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Combat Control

Combat Controllers are trained special operations forces and certified FAA air traffic controllers. Their mission is to deploy undetected into hostile combat and austere environments to establish assault zones or airfields, while simultaneously conducting air traffic control, fire support, command and control, direct action, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense, humanitarian assistance, and special reconnaissance.

Their motto "First There" reaffirms the combat controller's commitment to undertaking the most dangerous missions behind enemy lines by leading the way for other forces to follow.

Operations

Combat controllers operate all over the world.

Air Force Special Operations Command's combat controllers are Special Tactics Airmen assigned to Special Tactics squadrons within the 24th Special Operations Wing, as well as the 321st Special Tactics Squadron, RAF Mildenhall, U.K., and 320th Special Tactics Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan. They are highly trained special operations forces who integrate air power into the special operations battlespace.

Capabilities

Move, shoot and communicate.

The mission of a combat controller is to deploy, undetected, into combat and hostile environments to establish assault zones or airfields, while simultaneously conducting air traffic control, fire support, command and control, direct action, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense, humanitarian assistance and special reconnaissance in the joint arena.

Their motto, "First There," reaffirms the combat controller's commitment to undertaking the most dangerous missions behind enemy lines by leading the way for other forces to follow.

'FIRST THERE': The History

Today’s combat controller is the U.S. Army Corps’ Pathfinders, who guided bomber and fighter aircraft to targets during World War II.

Major parachute assaults fell well short of expectations; in some cases with personnel being air dropped as much as 30 miles from their intended target areas.
The shortcomings of these operations identified the need for effective guidance and control of air transported combat forces.

Thus, a small parachute scout company of Army pathfinders was organized and trained. Their mission was to precede the main assault force to an objective area and, through the use of high powered lights, flares and smoke pots, provide visual guidance and critical weather information to inbound aircraft.

Extensive involvement in Vietnam helped form the basis of combat control operating methods in use today. Tailpipes, as they were commonly referred to in those days, assisted during countless airlifts. They helped to assure mission safety, expedite air traffic flow, and coordinate with local agencies and airlift control elements.

Today’s combat controller is the U.S. Army Corps’ Pathfinders, who guided bomber and fighter aircraft to targets during World War II.
Major parachute assaults fell well short of expectations; in some cases with personnel being air dropped as much as 30 miles from their intended target areas.

The shortcomings of these operations identified the need for effective guidance and control of air transported combat forces.

Thus, a small parachute scout company of Army pathfinders was organized and trained. Their mission was to precede the main assault force to an objective area and, through the use of high powered lights, flares and smoke pots, provide visual guidance and critical weather information to inbound aircraft.
Extensive involvement in Vietnam helped form the basis of combat control operating methods in use today. Tailpipes, as they were commonly referred to in those days, assisted during countless airlifts.

They helped to assure mission safety, expedite air traffic flow, and coordinate with local agencies and airlift control elements.

Because of their unique capabilities and quick reaction time, combat controllers have been instrumental in the resolution of several international emergencies and humanitarian relief efforts. When earthquakes devastated parts of Guatemala, Peru and Nicaragua, combat controllers were the first in and were the only communications link to relief headquarters.

Combat controllers were a part of the huge pre-strike build-up of the United Nation coalition during operation Desert Shield. Combat controllers were heavily involved in the air traffic control, air-to-ground operations, and assault actions that liberated Kuwait from Iraq during the ensuing Desert Storm campaign. Combat controllers also provided extensive air traffic control for the airlift that provided humanitarian relief to Kurdish refugees fleeing into northern Iraq.

Because of their unique capabilities, CCT members have played a huge role in Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Since 9/11, four combat controllers and a Special Tactics officer have earned the Air Force Cross Medal for extraordinary heroism in combat operations, and twenty-two have earned the Silver Star.

Take the Challenge

Click here for FAQs. If you want more information, please contact the Special Tactics Recruiting, Assessment and Selection section at 24SOW.RAS.org@us.af.mil or 850-884-8094.

Training

Combat controllers are among the most highly trained personnel in the U.S. military.

They maintain air traffic control qualification skills throughout their careers; many qualify and maintain currency in joint terminal attack control procedures, in addition to other special operations skills like infiltration skills and combat diver and demolition qualifications.

Their 35-week training and unique mission skills earn them the right to wear the scarlet beret:

  • Combat Control Selection Course, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas- This two-week orientation course focuses on sports physiology, nutrition, basic exercises, CCT history and fundamentals.
  • Combat Control Operator Course, Keesler AFB, Miss.- This 15-and-a-half-week course teaches aircraft recognition and performance, air navigation aids, weather, airport traffic control, flight assistance service, communication procedures, conventional approach control, radar procedures and air traffic rules. This is the same course that all Air Force air traffic controllers attend and is the heart of a combat controller's job.
  • U.S. Army Airborne School, Fort Benning, Ga.- This three-week course teaches basic parachuting skills required to infiltrate an objective area by static line airdrop.
  • U.S. Air Force Basic Survival School, Fairchild AFB, Wash.- This two-and-a-half-week course teaches basic survival techniques for remote areas. Instruction includes principles, procedures, equipment and techniques, which enables individuals to survive, regardless of climatic conditions or unfriendly environments and return home.
  • Combat Control School, Pope AFB, N.C.- This 13-week course provides final CCT qualifications. Training includes physical training, small unit tactics, land navigation, communications, assault zones, demolitions, fire support and field operations including parachuting. At the completion of this course, each graduate is awarded the three-skill level (journeymen), scarlet beret and CCT flash.
  • Special Tactics Advanced Skills Training, Hurlburt Field, Fla.- Advanced Skills Training (AST) is a 11-to-12-month program for newly assigned combat controller operators. AST produces mission-ready operators for the Air Force and United States Special Operations Command. The AST schedule is broken down into three phases: formal training, core skills, and operational readiness. The course tests the trainee's personal limits through demanding mental and physical training. Combat controllers also attend the following schools during AST:
    • U.S. Army Military Free Fall Parachutist School, Fort Bragg, N.C., and Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz.- This course instructs trainees in free fall parachuting procedures. The five-week course provides wind tunnel training, in-air instruction focusing on student stability, aerial maneuvers, air sense, parachute opening procedures and parachute canopy control.
    • U.S. Air Force Combat Divers School, Panama City, Fla.- Trainees become combat divers, learning to use scuba and closed circuit diving equipment to covertly infiltrate denied areas. The four-week course provides training to depths of 130 feet, stressing development of maximum underwater mobility under various operating conditions