A look at the insignia of the Royal Australian Air Force, Combat Controller Teams (CCT) of B Flight, 4 Squadron, one of the newest additions to the Australian Special Operations community.
The Combat Controller Teams (CCT) of B Flight, 4 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force are a relatively recent addition to Australia’s special operations capability. They trace their origin to 2006 when the Australian Special Forces Commander asked the Deputy Chief of Air Force whether the RAAF was capable of fielding personnel similar to the United States Air Force Combat Controllers who had been working alongside Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan.
As a result, the RAAF Air Group Combat Commander established the Special Tactic Project Proof of Concept Trial. The aim was for selected volunteers to pass the commando training cycle and trained as Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) before deploying in support of special forces.
Combat Controllers from No. 4 Squadron based at RAAF Base Williamtown practice close air support serials with PC-21 aircraft during Exercise Havoc Strike. Combat Control Teams (CCT) from No. 4 Squadron participated in Exercise Havoc Strike from 25 May – 12 June 2020 near Buladelah, New South Wales. Havoc Strike is a tactical level exercise in support of No. 4 Squadron combat control Mission Specific Training objectives. The training concentrates on preparing Combat Control Teams for the application of Close Air Support, Rules of Engagement and Laws of Armed Conflict. The exercise has two phases; a theory phase, conducted at RAAF Williamtown, NSW, followed by a practical close air support phase in a training area near the town of Bulahdelah, NSW. Photo: Department of Defence
A Combat Control Team (CCT) member briefs the Offensive Air Support (OAS) plan to aircrew for a Close Air Support (CAS) mission as part of Exercise FARU SUMU 01-2012. Combat Controllers are essential for the successful integration of OAS to maximise available combat power and focus its effects in order to support the Commander’s plan. Mid Caption: One hundred and forty Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) personnel are in the Northern Territory, to participate in Exercise FARU SUMU 01-2012. Ten F/A-18F Super Hornets from RAAF Amberley’s No. 6 Squadron and Combat Control Team (CCT) personnel from RAAF Williamtown’s No 4 Squadron are participating in this exercise for the first time from 11-29 March 2012. Exercise FARU SUMU is used by the 6 Squadron instructional staff to test and evaluate the structure and format of the exercise to ensure the desired learning outcomes can be achieved on future FARU SUMU exercises with the new F/A-18F Super Hornets. Exercise FARU SUMU is conducted out of RAAF Darwin, Tindal and Delamere Weapons Range. Photo: LACW Kylie Gibson (ADF)
Between 2008 and 2009, three intakes completed initial training and four members were deployed with the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG). This resulted in the ‘Combat Controller’ mustering (RAAF terminology for ‘trade’) and Air Surface Integration officer stream being created in 2012 and the CCT role declared an Initial Operating Capability.
A Combat Controller from No. 4 Squadron Combat Control Team conducts an airfield survey on a dry lake bed in the Nevada Test and Training Range. Photo: Department of Defence
Royal Australian Air Force Combat Control Team personnel parachute into Batchelor Airfield in the Northern Territory during Exercise Pitch Black 2018. Photo: Department of Defence
Selection to become acombat controlleris open to any member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Volunteers first complete an 8 week CCT intake course which provides ground skills training and prepares them for the Special Forces Entry Test (SFET). Those who pass the SFET must then undertake around 18 months of testing and training in which they are required to complete the commando reinforcement cycle, JTAC, aviation meteorology, assault zone reconnaissance and air weapons delivery courses.
The video below, shows the CCT’s conducting their annual parachute continuation training as part of Exercise Havoc Drop 20-1 which took place 13-17 July 2020 at Wagga Wagga in NSW.
Upon qualification they are presented their distinctive grey CCT beret and qualification brevet, becoming part of B Flight of4 Squadron, RAAF, which is the squadron tasked with providing operational training to Forward Air Controllers (FAC) and support of the Australian Army’s Special Operations Command. The Squadron is divided into three main roles, FAC(A) is the airborne control of air assets, JTAC training (C Flight) and CCT (B Flight).
Since their formation, the CCT’s have conducted operations with SOTG, participated in several joint exercises with allied nations and recently in late 2019 early 2020, assisted in humanitarian operations within Australia as part of the ADF efforts to combat the devastating bushfires that swept large tracts of the east coast of Australia over the summer months.
Beret & Insignia
Once qualified, Combat Controllers are awarded a distinctive Combat Controller Team insignia which is worn as a qualification badge and (a variation) also on their beret. The badge (NSN 8455-66-162-5061) consists of a Fairbairn-Sykes commando dagger on a winged shield. The dagger represents the close link combat controllers share with the special forces they support. The shield symbolises the protection of ground forces, from harm during combat operations and the wings represent the air-power integration role of the combat controller.
The badge is worn on the left breast of dress uniforms, 3mm above medals/ribbons or flying badge if applicable. Cloth, metal and a mess dress miniature versions are used, depending on the uniform type.
A similar design metal badge which features shortened wings is also worn on a black shield on the CCT beret which, unlike other RAAF berets is ‘air superiority’ grey, the colour signifying the presence of aviation in the daily duties of the combat controller. Mark Corcoran and Arthur Butler, author’s of the excellent reference books, Metal Uniform Embellishments of the Australian Army – Post 53 (‘QE II series’) volumes 1 & 2 also feature some of the prototype variations of the badge on their charliebravobooks blog which is worth checking out.
