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CCT - The Eye of the Storm, Volume 2 - The GWOT Years is a story of USAF Combat Control valor.
Combat Controllers have been fighting the Global War on Terror (GWOT) beginning just days after the 9/11 attack on American soil. Order the book from AuthorHouse.com ISBN 978-1-4772-6996-1
By: CCSHF - Non Profit - Heritage Foundation
This was the first war where airmen on the ground could call in dramatically precise high explosives from bombers and AF, Navy and Marine Corps fighter aircraft orbiting overhead. Based on ideas already under consideration by the Special Tactics leaders and my own experience with GPS devices, we postulated that we could tie together laser range-finding binoculars, a small computer, a GPS receiver, and a radio to provide fast, relevant and highly accurate targeting data to aircraft. We wanted to replace the “nine line” being written by a pilot on the inside of his canopy with a grease pencil. The initial systems would have to be strung together with the airman being the mini-systems integrator. By using commercial subsystems, we could deploy capability much faster, but we risked unintended consequences.
In Alan’s case, he was controlling aircraft in support of friendly Afghan forces when his colleague came forward to relieve him so that he, Alan, could grab a cup of coffee. His colleague continued the mission, but noticed that the batteries in the GPS unit were dying, and so he replaced them with fresh ones. What he didn’t realize was that the device would reset to its current location, and not to where the curser had been before. This mistake resulted in Alan’s injures when a 2000 pound bomb fell near their own location. Luckily, Alan was low to the ground because he bent over to get some coffee off the fire.
So, the first goal of the innovative team was to organize a Battlefield Airman’s Operations kit, which had the separate components integrated together, and to make it smaller, lighter, and safer. We also found that the individual Combat Controller carried about 135-150 pounds of gear, so the second goal was to lighten this load. By using composite stands for the optical equipment instead of metal, as well as getting smaller versions of other equipment, we were able to reduce the average carrying weight down to 105 pounds, with a longer term goal of getting it down to 85 pounds. Batteries are heavy and something we really didn’t want to scatter about the countryside. So, we experimented with various fuel cells (including one which did just fine burning vodka), thin-film photovoltaic panels, as well as tapping the natural heat of a person’s body. But, in the short run, there was no efficient substitute for batteries. Attention was then turned to searching for new subsystems, which used less power.
Another innovation we sought was to find a way that Combat Controllers who are separated and not visible to each other, but operating together, could not only communicate with each other, but could sense the relative location of each voice. Alan’s team developed a system that transmitted the GPS location of an individual so that a small computer could compare it to the receiver’s location and reproduce the sound with a spatial effect akin to stereophonic music. If your colleague was to your left, the sound in your headphones gave you the sense of his direction.
In another case, I wanted to increase the situational awareness of small units. To do this, we devised the concept of a small UAV which could fit into a CCT’s rucksack, be launched by hand, be GPS guided, fly for about a half an hour with at least one optical sensor streaming video to the CCT’s computer, be able to circle a target of interest as directed by the CCT, and land at a predetermined point. We did this, and even I could fly it (I tested each of the innovations which made Alan’s cut.) Unfortunately, almost immediately after I relinquished my position as SecAF in 2005, the acquisition community took control of this and other of Alan’s programs. It was not until the summer of 2007 that the lumbering process made its choice. The UAV was different to a small degree, but better (you can have either an EO or an IR sensor depending on time of day.) However, Alan and his team had more than an “80% -solution” years earlier. General Mike Ryan used to refer to the Air Force’s “acquisition tyranny” and this was a case to prove him right. The whole sad story is contained in a MIT doctoral dissertation done by an Air Force Systems Engineer.
Why my interest? A number of years before I became the Secretary, during a visit to Israel, I had had a lengthy discussion with a retired Israeli Air Force general who set up a small “think tank” which he named “Longbow.”
I was convinced that he was right, and once I understood the remarkable talent contained in Special Tactics, I recognized that there were such teams in our Air Force. The question, then, was how to make them even better. I did my best to bring my belief to anyone in the leadership of the U.S. Air Force who would listen, and in Generals John Jumper and Paul Hester I found kindred spirits. My determination that airmen like Alan Yoshida should have the very best in technology to match their superlative training and culture drove me, as did my heart-wrenching duty to join John Jumper in presenting two Air Force Crosses to the widows of a Combat Controller and a Special Tactics Pararescueman.
Special Tactics is a significant addition to the Special Forces of the United States, as is AFSOC more generally. These unique warriors permit small units to operate very effectively without having to haul massive firepower with them. They need only turn to the Combat Controller in their team; not long thereafter the Heavens will rain down precise and dramatic firepower on the enemy.
Can you imagine my sorrow, then, to see some of our best cadets at the Air Force Academy switch Services to join Navy SEAL teams because most of them knew nothing about our Air Commandos? But, on one trip to the Academy, my aide, Major (now Colonel) “RA” Armfield was approached by a Cadet and asked questions about what he was and what he did. RA “saved” this Cadet, and he now also proudly wears the red beret. The stories of our fellow airmen who make up AFSOC and Special Tactics should be required reading for every cadet in Colorado Springs and at every AFROTC unit!
James G. Roche, Secretary of the Air Force #20
Combat Control Association Honorary Life Member #4