Special Tactics simulates chaos, combat in Estonian village

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ryan Conroy
  • 24th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

Combat controllers sprint through the small, rustic village donned in plate carriers and radios, ducking behind buildings for cover, calling in coordinates and relaying information to the ground force commander.

The citizens were transformed into enemy combatants, the village homes into targets for circling A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and the cobblestone streets into a battlezone of withering gunfire.

This was not actual combat, rather it was 321st Special Tactics Squadron combat controllers simulating close air support missions in the town of Rakvere, Estonia, during a flying training deployment in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

"We train to every environment that's difficult to operate in -- rural, congested, urban, degraded -- so that our guys are prepared to fight anytime, anyplace, while performing to the highest standard to ensure we are the best the Air Force has to offer," said the NCO in charge of weapons and tactics at the 321st STS. "We exercise in this non-permissive urban airspace because it's most likely what our team will see when they're deployed."

Combat controllers are a highly trained special operations force who integrate air power into the ground battle, and are usually deployed into teams of Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs or Marine Raiders.

In this instance, the team integrated A-10s from Maryland Air National Guard's 175th Wing into the ground scheme of maneuver -- much like they would on an actual deployment.

"It's as realistic as you can get to simulating combat," said Maj. Daniel Griffin, an A-10 pilot with the 175th Wing. "You can hear the CCT instructors on the ground getting their adrenaline up, making them move and making the scenario more difficult."

Throughout the scenario, the instructors inundated the controllers with information and chaos -- constantly moving through the city and coordinating strikes with A-10s overhead.

“We wanted to introduce our younger combat controllers to a high-stress situation and familiarize them with what they’d actually see on deployment,” said the NCOIC of weapons and tactics for the 321st STS. “It’s an overwhelming task-saturated scenario that demands the controller keep calm under pressure.”

The team’s mission is to make it through the city and capture a high-value target as the head instructor role-plays a ground force commander. The team is met by enemy combatants, changing targets and the loss of teammates, all in the name of realistic training.

“You’re in a congested airspace, you have multiple wounded friendlies, you need to deconflict the airpower and artillery strikes all while you’re under intense gunfire,” said the NCOIC of weapons and tactics for the 321st STS. “They need to train under stress and have a calm, cool and collected mind to meet the ground force commander’s intent, prevent fratricide and win the battlespace in the fog of war.”

The 321st STS exercised in Estonia from Aug. 6-18, practicing precision strike capabilities, global access and command and control expected of combat controllers in a deployed environment.  The value of U.S. forces in Europe ensure NATO allies of a quick and efficient response in times of crisis.

“Our Special Tactics Airmen train for the most challenging contingency,” said Col. Michael Martin, commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing, which provides ST support and personnel to the 352nd SOW. “We develop and rehearse tactics, techniques and procedures before things can go wrong in order to achieve a truly cohesive combat capability with our allies and partners.”