Military exercises provide an opportunity to observe how Defence doctrine is put into action in the field. Here, Flight Lieutenant Emily Chapman provides lessons and reflections from her participation in the Tactical Air Control Party on Army’s Exercise BROLGA STRIKE.

Exercise BROLGA STRIKE was the 3rd Combat Brigade’s Combined Arms Training Activity (CATA) conducted over the period 01 Jun – 16 Jun, including a Live Fire Exercise (LFX) component. Almost 3 000 personnel deployed to Townsville Field Training Area (TFTA) for BROLGA STRIKE, including 10 Air Force personnel who formed the 3rd Brigade Tactical Air Control Party (TACP). Air Liaison Organisation (ALO) personnel posted to 3 BDE, including the Brigade Air Liaison Officer (BALO), Battlefield Airspace Control Liaison Officer (BACLO) and Operations Officer (OPSO), were augmented by 44 Wing Joint Battlefield Airspace Control Officers (JBACs) and a combination of Permanent Air Force (PAF) and Reserve OPSOs for the duration of the exercise.

The ALO represent the Air Commander and Air Force interests within Army and Navy through a permanent presence in Deployable Joint Force Headquarters, 1st, 3rd and 7th Combat Brigade Headquarters and the Amphibious Task Group. One of the capabilities it deploys is a TACP, which has responsibilities to DGAIR and a Brigade Commander, in the case of BROLGA STRIKE. With regards to DGAIR, the TACP executed air C2 and enabled the Theatre Air Control System (TACS). In support of Commander 3 BDE, the TACP ensured air assets were planned, tasked and controlled in a safe and effective manner that met Brigade air support requirements. ALO roles are critical during operations, with a key lesson from Operation FIJI ASSIST confirming the requirement for, and efficacy of ALO personnel as part of an ADF response. [1]

M777 firing

[Image credit: Defence]

A number of themes observed during BROLGA STRIKE are presented here as learning reflection and opportunity. These themes centre on mounting, integration, employment of Reservists, learning culture, and professional military education (PME). There is much more to the ALO and air-land integration than covered in this personal reflection piece.

Mounting

The TACP manning model draws together personnel from a disparate range of locations and with varying levels of experience, both within their category and / or working within a TACP. As such, a dedicated TACP mounting period is required to conduct Reception, Staging and Integration.[2] The duration of this period should be based on achieving specified outcomes, including equipment issue, training and safety briefs, vehicle and equipment preparation, communication testing and Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) rehearsals, but balanced with an appreciation of individual competency. A robust and structured program that is distributed prior to an Exercise is essential to the effectiveness of a TACP mounting period. Overall, a dedicated mounting period prepares TACP personnel to interface with Brigade Headquarters in a confident and competent manner while achieving internal TACP training outcomes.

Integration

A TACP deploys into the field as part of a Brigade HQs. This includes living in the field, and the use of Protected Mobility Vehicles (PMV) as transport and workspace. To fully integrate into a Brigade HQ, a TACP requires interoperable equipment, training, systems and vehicles. Progress made in this area has been considerable, with personal equipment (weapons and combat ensemble) now consistent between Brigade HQs and the TACP. However, there is an ongoing need to maintain technological pace with the supported HQ and this includes having organic assets, such as PMVs, fitted with key command and control systems such as the Battle Management System (BMS). Having dedicated RAAF PMVs equipped with interoperable systems supports the decentralisation of air effects, a key air power tenet. [3] Organic capability enables a TACP to be more self-sufficient, in-turn reducing the current reliance on Army in some areas.

Reservists

Reservist OPSO are a critical capability within Air Force and especially so within the ALO because they fill the majority of TACP OPSO positions during exercises. To deploy into the field, often with a new team every year in support of the Readying Brigade, these personnel are committed and driven. They also have strengths based on previous experience and areas of interest. During Brolga Strike, it was clear OPSOs were given roles and responsibilities that maximised outcomes for the TACP and the Brigade HQs based on a concept of employing personnel in roles that matched their strengths. Such an approach enhances team- building and morale, and supports ongoing Reserve commitment. Key to the ongoing value of this approach is appreciating Reservists’ strengths and defining roles and responsibilities, including the mentoring and knowledge transfer to permanent OPSOs new to working in a TACP. These defined roles will be essential into the future, especially the need to de-conflict the experience of long-term Reserve ALO OPSOs with permanent Brigade OPSOs who will rotate through the ALO as a posting.

