What is a FAC and what was his job?The term FAC is an acronym for Forward Air Controller. A FAC is someone familiar with weapons delivery from aircraft, ideally a fighter pilot. He is part of the battlefield commander's staff. His job is to advise on the capabilities and use of air power. If needed, he requested and then directed airstrikes. In a conventional war he worked on the ground from a jeep. Because of the nature of the Vietnam War, the FAC was moved from a jeep to an observation aircraft and his duties were expanded to include visual reconnaissance, adjusting artillery fire and various odd jobs. When an airstrike was required, the FAC would go through Air Force channels to request it. When the strike aircraft were in-bound to the target area, he would brief the strike crew on the nature of the target, the disposition of friendly personnel, the ground fire treat and nearest emergency recovery air field. When the strike aircraft arrived and were ready to strike, he would have the friendly troops mark their position with colored smoke then mark the target with white smoke. If the FAC's mark is accurate, he could simply say to the first aircraft in, "Hit my smoke."
Air Strikes: There were two types of airstrikes, planned and immediate. A planned strike was one in which the nature of the target was known prior to loading the strike aircraft. So, the up-loaded bombs could be optimized for the target. For example, if the target was to clear a landing zone for a helicopter assault, the up-load would be bombs fused so as to detonate on the surface, "Daisy-Cutters." If the target was a masonry building or a bunker, a retarded bomb such as "Mark 82 High-drag" might be a better choice. Conversely, the immediate strike was one where the priority shifted from the nature of the target to speed; how fast can one put ordnance on the target. Defending friendly troops in contact with the enemy became the driving factor. Flights in support of these missions were often diverted from a planned mission or scrambled from dedicated alert aircraft. In such cases one took what he could get. Ideally, for troops in contact mission, the FAC wanted a lot of small bombs that could be worked in close and delivered from an airplane with a long loiter time.
Visual reconnaissance: In order to know what is going on out there, it is imperative for the FAC to know his area of operations (AO) very well. He needed to know the habits of the people and their routine movements. In order to see what was going on, he had to fly at altitude that made him subject to small arms fire. The recommended reconnaissance altitude was 800 to 1500 feet or what ever it took. At those altitudes a lucky shot from a rife could take him out. To make himself a more difficult target, he constantly changed altitude, heading and airspeed. Consequently, he became proficient at Lazy 8s. See it the first time! If he saw something of significance, he did not double back to take another look. Best note it, keep meandering. Try to see it at another time from another angle. "Charlie" did not want to start a fight with the FAC. Unless "Charlie" could get a sure kill shot or was hiding something worth fighting over, he often left the FAC alone.
Odd Jobs: Because an airborne FAC could see the target and the guns, he was in a position to quickly and accurately adjust artillery or navel gun fire and often did so. He was called upon to mark "hot spots" on people sniffer missions. The Army had a device that could detect human urine. In the still of the early morning, the Army would fly a helicopter low over the jungle and take air samples. When the operator detected urine, he would call out "hot spot" and the FAC flying high overhead would mark the spot on a map. Still another odd job was Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) of B-52 strikes. Say what you will about tree buster missions, a B-52 raid, called an "Arc Light," can turn 2 miles of triple canopy jungle into over lapping bomb craters in the time it takes to read this paragraph. Awesome! Where am I? The FAC was often called upon to confirm the position of a disoriented unit commander. It is not easy to navigate in the jungle. They had no GPS. Another odd job was to be a relay for Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols, LRRP. A LRRP was a six to eight man patrol inserted deep into enemy controlled territory not to start a fight but to poke about to see what there is to see. If they were compromised, the FAC defended them and supervised their extraction.
The FAC's job was a chancy one. "Charlie" put a bounty on his head; times were hard, unemployment was high and there were no super markets. So, even if he had the misfortune of being shot down, yet fell into the hands of "friendlies," there was the danger of being sold to the Vietcong. The casualty rate speaks for itself. For example, from October 1967 thru September 1968 the Americal Division of the US Army had an average of 15 FACs assigned to it. During that year 6 were killed in action. All that said, the FAC mission was the best seat in the war and the job satisfaction was very rewarding.