Control over air and land

5 June 2023

Students of No. 71 Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) Course showed their ability to think on their feet during the course’s culminating activity, Exercise Black Dagger.

The exercise, at RAAF Base Townsville from May 22 to June 2, required students to coordinate the delivery of simulated and live ordnance from supporting aircraft integrated with a ground fire and manoeuvre scenario.

The Townsville Field Training Area and Shoalwater Bay Training Area provided the necessary environment to conduct the activity safely. 

The course is a vital part of enabling graduates to execute the planning, briefing, controlling and reporting needed to conduct battlefield close air support.

F-35A Lightning II from 77 Squadron and Pilatus PC-21 from 4 Squadron supported the exercise, while CH-47F Chinooks from Army’s 5 Aviation Regiment and an M777 155mm howitzer from 4 Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery played key roles.

Commanding Officer 4 Squadron Wing Commander Sean Jobson said the exercise was an essential contributor to joint force strike power.

“The purpose of Exercise Black Dagger is to put the JTAC trainees through simulated scenarios in which they are responsible for achieving the ground force commander’s intent by coordinating the employment of air and land delivered weapons,” Wing Commander Jobson said.

“The role of a JTAC requires individuals who can plan quickly on their feet, while taking in a lot of different inputs, to develop plans which neutralise enemy threats and keep friendly forces out of harm’s way.”

Flight Lieutenant Ben Young, a JTAC trainee involved in the exercise, said it solidified his training.

“Exercise Black Dagger brings together all of the skills we have learnt on the JTAC course so far,” Flight Lieutenant Young said.

“My role is to assist ground commanders with integrating air delivered effects with land forces. Becoming experts in air and land – and where the two domains meet – is the purpose of this course.”

This year’s course included participants from both the United States and New Zealand.

“The combined training has allowed the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) and Australian JTAC’s to work seamlessly together. The relationship will only grow stronger as we continue to operate together in the future,” a NZDF spokesperson said.

The exercise formed an integral part of 77SQN pilot training, and was the first time 77 Squadron has dropped high explosive ordinance since transitioning to the F-35A Lightning II.

Commanding Officer 77 Squadron Wing Commander Paul Simmons said the role of the F-35A is “to enter the battlespace when it is most dangerous and suppress threats to allow friendly forces to execute their missions more effectively”.

“Exercise Black Dagger 23 has been a success for all forces involved and has allowed the entire 77 Squadron team to practise and refine their skills in delivering lethal and survivable air power to the joint force,” he said.



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