FAC Protractor

Ground attack aircraft are incredibly useful in offering close support to ground troops in combat, laying down a withering barrage of fire on the enemy and allowing troops to quickly take advantage of a tactical situation. Unfortunately it is also a very risky tactic as it is easy for aircraft to misread their targets and accidentally hit friendly troops, the so called ‘blue on blue’ incidents. One way to mitigate this is to have trained forward air controllers embedded with ground forces who can direct aircraft onto the correct targets without hitting friendly forces. This role has been around since the Second World War, but the tactics and equipment available to FACs improved drastically over the next few decades and in 1957 the Army Air Corps was founded with this role as one of its primary functions.

Amongst the equipment developed was a dedicated FAC ruler that allowed a forward air controller to quickly calculate the path of an air launched munition:

The ruler is made of clear plastic and has a number of different scales showing the distance needed for a bomb to fall at different speeds. This then allows him to calculate the precise point a bomb should be released and the number of seconds needed for the bomb to fall can be calculated:

Quite how to use this ruler is beyond me, but I am sure with suitable training all the scales would make perfect sense! Perhaps the most famous Forward Air Controller is Prince Harry: Widow Six Seven had just given them the signal over the radio:

Cleared hot.” Seconds later, a roaring could be heard as the US F15 fighter jets dropped two 500lb bombs on their targets. As one dropped a third bomb on a Talibanbunker, men could be seen on the ground scrambling out from their cover.

To the American pilots, the English public school voice responding to their “in hot” request and guiding their missile fire gave no clue that the army officer with whom they were communicating was a member of the British royal family.

The soldier they knew as call sign Widow Six Seven was Prince Harry, working in Afghanistan as a forward air controller [FAC] identifying Taliban forces on the ground, verifying coordinates and clearing them as targets for attack…

The prince had retrained as an FAC after being refused permission to fight in Iraq alongside the men he had led in his regiment as troop leader. He admits now he was regarded as a “bullet magnet”. As a compromise, he was allowed, under strict conditions of secrecy, to work from a fortified position a distance away from the frontline in Helmand province, calling in aircraft and observing enemy movements.

On screens known to the troops as Kill TV or Taliban TV, the prince watched live pictures of the action on the battlefield. Cornet Wales, the rank by which he is known in the army, would observe all movements within his own restricted operating zone [ROZ] and give jets permission to enter his air space when he felt it was safe to do so. The prince’s job was to study the pictures, looking for body heat or movement that would help pinpoint the enemy. “Terry Taliban and his mates, as soon as they hear air they go to ground which makes life a little bit tricky,” he said, sitting in the operations room at FOB Delhi “So having something that gives you a visual feedback from way up means that they can carry on with their normal pattern of life and we can follow them.”

As part of his battlegroup’s fire planning cell, one of Harry’s most important responsibilities is to prevent accidents such as planes being hit by mortars and artillery shells or becoming involved in friendly fire incidents.

The prince had retrained as an FAC after being refused permission to fight in Iraq alongside the men he had led in his regiment as troop leader. He admits now he was regarded as a “bullet magnet”. As a compromise, he was allowed, under strict conditions of secrecy, to work from a fortified position a distance away from the frontline in Helmand province, calling in aircraft and observing enemy movements.

On screens known to the troops as Kill TV or Taliban TV, the prince watched live pictures of the action on the battlefield. Cornet Wales, the rank by which he is known in the army, would observe all movements within his own restricted operating zone [ROZ] and give jets permission to enter his air space when he felt it was safe to do so. The prince’s job was to study the pictures, looking for body heat or movement that would help pinpoint the enemy. “Terry Taliban and his mates, as soon as they hear air they go to ground which makes life a little bit tricky,” he said, sitting in the operations room at FOB Delhi “So having something that gives you a visual feedback from way up means that they can carry on with their normal pattern of life and we can follow them.”

As part of his battlegroup’s fire planning cell, one of Harry’s most important responsibilities is to prevent accidents such as planes being hit by mortars and artillery shells or becoming involved in friendly fire incidents.

“My job is to get air up, whether I have been tasked it a day before or on the day or when troops are in a contact [with the enemy]. Air is tasked to me, they check in to me when they come into the ROZ and then I’m basically responsible for that aircraft,” he said.

Before any strike on a target, it is up to the FAC to set the coordinates and give final clearance to drop a bomb. Because of the constant demands for air support across southern Afghanistan, a key part of the prince’s job was also to “bid” for aircraft which could be British, US, French or from another allied country.

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