United States Air Force Combat Control Teams, singular Combat Controller (CCT) (AFSC 1C2X1), are American special operations forces (specifically known as "special tactics operators") who specialize in all aspects of air-ground communication, including air traffic control, fire support (including fixed and rotary wing close air support), and command, control, and communications in covert, forward, or austere environments.
Assigned to Special Tactics Squadrons and Special Tactics Teams along with Pararescuemen, Special Operations Reconnaissance, and Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) operators, Combat Controllers are an integral part of Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), the Air Force component of United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), and of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Trained in underwater and maritime operations, free-fall parachuting, and many other deployment methods, Combat Controllers are often assigned individually or as a team to Army Special Forces, Army Ranger, Navy SEAL, and Delta Force to provide expert airfield seizure, airstrike control, and communications capabilities.
Combat Controllers are FAA-certified air traffic controllers and maintain proficiency throughout their career. Along with TACPs, many Combat Controllers also qualify and maintain proficiency as joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) where they call in and direct air strikes, close air support and fire support. Out of the seven Air Force Crosses awarded since the Global War on Terror started in 2001, five have been awarded to Combat Controllers for extraordinary heroism in combat.
CCT Motto: "First There", which reaffirms the Combat Controller's commitment to undertaking the most dangerous missions behind enemy lines by leading the way for other forces to follow.
Air Force Special Operations Command's Combat Controllers are battlefield airmen assigned to special tactics squadrons. They are trained special operations forces and certified Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers. The mission of a Combat Controller is to deploy undetected into combat and hostile environments to conduct special reconnaissance, establish assault zones or airfields, while simultaneously conducting air traffic control, fire support, command, control, and communications and forward air control. They deploy with air and ground forces in support of direct action, such as counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense, humanitarian assistance, and combat search and rescue. Combat Controllers employ all-terrain vehicles, amphibious vehicles, weapons and demolitions in pursuit of their objectives, which may include obstacle destruction.
Combat Controller training, which is nearly two years long, is among the most rigorous in the US military. The CCT pipeline has a wash out rate upwards of 90–95%, mostly due to self-eliminations, injuries sustained during training, and academic failures. The Air Force is working to lower the washout rate through proper education, testing and rigorous pre-pipeline training.
Combat Controllers maintain air traffic controller qualification skills throughout their career in addition to other special operations skills. Many qualify and maintain proficiency as joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs). Their 35-week initial training and unique mission skills earn them the right to wear the scarlet beret and their 3 skill level (apprentice). From that point they attend a 12–15-month advanced skill training course to obtain their 5 skill level (journeyman). Once they complete AST their training pipeline is finished and they are mission-ready Combat Controllers.
The first course Combat Controller trainees attend after the 8.5-week Basic Military Training is the two-week-long Combat Control Selection Course at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. The selection course focuses on sports physiology, nutrition, basic exercises, combat control history and fundamentals.
The second course in the CCT pipeline is the Combat Control Operator Course located at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. The Operator course is 15.5 weeks long. The Operator course teaches aircraft recognition and performance, air navigation aids, weather, airport traffic control, flight assistance service, communication procedures, conventional approach control, radar procedures and air traffic rules.
After the Operator course the trainee attends the Army Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. In the three-week course the trainees learn basic parachuting skills required to infiltrate an objective area by static line airdrop.
The next course after Airborne School is the Air Force Basic Survival School located at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington. SERE School lasts three weeks. The course teaches techniques for survival in remote areas. Instruction includes principles, procedures, equipment and techniques that enable individuals to survive, regardless of climatic conditions or unfriendly environments, and return alive.
The last course in the Combat Control pipeline is the Combat Control School located at Pope Field, North Carolina. The CCT School is thirteen weeks long and it provides the final Combat Controller qualifications. The training includes physical training, small unit tactics, land navigation, communications, assault zones, demolitions, fire support and field operations including parachuting. Graduates of Combat Control school are awarded their 3-skill level (apprentice) on their Air Force Specialty Code, scarlet beret and CCT flash. The Benning Heritage Center Fund Raising effort supports education and training at the Combat Control School.
After the Combat Controller gains their three level they attend Special Tactics Advanced Skills Training for 12 to 15 months as part of the Special Tactics Training Squadron located at Hurlburt Field, Florida. Advanced Skills Training is a program for newly assigned Combat Controllers, Pararescuemen and Special Operations Weather Technicians. AST produces mission-ready operators for Air Force Special Operations Command and United States Special Operations Command. The AST schedule is broken down into four phases: water, ground, employment and full mission profile. The course tests the trainee's personal limits through demanding mental and physical training.
During Advanced Skills Training Combat Controllers (along with SOWT) attend two more advanced courses. Army Military Free Fall Parachutist School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona for five weeks. The course instructs free fall parachuting procedures. It also provides wind tunnel training, in-air instruction focusing on student stability, aerial maneuvers, air sense, parachute opening procedures and parachute canopy control. They also attend Air Force Combat Diver School which is hosted at the Navy Diving and Salvage Training Center, Naval Support Activity Panama City, Florida. Combat Diver School is six weeks long. After completion of Combat Diver School trainees become combat divers, learning to use scuba and closed circuit diving equipment to covertly infiltrate denied areas. The course provides training to depths of 130 feet, stressing development of maximum underwater mobility under various operating conditions. A class of CCTs and PJs at the Air Force Combat Diver School was covered by Discovery Channel's program Surviving the Cut during season two, which originally aired 25 July 2011.