Air strike orders phoned in from menu

Army Gunner Emmanuel Gomapas, left, and Bombardier Michael Neilson, right,, from the 4th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, with Air Force Flight Lieutenant Ebrahim Tabandeh during Exercise Nigrum Pugio. Photo: Captain Lily Charles

Air strike orders phoned in from menu

Many people order food with their phones, but Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) hidden behind enemy lines can use them to call in air strikes.

The perfect menu was delivered to Townsville Field Training Area by No. 1 Squadron F/A-18F Super Hornets’ bombs on-demand service during Exercise Nigrum Pugio, held from October 12 to 16.

The biannual exercise enabled forward command JTACs to train and keep their qualifications current.

The exercise included the use of the Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK), successor to the digital terminal control system. 

Bombardier Michael Nielson, a JTAC with the 4th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, said the exercise allowed them to communicate digitally from a smartphone to the aircraft, minimising voice transmissions. 

“We didn’t drop live with ATAK, but we were able to conduct dry serials with it,” he said.

“This proved the capability worked and showed it was a great improvement on the previous technology.”

In the air, it was Super Hornet pilot Flying Officer Ryan’s first time employing live weapons.

“Having the JTACs provide when and how they wanted us to hit particular targets – and with what weapons – streamlined our job so we were not hanging around the airspace too long,” the pilot said.

“Sometimes you don’t want someone that far behind enemy lines but, in day-to-day operations, JTACs make our job a lot easier.”

The pilot said the two services were testing new techniques and equipment to work out teething problems and make sure their equipment was compatible.

More than 100 live bombs were employed during the exercise, including the Mk 82, 500-pound unguided weapon, nicknamed the dumb weapon.

“There is nothing smart about it. It’s all about getting the aircraft in the right piece of sky to make sure the bomb falls in the correct part of dirt,” Flying Officer Ryan said.

“We also dropped GBU12s, which are another 500-pound weapon and are laser-guided.” 

The exercise was important for JTACs because it allowed them to practise their craft in real-time, according to Bombardier Nelson.

“We work with aircraft on a regular basis, but to be able to conduct live drops added an extra level of realism,” he said.

“We’re calling in the Super Hornet to between 1000 and 1500 feet to conduct a type one clearance.

“We have to visually keep track of the target as well as the aircraft and give them clearance to come in nice and low.

“Seeing a round impact the target gives you a feeling of satisfaction because you know everything you did within the process worked well.”

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