft weapons are simulated with red flares, heavy machine-gun fire with 60 green flares and IEDs with small buried explosives. This means training leaders must be aware of training objectives while monitoring the safety of role players and participants. OPFOR trainers began their rehearsals with pyrotechnic safety training, local range safety briefings, and vehicle and weapons checks. Augmentees also receive instructions on how to interact with training participants, ensuring a uniform experience during each convoy.

During one scenario, Airman Carpenter launched simulated rocket-propelled grenades at an armored Humvee carrying fellow JTACs. Red smoke signified that the team was "out of play;" the ground commander would have to rely on other members of the convoy to finish the objective. Airman Carpenter reloaded and waited for the next Humvee to cross his sights ... lesson learned.