The experiences and lessons learned from the current war in Afghanistan underscore the critical importance of deliberate planning for coalition special operations forces (SOF) missions.
Training opportunities such as the Jackal Stone 10 exercise, co-hosted this year by Poland and Lithuania and coordinated by the U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, provide a unique venue for the U.S. to develop commonalities with its international SOF partners whether by land, air or sea.
In an effort to understand interoperability within the air battle space, multinational staff members and flight commanders working in the Combined Joint Special Operations Air Component (CJSOAC) took part in a training seminar to better synchronize and coordinate air planning with each other.
By definition, a CJSOAC is a task force composed of special operations aviation units from one or more foreign countries and more than one U.S. military service formed to prosecute special operations air missions in support of a theater campaign or other operations.
During Jackal Stone 10, the CJSOAC consisted of aviation personnel from the 352nd Special Operations Group, based out of RAF Mildenhall, England, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), from Fort Campbell, Ky., and aviation representatives from Poland and Lithuania.
According to instructors who travelled from Special Operations Command Joint Forces Command (SOCJFC) to provide the training, the goal was to showcase how successful planning between partner nations led to interoperability.
“Planning equals enabling the mission,” said Brian Cutts, SOFJFC air operations analyst and trainer. “It [enabling the mission] is what we’re all about.”
The training allowed the air planners to integrate seamlessly with the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force (CJSOTF) and provide continuity between the air and ground forces during the exercise.
“The CJSOAC’s purpose is to provide specialized air power to the CJSOTF,” said a current operations officer from the CJSOAC. “We control and run the airpower for the commander.”
Successful interaction between the CJSOTF and the CJSOAC is essential for any mission, particularly with respect to coordination between the ground force commanders and the air planners.
“They [the CJSOTF] do ground [operations] better than anyone else on the planet,” the operations officer said. “We have a better understanding of what they need in the air than conventional air support planners.”
The Jackal Stone 10 exercise allows SOCEUR an opportunity to enhance the capabilities of its partner nations so they can become an integral part of the NATO footprint, specifically in developing the staff planning and operational ability of special operations forces.
“This is an important exercise to this theater,” Cutts said. “By using all the assets we have available, we will enhance the effectiveness of the training while building partnership capability.”
The participating nations benefited not only from the experience and knowledge gained from the exercise; but also from the friendships that are forged as a result of working together and getting to know each other personally.
“The representatives from the different countries here are learning with and from each other,” said the operations officer. “We are building interoperability and partnership and I have built relationships that will extend well past this exercise.”