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Mar 26 2021

Hotline to the heavens over Lithuania

Panevėžys, Lithuania - The Joint Terminal Air Controllers (JTACs) are the direct line to the sky for soldiers. Sometimes they are saviours from grave peril. The JTACs belong to the eFP Battlegroup Lithuania (eFP BG LTU), which is composed of 1,200 service men and women from seven Nations; ready to fulfill their missions and tasks.

It is early February 2021, somewhere near the Lithuanian city of Panevėžys. An old Soviet air base which the Lithuanian Army uses as an exercise area; various mural paintings on the abandoned buildings bearing witness to a past in which Lithuania was under Russian rule. If you imagine it without the exercising units of the Lithuanian armed forces, it seems that time has stopped here. A terrain like in one of the many theaters of operation in which German soldiers are deployed.

Captain Daniel S. is a JTAC (AF) officer at eFP BG LTU. PAO EFP/OTL

Furious Wolf – an exercise for specialists

Meanwhile, there are several persons huddled up behind the corner of a house, their faces covered by tube scarfs to protect them against the cold. They are packed with a multitude of equipment items. It is the Joint Terminal Air Controllers (JTACs) getting ready for their mission. The  exercise “Furious Wolf” is a close air support (CAS) exercise with the aim of training air support for eFP BG LTU forces operating on the ground. These soldiers waiting for their mission behind the wall of the derelict building come from the Netherlands, Germany and Norway. Together they try to guide the Italian Air Force’s Eurofighters which belong to the Baltic Air Policing mission to their targets on the ground. One of those officers is Captain Daniel S., a member of the German Air Force security force and by that alone already an exotic character among the soldiers of eFP BG LTU, who almost exclusively come from the German Army branch of service. Waiting for his mission, he explains his equipment to us: “There is a whole lot of things that we need for our mission in order to be able to really work effectively,” Daniel S. says. Always with you in any case must be “a high-power radio set, maps, GPS devices, laser pointers or laser designators, smoke grenades and other tools that can be used to designate ground targets.”

The exercise begins: Daniel S. put on his equipment. PAO EFP/OTL

An Air Force officer embedded in the Army

At the same time, the Air Force officer is keenly listening to his Norwegian fellow soldier who is already right in the middle of exercising, guiding one of the Italian Eurofighters to the target. Daniel S. describes what the Norwegian officer is currently doing: “Here we are in a hybrid warfare scenario, in which we don’t exactly know who our opponent is and where exactly they are located. It is a particularly difficult situation because you can never say with certainty where the civilian population is and where the opponent. In this, we have to cooperate with the Air Force with absolute accuracy and diligently reconnoitre the surroundings. If we make mistakes, this can have devastating consequences.” The Captain continues that all targets were properly reconnoitred this time. Everybody is sure that there are no civilians in the vicinity. Daniel S. is highly focused, the Norwegian soldier is almost done with his run; a Eurofighter is loitering above their heads, makes its approach and, in simulation, releases the aerial munition of choice. If this was not an exercise, the target – a ramshackle, pale yellow building – would have taken a direct hit. A success for the JTACs. And a great help for their hard-pressed fellow soldiers who are fighting these irregular forces on the ground.

Multinational cooperation: Captain S. and his Dutch fellow soldier. PAO EFP/OTL

Close air support: interplay between ground and air

The next run is the one of Daniel S. He got on his knees between two protruding pieces of wall and spread out a map of the terrain in front of him. Tied to his equipment and held together by a small chain, there are several laminated pocket cards: the so-called nine-liner, one of the essential tools for coordinated communication with the pilot of the aircraft. Before it starts, the joint terminal air controller quickly explains for what he needs those: “The whole thing is a standardized procedure for requesting pinpoint air strikes, no matter for which aircraft; I actually almost know it by heart, but it is always better to have these as a cheat sheet,” the Captain says with a smirk while pointing to the plastic cards. Basically, the nine-liner is used to pass on essential data for the air strike, including the altitude of the aircraft, its speed as well as information on the target and the aerial munition chosen by the JTAC.

Daniel S. keenly listening to his Norwegian fellow soldier. PAO EFP/OTL

Wolf, this is Jedi: The air strike begins

He is not quite done with his explanations when the starting signal for his exercise run comes. He establishes contact to the approaching aircraft:

WOLF, this is JEDI, how do you read?
JEDI, this is WOLF, I read you loud and clear, how me?
WOLF, this is JEDI, I read you 5 by 5 as well.
JEDI, I challenge you A-H.
JEDI authenticates “C”, over.
Good authentication and advise when ready for my CHECK-IN BRIEF.
This is JEDI, send it.

Captain S. is now in contact with the pilot and uses his various tools to guide him to the target, a multi-storey building that, in simulation, is supposed to be located on the periphery of a settlement. Using the nine-liner, he clarifies all the essential things the pilot needs to find his target. He hears the necessary flight data from the pilot in order to be able to see the approach from his perspective and guide him to the target in the best way possible. The means of choice is a laser-guided bomb which he designated with his marking device beforehand. One of the Italian Eurofighters approaches again and, in simulation, releases the weapon. If this actually would have been a live air strike, the bomb, guided by the laser beam, would have directly hit the target. Once more he presses the send key on his radio set:

“WOLF – cleared hot” („continue dry“– as it was not a live bomb)

Captain S. sounds satisfied, the pilot of the Eurofighter now knows that the operation was a success and completes this successful training day of Furious Wolf 2021/I with a low-altitude flyover.

Wolf, this is Jedi. Captain Daniel S. in communication with the attack aircraft. PAO EFP/OTL
An important piece of equipment: the laser designator
Italian Eurofighter in low-altitude flyover
Relicts of the past: Soviet mural paintings on the buildings in Panevėžys
Captain Daniel S. looking at the map of the exercise area

Story by LTC Hoff, former Chief Public Affairs Battlegroup Lithuania

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