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New handbook helps Corps understand tactical air operations

By Lance Cpl. Jakob Schulz | | March 11, 2010

A new handbook outlining proper Tactical Air Operations Center guidelines, developed by Yuma’s Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1, was released Jan. 8, 2010, to clarify for commanders the purpose and execution of TAOC operations.

The rewritten handbook clarifies and explains the purpose and changes to the TAOC community, and provides a versatile guide for the Marine air command and control community in its modernization efforts.

“The review and revision of the TAOC handbook was necessary to ensure the new equipment and crew structure changes were appropriately captured,” said Capt. Robert Walker, MAWTS-1 TAOC division head. “This process also allowed our community to ensure tactics, techniques and procedures reflected these changes and stayed in line with both Marine Corps and joint doctrine.”

TAOCs are a complex array of sensors, air control equipment, data links and radio nets manned by Marines that enable the Marine air-ground task force to survey and control a large volume of battle space.

Two major changes were made to the handbook, which was last updated in 1996.

“The first major change during the rewrite was to clearly articulate what the TAOC brought to the fight, and how to best employ such a capable agency,” said Maj. Jeremy Winters, Marine Tactical Air Command Squadron 38 operations officer based in Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.

The second change focused on the encoding of TAOC’s control of deep-air operations.

Deep-air operations are normally executed far from friendly forces and do not require the type of detailed integration with ground forces that close-air support does.

“Control of deep-air operations was a big success story for TAOC in Operation Iraqi Freedom,” said Winters, who contributed to the handbook. “The TAOC community was prepared to assume that mission in a formal way.”

During the initial push into Iraq in 2003, TAOCs controlled most of the airspace south of Baghdad, directing thousands of deep-air strikes to destroy targets ranging from Scud missile launchers to tank units, shaping the next day’s battle space and enabling other agencies to support the MAGTF’s close fight with on-time air support, said Winters.

The handbook allowed the TAOC community to capture these lessons and translate them in a way that transcended a singular conflict and provide a framework for training and deployments, said Winters.

Before the update, TAOCs were widely misunderstood by the Corps and given tasks not suited for them.

“Often times in the past, planners at higher commands incorrectly associated specific suites of TAOC equipment with certain capabilities,” said Winters. “This was largely due to a lack of precision in the TAOC doctrine.”

In addition, the handbook is also used as a document to help guide commanders in the training of their Marines, said Walker.

Though this handbook is the most up-to-date version of TAOC operations, the tactics are continuously growing and evolving.

“While I believe that there are always issues that could be revisited and readdressed, doctrine needs to endure the test of time before it is rewritten,” said Winters. “Documents exist to provide localized procedures for particular conflicts, but I’d like to see the TAOC community try this updated handbook on for size and see where it takes them.”

Work on the revision started in 2005, however it had to be reworked a number of times, before a final draft was written..

The reason for the delay was the changes in equipment and crew structure, said Master Sgt. Herbert Smith, MAWTS-1 TAOC division chief.

The equipment that TAOC operators use was being replaced, and the addition of the deep-air operations section to the handbook also slowed down the release.

At least two members from MAWTS-1, along with other Marine air control units contributed to the new handbook.

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