CCT’s also wear a distinctive parachute qualification wing which differs from the standard Air Force parachutist badge. The wings are referred to in the Air Force Dress Manual as a ‘Commando Badge’ (NSN 8455-66-157-9911) and reflects the Army’s commando parachutist qualification design but has a white parachute with light blue wings on an Air Force blue background. A miniature version embroidered with gold bullion on a black background (NSN 8455-66-134-1212) is worn on the upper left sleeve of the mess dress jacket. The authority for the award and withdrawal of the Commando Badge is the Commanding Officer, 4SQN.
CCT’s have also been seen wearing a variety of Combat Controller Team patches and distinctive RAAF ANF insignia, some of which are shown below. At this stage, these insignia are less well known amongst collectors as they are tightly controlled by the unit and have not (yet) been subect to the massive number of fakes and reproductions that have occurred with other Australian Special Forces insignia. Sadly, it is only a matter of time before the fakes start appearing on eBay and elsewhere. If you do have original examples of the RAAF 4 Squadron or CCT patches or insignia, for sale or trade, I am really interested in hearing from you as I’d love to add these to my collection.
2020. RAAF 4 Squadron shoulder patch worn by the CCT’s of B Flight.
2012. CCT patch and RAAF 4 Squadron patch being worn during Exercise Furu Sumu in 2012.
PVC CCT patch being used during 2017
CCT patch being used in 2019
CCT patch being used during 2017
2019. An unusual CCT helmet mounted patch which appearss to be a painted aluminium sheet. Seen being worn during Exercise Cope North 19, Guam.
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With the recent G4S security recruitment debacle and the heightened threat of terrorist attack much has been made of the security preparations for the London Olympics. Security at the games has been a major concern since the dark days of the Munich Olympics in 1972 when Palestinian terrorists from the Black September Movement killed eleven members of the Israeli delegation and a policeman in the disastrous rescue attempt. This incident demonstrated the inadequacies of the Germans ability to combat domestic terror, resulting in the formation of their own federal counter terrorist unit, GSG-9. It was a wake-up call, causing most Western nations to evaluate and develop a much improved counter terrorist capability and preceded a wave of bombings, hijackings and other incidents that earmarked the 1970’s.
Australia was slow to develop the CT response beyond that of the various State police SWAT type teams and it wasn’t until the Hilton Hotel bombing in Sydney in 1978 that the Federal Government decided to act. The responsibility was passed to the Special Air Service Regiment, which developed the Tactical Assault Group (TAG) as part of the Regiment’s roles and tasks. The role of TAG was filled by engaging one of the sabre squadrons and incorporated signals troop from 152 Signal Squadron as the Counter Terrorist (CT) squadron for a twelve month period as part of the regiment’s training and operations cycle. During the relatively quiet 1980’s and for much of the 1990’s being ‘on Team’ with the CT Squadron was one of the roles relished by many in the Regiment as other operational deployments seemed unlikely, with only a handful of soldiers from the unit being committed in support of UN operations. I recall the excitement expressed by many of my mates in 2 Sqn back in 1993 when we found out that Sydney would be hosting the Olympics in 2000. The regiment’s cycle meant that it would be 2 Squadron holding the CT role in 2000 and at the time, in the days before Timor and subsequent jobs, it was something to look forward to.
Very soon after the announcement by the IOC, the Australian Federal Government recognised that the security of the games would be beyond the resources of the host jurisdiction (New South Wales) and would require pooling of resources from other organisations including the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The ADF support to the Olympics was named Operation GOLD and commenced in 1998. Op GOLD employed 5622 ADF personnel in a variety of security and non-security roles. These were broken down into two joint task forces (JTF). The larger of these was JTF 112, which contained the bulk of the ADF commitment and was responsible for a wide range of support including transport and general security. It was the public face of the ADF commitment with uniformed service personnel wearing the round white Op Gold patch being seen at the various Olympic venues and activities.
But, watching from the shadows was the second task force, JTF 114 commanded by Brigadier Phil McNamara, Commander Special Forces. JTF 114 was the principal CT capability provided by 2 SAS Sqn, which along with Black Hawk helicopters from 5 Aviation Regiment and a response company from 4 RAR (Commando) who would be used to provide a cordon around any incident site. Together these units formed the TAG and were known as JTF 643 and optimised for CT coverage of the Sydney area during the games.
JTF 114 preparation for the Olympics had begun well in advance of the game and six months before the opening ceremony, the CT squadron moved to Holsworthy barracks on the outskirts of Sydney to commence the final build up. Special training facilities were constructed in Holsworthy; at the Naval base HMAS Waterhen on the shores of Sydney harbour and another for launching SUR operations out to sea. The TAG refining their ‘ship underway’ drills, familiarised themselves with potential targets and conducting a variety of exercises based on Olympic venues and events. During the two weeks of the games, the SAS soldiers had full accreditation, with unrestricted access to all areas, allowing them to gain ‘situational awareness’ by moving discretely through the various venues and events as the games unfolded.
The Sydney Olympics concluded without major incident and had been a valuable operation for the SASR and Special Operations Command. A new skill set was developed based on hostage rescue scenarios within a chemical, biological or nuclear weapons (CBR) threat environment. This resulted in the formation of a Joint Incident Response Unit (JIRU) to combat a CBR or ‘dirty bomb’ threat. JIRU became part of Special Operations Command and eventually evolved into the Special Operations Engineer Regiment. It was also recognised that a second CT capability would be needed to deal with incidents elsewhere, possibly even overseas. During the Olympics this role was performed by 3 SAS Squadron (JTF 644) located in Swanbourne and eventually assumed by 4 RAR (Commando), now redesignated 2 Commando Regiment and who now hold full responsibility for the east coast CT responsibility in the form of TAG-E.