Coordinating success in Afghanistan
5 May 2017
ON Hunter range, 36km south of Kabul, Afghanistan, three Afghan Air Force (AAF) officers prepare their calculations to call in the MD-530 attack helicopter – the final test before they become qualified Afghan Tactical Air Coordinators (ATACs), or known in Dari as "Hamahangee Tacticy Hawayee”.
Observing is Royal Australian Air Force officer Flight Lieutenant David Jobson, who has helped over the past three weeks to develop their skills through his role as the air-to-ground integration (AGI) adviser to NATO’s 438th Air Expeditionary Wing, Train Advise Assist – Air (TAAC-Air) team.
The TAAC-Air ATAC course was established in 2016, largely enabled by the work of Flight Lieutenant Jobson’s predecessors, Flight Lieutenants Michael Keene and Thomas Murdock.
“My predecessors played a key role in setting up the course and putting the policy in place to conduct live-fire training at Hunter Range,” Flight Lieutenant Jobson says.
“Before then, the Afghan ATACs did not have a proper training curriculum and at some units, the role of an ATAC was largely considered a secondary duty.”
The AAF previously did not have enough dedicated qualified ATACs to integrate aerial fires with ground forces, now referred to as Air-Ground Integration, in support of ground troops fighting the enemy.
Now the coalition TAAC-Air team have graduated six courses including 26 AAF officers and 28 Afghan National Army officers.
The growth in the Afghan ATAC capability comes at a time when new Afghan counter-insurgency aircraft are entering service, and Flight Lieutenant Jobson says the five newly graduated ATACs will be deployed to conduct close air attack strikes in support of Afghan National Defense and Security Forces operations – ultimately strengthening the overall AAF offensive capability.
However, more ATACs are needed and Flight Lieutenant Jobson must now focus on improving the ATAC and Instructor curriculum.
“The course itself is challenging and the Afghan students are already at a disadvantage due to their lack of education,” Flight Lieutenant Jobson explains.
“Currently the ATAC course has approximately a 60 per cent pass rate.
“The students are often senior officers who have been in for a long time but have had no prior ATAC training.”
In just three weeks, they must learn how to calculate enemy position coordinates and how to communicate that information over radio telecommunications to the aircraft conducting the strike.
With a strong background in training and development, Flight Lieutenant Jobson will be looking at ways to graduate more ATACs.
“Here I’m using my instructional and training development background to enhance their training program and to develop an appropriate training curriculum for the ATAC course,” he says.
“From my observations and talking with students (through an interpreter) they would like to see more visual aids, either pictures or demonstrations, to overcome language barriers.”
Even with improvements made to the training material, the quality of the material is only as good as the quality of the instructor.
For this reason, Flight Lieutenant Jobson says that “teach the teacher” is a key part of his role.
“At TAAC-Air we also conduct the Instructors course to teach ATACs instructional techniques,” he says.
“This is important and advantageous as the course material can be instructed in Dari language without losing the intent and misinterpretation through an interpreter.”
Flight Lieutenant Jobson says that the course has had some fantastic results, recently graduating an AAF instructor who has just finished instructing his first ATAC course as primary instructor.
“This AAF instructor is a positive and encouraging success story of the TAAC-Air AGI ATAC program having graduated from both the ATAC and Instructors courses,” he says.
“He is one of the most effective and competent ATAC operators and instructors in the AAF and is soon to be promoted to Major due to his abilities.”
Flight Lieutenant Jobson is deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan alongside 270 Australian Defence Force personnel and Defence civilians deployed to Operation Highroad - Australia’s contribution to the NATO led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.