Lightning Challenge 2021 Showcases TACP Capabilities for the Future Fight

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Katie DuBois Tamesis
  • 93d Air Ground Operations Wing

The 93d Air Ground Operations Wing hosted Lightning Challenge 2021, a world-wide Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) competition, at Camp Butner, North Carolina, Oct. 18-22, 2021.

Most people think TACP Airmen are solely responsible for communicating with pilots through a handheld radio, however Lightning Challenge demonstrated otherwise.

Teams of two TACP specialists from Air Support Operations Squadrons (ASOS) across the globe assembled at Camp Butner, North Carolina, to put their vast range of expertise to the test. They were tested through challenges of agile combat employment, physical strength, and marksmanship skill, in order to identify the most outstanding multi-capable Airmen in the world.

“The last four days have been not just grueling physical and mental tests, but it is a glimpse of what we are going to be doing in the future,” said Col Danielle Willis, 93d Air Ground Operations Wing Commander. “We know that our focus is pivoting to great power competition and what we need in the force is to have Airmen who can go out and execute.”

The TACP Weapon System does not just de-conflict, but integrates Airpower with ground force maneuver elements to achieve multi-domain superiority in combat. TACP Airmen are the critical node in the tactical implementation of Joint All-Domain Command and Control, which is necessary to prevail in future contested and congested environments.

“There is some expectation here for every single one of you [competitors], and that is what is going to happen in the near-future,” said SEAC Ramón Colón-López, Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “The reputation of America really is in your hands because your actions are going to have strategic effects…at the end of the day, you are going to be the lethal arm of everything that we do for the nation.”

Sharpening lethality was a key theme in this year’s competition, along with highlighting TACP skills, joint competencies, and geographically integrated capabilities through events fully focused on hastening adaptability, applying Dynamic Force Employment, accelerating threat-based execution from combatant command requirements and facilitating contested degraded environment operations.

“The tests this week were not just designed to challenge your physical prowess and physical strength, but your mental ability to figure out problems,” said Willis. “To think critically and to get stuff done when it needs to happen is the absolute value and heart of the TACP weapon system.”

On a larger scale, Lightning Challenge exemplified four of the five key requirements of a modern near-pear fight according to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown’s “Accelerate Change or Lose” action orders: warrior culture, credibility, capacity and capability. The capabilities displayed at Lightning Challenge prove the value of the TACP weapon system to not only the Air Force, but the joint force as a whole.

SEAC Colón-López expanded on the role of TACP in the modern near-peer fight and the advantage that TACP brings to future conflicts.

“You had a great time conducting this exercise, you had a great time showing your peers on how far you are willing to go to be the best of the best, but every single one of you will get that opportunity to show the enemy exactly who they are messing with,” said Colón-López. “It will be you going forward to carry on this fight.”

This year’s champions are Staff Sgt. Benjamin Conaway and Senior Airman Seth Gaines from the 15th Air Support Operations Squadron, located at Fort Stewart, Georgia. They embody the capabilities and expertise that TACP brings to the Air Force and joint force overall. As the battlefield evolves, TACP is ready to adapt alongside it. “We know that this capability in the TACP weapon system is absolutely vital to how we are going to fight our wars in the future,” said Willis.

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