Tactical air control developed during World War II. Air control was exercised by air support control units, first used by the Germans and British and later adopted by the U.S. in the campaign at Guadalcanal and, to a small extent, in North Africa. As a result of these experiences, a concentrated effort was made to set up and train groups of personnel for air support parties. These air support parties were first used in the Pacific and the Aleutian Campaign of 1943. In the Attu operations in May of that year, the first Air Support Control Unit (ASCU) afloat was employed. This ASCU consisted of three officers and a radioman. They operated from a card table embarked on the USS PENNSYLVANIA. In spite of inclement weather, ten close air support missions were flown and controlled by this unit during the amphibious phase of the operation. From this unit evolved the modern day Tactical Air Control Squadron.
The Amphibious Flagship (LCC) was first used in the Pacific during the invasion of the Marshall Islands in January 1944. The commander could more easily coordinate the entire amphibious operation by embarking the naval, landing, and air commanders on one ship. Two of these ships were employed, each embarking one ASCU. Meanwhile, the highly specialized training program for air support control personnel was expanded. During the Iwo Jima campaign, the techniques to be used for the remainder of the war were finalized. At this time, the control units were not commissioned and drew their personnel for each campaign from the amphibious staffs. However, when the war in the Pacific ended, the air support organization had grown to 24 air support control units comprised of 2,328 men and officers and commanded by a Rear Admiral.
In late 1946, the air control units were commissioned and had their name changed to that of Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON). At present, there are four “active duty” TACRON Squadrons. Two serve the Atlantic Fleet (TACRON 21 and 22), and two serve the Pacific Fleet (TACRON 11 and 12). In addition, Reserve Tactical Air Control Squadrons 2186 and 2286 augment the active duty squadrons on the East coast.
When the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001, Tactical Air Control Squadron 21, Detachment TWO was training for an upcoming deployment with USS BATAAN. An emergency sail order was given to USS BATAAN to provide all necessary military support to NYC. After a week USS BATAAN deployed in the first wave of the Global War on Terrorism. USS BATAAN ARG sailed for the Middle East and was positioned off the coast of Pakistan. TACRON 21 Detachment TWO provided Air Traffic Controllers (AC’s) to support military operations into Afghanistan as part of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. A number of TACRON 21 AC’s helped establish the first operating base (Camp Rhino) in Afghanistan. TACRON 21 officers and enlisted also played a pivotal role in the establishment of military airspace authority between the Indian Ocean and Afghanistan.
The USS NASSAU ARG deployed in August 2002 with accompanying Marines and took part in NATO exercises in the Adriatic and with Israel in the Eastern Mediterranean. After completion of those exercises, Detachment ONE entered the 5th Fleet AOR (Middle East) and provided wide-ranging air control support from Afghanistan to Kuwait.
While Detachment ONE was still deployed on USS NASSAU, Detachment TWO received a 96-hour deployment order to sail with USS SAIPAN, USS BATAAN, and USS KEARSARGE in the opening phase of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. TACRON 21 had a presence on all three of the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF)-EAST large deck amphibious ships. Additionally, when the Marines moved ashore in February 2004 for the assault against Iraq, TACRON 21 provided four air controllers ashore to assist the U.S. Marines in their maneuver warfare. By March 2004, four East Coast LHA/LHDs (USS BATAAN, USS KEARSARGE, USS NASSAU, and USS SAIPAN) were operating in the Arabian Gulf along with three West Coast LHA/LHDs (USS TARAWA, USS BON HOMME RICHARD, and USS PELILEU).
USS NASSAU returned in May of 2003 (after 9 months),and USS BATAAN and USS SAIPAN returned in June 2003. USS KEARSARGE provided support to the President of the United States’ visit to Israel and to the Embassy of Liberia and then returned to the U.S. in July of 2003.
TACRON 21 provided detachments on USS NASSAU from November 2005 to May 2006 and to USS BATAAN from January 2007 to July 2007, both supporting the Global War On Terrorism and Maritime Security Operations. The 2006 deployment included the first TACRON Joint Tactical Air Controller (JTAC) capability, an initiative that continues today.
In September 2008, shortly after returning from a five month deployment with the NASSAU Expeditionary Strike Group, TACRON 21 Detachment TWO deployed to support disaster relief operations in Galveston, Texas after Hurricane IKE. TACRON 21 deployed two expeditionary advisory control teams to support federal, state, and local agencies providing relief.
In Spring 2009, TACRON 21 Detachment ONE deployed aboard USS BATAAN in support of FIFTH Fleet operations. This was the first deployment with MV-22 Osprey aircraft as the centerpiece of the Air Combat Element. Detachment ONE also deployed with two qualified JTACs, further enhancing the Detachment’s capability of supporting Marines ashore.
From August 2010 through May 2011, TACRON 21 deployed aboard USS KEARSARGE supporting operations in the Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East. During the critical first four days of Operation ODYSSEY DAWN, the Detachment was the only unit able to provide tactical command and control. The Detachment continued to provide support as Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) began to arrive in theatre and as the operation was transferred to NATO under Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR.
2012 was an outstanding year for TACRON 21. One of the many accomplishments included BOLD ALLIGATOR 2012 (BA12), the largest amphibious exercise that the Navy and Marine Corps had conducted in over 10 years. It consisted of 25 ships, including the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group (CSG), the Iwo Jima ARG with 24th MEU embarked, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), Expeditionary Strike Group TWO (ESG2), and coalition ships from 12 other nations. The primary goal of BA12 was an ESG and MEB sized amphibious assault from a sea base in a hostile environment. Training scenarios, to include mine warfare and small boat attack, were designed to replicate potential situations and environments the Navy/Marine Corps team could face in the future to develop capabilities so that amphibious forces are able to operate across a wide mission spectrum.
Shortly after completion of BA12, Detachment TWO deployed with the USS IWO JIMA ARG. While underway, they participated in EXERCISE AFRICAN LION, a bi-lateral exercise with Morocco, followed shortly thereafter by EXERCISE EAGER LION, a joint, multinational exercise held in Jordan. The remainder of deployment was spent in support of Horn of Africa (HOA) operations and Red Sea contingency operations. Detachment TWO returned home in December 2012.
TACRON 21 entered the Fleet Response Training Plan cycle for 2013. The squadron participated in Exercise BOLD ALLIGATOR 2013 (BA13), providing an excellent training opportunity for new members of the squadron who will be part of the next deployment. The squadron also supported EXERCISE EASTERN CROSS, assisting students at the Marine Corps’ Amphibious Warfare School, and BALTOPS 2013, a multinational naval exercise in the Baltic Sea.
In early 2014, Detachment ONE deployed on board USS BATAAN. While underway, they participated in EXERCISE AFRICAN LION followed by EXERCISE SEA SOLDIER and EXERCISE EAGER LION. The final four months of the deployment marked their participation in the early stages of OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE as they supported air operations against the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (ISIL) from both the Persian Gulf as well as bases in Kuwait. Detachment ONE returned home in October 2014. Later the same month, TACRON 21 served a key role in EXERCISE BOLD ALLIGATOR 2014 (BA14) on board USS KEARSARGE. Comprising nine ships and in cooperation with eight allied nations, BA14 was one of the largest Amphibious exercises in recent history.
In addition, the command continues to provide Individual Augmentees around the globe where “BLACKJACK” talents and expertise are requested.