Leadership: USAF Creates a Magnificent Monster


March 16, 2006: The U.S. Air Force has created the ultimate version of the Stryker wheeled armored vehicle. The TACP (Tactical Air Control Party) Stryker has extra equipment for managing what's in the air, as well as on the ground. This includes permanent mounts for extra radios, antennae, a tactical computer and the Rover system to view video taken by UAVs. Each TACP has a crew of seven (an army driver, an army vehicle commander; an air force NCO, an army fire support officer or NCO, an air force air controller; a radio operator; and a maintenance specialist). All are trained to fight on the ground, but their main job it to bring in smart bombs, artillery and rockets to where the troops around them need it.

After working with the six TACPs built so far, the army realized that this was the future of mechanized warfare. If all armored vehicles, and unarmored command vehicles, were equipped like this, you could bring enormous firepower down on the enemy with unprecedented speed and accuracy. Moreover, the Rover link with UAVs (and eventually warplane sensors) enables a single vehicle to see much farther, day or night and in all weather. Actually, this type of capability has been an army goal for some time. But the need for more capabilities because of a war going on in Iraq, and the subsequent development of stuff like TACP, has speeded up the process. Each TACP Stryker costs $3 million (vehicle and special equipment).

TACPs are going to Iraq, where they will serve their designed purpose, to make a new air force/army concept work. This involves formally linking air force fighter squadrons with army combat brigades. The air force and army units would regularly train together in peace time. This means that the commanders and staffs from the two services would frequently meet to plan these exercises. That would give everyone an opportunity to bring each other up to date on new equipment, weapons and ideas in each service. The first units will consist of several F-16 squadrons and a Stryker brigade. One reason for using the Stryker brigade is that these units have the latest communications and computer gear, which is designed to easily communicate with similarly equipped warplanes overhead. The new combinations will be called a Joint Mission Capability Package (Joint MCAP). If this experiment works, reserve and active duty warplane squadrons would be linked, via a Joint MCAP arrangement, with army brigades, with the idea that, if the army unit had to ship out to a combat zone overseas, its MCAP air force squadrons would go with it.

The air force doesn't like the idea of every armored vehicle having TACP capabilities, or using many more army personnel as air controllers. But that's where it's going, mainly because smart bombs have gotten so smart they no longer require a hot shot pilot to hit the target accurately every time. The primary responsibility is now on the ground, and most of it is embedded in machines. It's mainly point (the laser rangefinder) and click (to capture the location of the target, and transmit it to the aircraft overhead.) The army can even uses its own UAVs for the airborne videos. The army is rushing ahead with all this battlefield automation, and the air force is trying to keep up.




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