Defense Media Network

Air Force Seeks Enhanced Capabilities for Battlefield Airmen

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Munitions Directorate at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., has released a broad agency announcement designed to enhance the ground tactical capabilities of “Battlefield Airmen and Security Forces.”

According to the announcement, “Certain ground combat capabilities are an Airman’s responsibility and require unique surface operations that are integral to the application of air and space power. To meet this responsibility, the Air Force recognized the need to organize, train, and equip a force of Battlefield Airmen (BA) capable of delivering distinctive expertise in a ground combat environment with unequaled firepower, accuracy, responsiveness, flexibility and persistence. These BA include Combat Control, Pararescue, Tactical Air Control and Battlefield Weather professionals. BA provide skill sets not commonly found across the Air Force and typically operate in combat zones outside the perimeter of Air Force bases, often in the deep battle space.”

Combat Controller, Haiti

A U.S. Air Force combat controller uses a rangefinder for a drop zone survey outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 24, 2010, during Operation Unified Response. U.S. Air Force photo Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock

Air Force Combat Controllers, for example, are defined in the document as “Special Tactics ground operators who work as members of Air Force Special Tactics Teams and as members of Army Special Forces, Navy SEAL, and Joint Special Operations teams. Combat Controllers are certified to act as air traffic controllers and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers in hostile and dangerous environments. They can be deployed by sea, air, and land to take over or construct an airstrip, set up navigational equipment, and direct airplanes and helicopters to a safe landing without the use of a tower or elaborate communications system. They also establish drop zones and control parachute drops of personnel and equipment, and control airstrikes and air attacks from fixed and rotary-wing aircraft from all military services.”

Pararescue Airmen [also known as Pararescue Jumpers (PJs)] conduct conventional or unconventional rescue operations. They deploy in any available manner, to include air-land-sea tactics, into restricted environments to authenticate, extract, treat, stabilize and evacuate injured personnel, while acting in an enemy-evading recovery role.

Another Air Force ground element includes Battlefield and Special Operations Weathermen, who are meteorologists with advanced tactical training to operate in hostile or denied territory. They gather and interpret weather data, and provide intelligence from deployed locations while working primarily with Army (Battlefield Weather) and Special Operations (Special Operations Weather) forces.

Finally, Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) personnel advise U.S. Army conventional and special operations ground maneuver commanders on the integration and execution of air and space power.

“Each of these career fields has unique missions in support of both Special Operations Forces and conventional forces,” the announcement adds. “However, many core disciplines are common to the majority of BA. These commonalities include areas such as methods of employment, mobility, force protection methods, communication, and advances in mission planning and rehearsal. Advancements are sought to support specific mission areas as they pertain to each individual career field.”

The AFRL Munitions Directorate BAA seeks to address capability gaps, limitations, or deficiencies to improve the effectiveness of these Battlefield Airmen.

The gaps are divided into 10 specific research areas:

  1. Force protection enhancements;
  2. Personal equipment;
  3. C4 systems and related software;
  4. Optics and displays;
  5. Sensors and navigational Aids;
  6. Tactical energy;
  7. Clandestine mobility;
  8. Medical;
  9. Tactical meteorological systems, and;
  10. Alternate means of insertion and extraction.

In the case of force protection enhancements, for example, the objective is “to conduct research which could eventually lead to the development of improved shelters, materials, armor and related items for the deployed Battlefield Airmen. Research to effectively detect, deceive, avoid and prevent contamination and/or injury or exposure to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives (CBRNE) and other threats will greatly enhance BA effectiveness. Research in areas that will allow the Battlefield Airmen to engage threats from greater standoff distances is also desired.”

JTAC web gear

Some of a Joint Terminal Attack Controller’s equipment shown during Exercise Allied Strike 10 at the U.S. Army’s training area in Grafenwoehr, Germany. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Caleb Pierce

At the other end of the capability gap listing, alternate means of insertion and extraction (AIE) seeks “methods to improve, augment, or replace current systems and methods. Current capabilities include but are not limited to rope ladder, fast rope, hoist, SCUBA, HALO (high altitude low opening), HAHO (high altitude high opening), and static line parachute operations. The objective is to conduct research which could lead to development of new and enhanced capabilities and equipment that aid in mounted, dismounted, and airborne ingress/egress operations on land, sea, and air. Research to enhance survivability for the dismounted surface, sub-surface, and airborne operator that would reduce visual, thermal, and electromagnetic signature of the operator moving in both permissive and non-permissive environments is desired. Innovative research in improved systems for rapid, safe, and clandestine insertion and extraction may also be proposed.”

The Air Force BAA is expected to remain open through Oct.30, 2012, or until amended or superseded.


Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...