British troops work with NATO partners during Close Air Support exercise

Soldiers hidden in covert observation posts have called in fast fighter jets and attack helicopters to destroy ‘enemy’ positions during Exercise Furious Wolf.

The two-week exercise aimed to strengthen co-operation and enhance integration between the various NATO forces currently based in Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Lithuania as part of the NATO enhanced forward Presence (eFP) mission.

The soldiers known as Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs), are responsible for identifying the locations of all friendly forces, enemy and civilian on the battlefield whilst directing the actions of aircraft in support of the allied ground units. The exercise tested the JTACs ability to process information quickly to enable Close Air Support to be directed from the ground and attack the simulated enemy.

JTACs can provide a live video feed from the aircraft to their commander, allowing them to see miles ahead from their position on the ground and find targets. They can then use this information to co-ordinate with artillery and armoured manoeuvre units prior to attacking or defending their position.

The JTACs were embedded with an infantry section from C Company, The Royal Welsh and the enemy was played by soldiers from the eFP Artillery Group. Aircraft for the exercise was provided by the RAF, Army Air Corps, United States Air Force, Estonian Airforce, together with aircraft from the current Baltic Air Policing units from Belgium and Poland. Support also came from French Leclerc main battle tanks, UK Warrior infantry fighting vehicles and a platoon of Estonian Mortars. 

The TACP and the JTACs are a battle-winning asset and Operation Cabrit provides a great training opportunity for our team. Captain Buller, Officer Commanding Tactical Air Control Party

Captain Buller, Officer Commanding the British Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) of which the JTACs are a part of said:

“The JTAC has to be able to convey the ground commander’s intent to the Aircrew in the cockpit. Training opportunities such as these allow us to perfect that process and work side by side with our NATO partner nations.”

The role and equipment used by the JTAC is fully interoperable. It includes Ultra High Frequency air to ground radio systems to enable communication between the aircraft and the JTAC and specialised targeting equipment including Laser Target Designators that mark a target with an intensely focused laser beam.

Captain Buller continued: “We had Estonian JTACs working with RAF Typhoons and UK JTACs working with USAF F35. All the JTACs worked with all the different NATO aircraft. Our role is unique in that we can seamlessly integrate with the other nations aircraft and vice versa.” 

Operation Cabrit is the operational name for the UK’s deployment and contribution to NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. Around 800 British soldiers from the Royal Welsh Battlegroup are currently deployed to Estonia where they lead the multinational battlegroup alongside Danish and French forces. Around 600 service personnel from the Royal Tank Regiment Battlegroup have remained in Estonia to support NATO and bilateral exercises. 

Operation Cabrit also includes around 150 British soldiers deployed to Poland where they are part of the US-led battlegroup. Each of the multinational battlegroups are combat-ready and train and operate alongside host nation forces.