A New Way to Use JTACs

The US-led air campaign in Iraq and Syria does use American joint tactical air controllers to approve air strikes, although none are operating with Iraqi ground forces, the coalition air component commander said Friday. “We’re using JTACS and using them in a significant way,” said Lt. Gen. John Hesterman, Air Forces Central Command boss. Asked about the argument by members of Congress and others that embedding the highly trained controllers with Iraqi forces would improve the impact of the air campaign, Hesterman said, “I don’t see it that way.” American JTACs are in his coalition air operations center and other air operations centers in the theater, analyzing data from strike aircraft and ISR platforms, assessing weapons effect and possible collateral damage to help approve strikes, he explained. JTACs on the battlefield “are always value added,” he said in a telephone briefing. “Would they be helpful? Probably. Are they necessary? Not so far,” he added. Hesterman noted that the coalition commander, Army Gen. John Campbell, has said he would ask for JTACs on the ground if they were considered necessary. “What we need is precise information about where the enemy is. I’m agnostic on where it comes from,” Hesterman said. (See also Targeting ISIS from the November 2014 issue of Air Force Magazine.)