The first coalition live-fire exercise for the Iraqi Forward Air Controller course took place at Besmaya Range, Iraq, March 4-8, 2018.
The Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, in conjunction with the Coalition Aviation Advisory and Training Team, coordinated the exercise to certify newly trained Iraqi Forward air controllers. The exercise showcased the progress the IFACs have made since their training started in December 2017.
“The coordination that occurred during planning sessions leading up to the live-fire events and the actual execution of the mission signals positive commitment to building a capable and professional Iraqi Security Force to integrate and control airborne strike assets,” said Col. James Howard, 370th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group commander. “This builds legitimacy into the Iraqi program and fosters enduring relationships among partners in the fight against (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).”
The event marked significant first-time milestones as the IFACs called-in coalition aircraft strikes in a controlled environment and the first-time coalition aircraft have employed munitions on this range.
Both the live-fire exercise and IFAC course have proven to be a successful, multinational collaboration. The course is coordinated by Task Group Taji, and is comprised of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps personnel, who are assisted by U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Control Party joint terminal attack controllers.
The U.S. Army’s 449th Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Hurricanes, contributed support during the live-fire exercise by providing an AH-64E Apache Guardian to conduct close air support techniques and close combat attack training with IFAC students.
“This is important to building partner capacity and supports (Iraqi Security Force) stability operations,” said U.S. Army Maj. Warren Green, 449th CAB assistant operations and partnership officer. “The course also facilitates unity of effort across coalition forces and ISF.”
Green expressed how growing the IFACs will help the ISF integrate Iraqi fixed wing and rotary wing assets into the ground scheme of maneuver, which increases their combat effectiveness on the battlefield.
During a Mar. 6, 2018 visit with coalition and Iraqi service members participating in the live-fire exercise, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, Air Forces Central Command commander, observed the ICAFs calling in practice air strikes and noted the progress being made.
“I’m impressed with the progress our Iraqi partners are making as they work to improve their combat capabilities,” said Harrigian. “Throughout the fight to liberate Iraq, the ability to effectively call in air support was a critical enabler as Iraqi ground forces advanced against the enemy. Our efforts to help them hone this and other vital skills will pay dividends down the road as they take the lead in safeguarding their country from threats.”
In December 2017, a similar live-fire event took place at which IFACs practiced calling in close air support from both fixed and rotary wing Iraqi air assets from their Air Force and Army Aviation Command.
“This exercise helps bridge the gap between the Iraqi Security Forces being able to call in close air support from their own assets to expanding their capability to call in support from the coalition,” Howard added.