UTAPHAO, Thailand- The daily operation of an airport requires the coordination and communication of a lot moving parts, but running one during an exercise like Cobra Gold requires even more than normal.
During Cobra Gold, U.S. military aircraft traffic make Utaphao airport busier than usual. Cobra Gold 2009 is a joint, multinational exercise focused on maintaining and improving military interoperability among its participants.
Interoperability with the Thai military isn't just confined to bilateral training; it is also vital in real-world air traffic control operations.
One such case is that of Staff Sgt. Jason G. Forguson, a tower liaison with Marine Air Control Squadron 4, who works side-by-side with Royal Thai Navy air traffic controllers at Utaphao airfield in support of the exercise.
He can be seen juggling radios and phones, while some of his Thai counterparts ask for clarification on what's being said by U.S. pilots over the airwaves. Although air traffic controllers universally hold to an English based, jargon mixed language, the military lingo tends to add another aspect of complexity, said Forguson.
A tower liaison plays a supplemental role in foreign air traffic control towers.
"Thai controllers have vast knowledge of the airport and the conflicts that often arise there," said Forguson, "My role is to fill any gaps of miscommunication due to difference in language or military."
"Some things I just don't understand," said Royal Thai Navy Lt. Cmdr. Thitipan Todtan, the control tower chief at the airfield, "Sometimes they speak too fast or use a lot of U.S. military jargon."
Even though the biggest commonality is the language, for both pilots and controllers, sometimes there is no set way to communicate a situation. Having a tower liaison in place provides a safety net for all aircraft in the area and allows for accurate communication between air traffic control and pilots, said Master Gunnery Sgt. Romano E. Kidd, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of Marine Air Control Group 18.
Air traffic control has been notoriously coined as a highly stressful and fast-paced job, requiring controllers to retain and apply significant amounts of information in a short period of time - altitude, heading, speed, and the spacing of aircraft are just a few variables.
"You have to be able to listen to what the pilots are saying and what everyone else in the room is saying. Add a language barrier to that, and that's when you can get behind," said Romano. "You need to be able to see everything in your mind three dimensionally."
The Thai controllers know the airfield, the area and traffic patterns, and the liaison knows the U.S. military jargon and mission; they supplement each other, making a prime example of what Cobra Gold seeks to create - a multinational coalition that has perfected military interoperability.