Organisational Learning Culture

BROLGA STRIKE exercise design provided a learning environment in preparation for participation in TALISMAN SABRE (HAMEL) 2017 which was evident from the outset of augmentation. Subsequent reading of the 3rd Brigade 100 Day Assessment reflects that Exercise BROLGA STRIKE is one point in a broader Brigade culture where learning is Command driven. During Rehearsal of Concept (ROC) drills, Brigade leaders were observed to identify and apply experience from previous exercises. Learning exchange driven in this way visibly brings to the fore the benefits of knowledge capture, analysis and dissemination and supports the institutionalisation of learning practices. Critical to this process is distilling and implementing the knowledge that is transferable to the next exercise, task or operation. This level of analysis is supported by the Centre for Army Lessons (CAL), who was present during Brolga Strike, further reflecting learning culture within the Brigade. It will be interesting to compare the insights they derive from their collection with this opinion piece.

A number of other learning activities were observed during BROLGA STRIKE, including mentoring during the planning process and 4 Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery facilitating access to the gunline for observers. In regards to the mentoring observed, it is the manner in which the mentoring was conducted. The environment developed by the mentor was calm, consistent and recognised people’s contribution. While two Courses of Action (COA) were developed by COA Leads, the environment was learning-focused and not competitive to get one plan up over the other. The tempo of the exercise supported this process, with time available for this mentoring to occur in a conducive manner. An example of this learning environment is being provided the opportunity to observe an artillery M777 gunline. This observation period occurred towards the end of the exercise, which provided time to understand the training scenario and how artillery is being used in support of manoeuvre by other Units and Battle Groups (BG). 4 Regiment conducted a 0300h serial and were on task for a 0730h serial. Observation of the gunline demonstrated a side of Army that Air Force rarely gets to see; resilient, skilled, committed and confident in the face of little sleep, no comfort and a lot of spear grass. Taking these opportunities builds an understanding of respective Service capabilities, which is the foundation of effective joint operations.

The third learning outcome from BROLGA STRIKE came from within the TACP. Integration into the TACP commenced with the receipt of 3 BDE TACP ‘Commander’s Guidance’ for the conduct of the exercise, which included training lessons learnt. Internal TACP learning culture became evident during the Exercise. ‘No comms no bombs’ is a colloquial Air Force mantra, and in this context means the location of Brigade HQ nodes is critical for a TACP to control the air. The early and ongoing involvement of the TACP in Brigade planning is essential to achieve communications at respective nodal locations and this was identified as a training outcome of a previous 3 BDE exercise, Exercise BROLGA RUN. [4] Secondly, is the need for innovation when things don’t go to plan or when there is an opportunity to test a concept. The specific example during BROLGA STRIKE was the demonstration of a re-broadcast capability, which required a Brigade commitment to enable the TACP to test the concept and an internal TACP drive to achieve a successful outcome. Enabling the implementation of innovate measures reflects a robust learning culture, both within the TACP and 3rd Brigade.

Air-Land Integration PME

TACP capability is integrated into Brigade HQs, with varying constructs available. [5] To support building knowledge of 5th generation air capability at Unit and BG level, the inclusion of air capability briefs into Army Unit-level Professional Military Education (PME) programs may be beneficial. Such knowledge is useful when conducting BG planning, requesting air effects and integrating assets into manoeuvre during live exercises. Opportunities to work closely with Combat Training Centre (CTC) to further enhance air-land integration training outcomes and achieve a realistic and immersive training environment are being realised. [6] As such, air-land integration PME is one proposal within a much larger body of work. [7]

In Conclusion

A posting or exercise with the ALO provides a joint learning opportunity that cannot be derived from the current Air Force Professional Military Education Training (PMET) continuum. Working in a TACP develops competence and confidence to input air power subject matter advice in a high-tempo and challenging planning/execution environment. Air Force and Army personnel will take experiences from the Brigade-level into their future roles as leaders within their respective Service. As such, the relationships built and the exposure gained to land force capability is invaluable in an Air Force focused and committed to achieving joint outcomes. Ongoing Air Force involvement in Army exercises brings greater awareness of what we bring to the fight – and we bring a lot.

A note of thanks to 4th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery for hosting FLGOFF Mole and I during a training serial and SQNLDR Barnes for review of an earlier version of this piece.

 

[1] Adaptive Warfare Branch OP FIJI ASSIST 2016 Lesson Collection Activity.    

[2] See also TACP Brolga Run16 – First Impressions Report

[3] See Tactical Air Control Party Concept of Employment

[4] See Exercise Silicon Brolga Strike 2017 Post Activity Report

[5] See Tactical Air Control Party Concept of Employment

[6] See Exercise Silicon Brolga Strike 2017 Post Activity Report

[7] See Joint Fires and Effects Training within the ADF and 3 BDE Air-Land Integration Updated (Oct 16-Jun 17)

 

FLTLT Emily Chapman is a RAAFAR Operations Officer posted to the Air Liaison Organisation. She has a broad range of domestic and overseas exercise and operational experience. She is concurrently a PhD Candidate at the UNSW at Canberra researching civil-military interaction during disaster relief operations.