P-3 Orion Crew: The TACCO

I’ve discussed the AW Positions on the P-3 Orion, and how they develop and analyze the data from the various senors. The next step up the line is transmitting that data to the TACCO, the “Tactical Coordinator”. Pronounced “tak-oh”,  he is a Naval Flight Officer charged with pulling all the data together, developing the tactical plan, giving tactical directions to the flight crew, and determining which weapons (if any) are to be employed.

The TACCO develops the tactical plan by taking the predicted oceanic and weather data and determining the expected sound detection ranges in the Operations Area. He uses this data, coupled with the type of target to determine what type of sonobuoy pattern will be first employed, and  the spacing between, and orientation of, the buoys. Based upon the target, it’s known (if any) tactics and operating envelope, and the Mission Requirements, he will have decided upon the course of action when contact is generated by the AW’s.

At his station, the TACCO has a display screen which allows him to see the sonobuoy pattern in the water and, when contact is acquired, the speed and course of the target. He also has access to the FLIR, LLLTV, and other data, including the aural/audio data from the acoustic stations if he needs it.  He runs the mission,  and it is not unlike a giant video game where he is controlling the action from his position.

The TACCO position is located at different spots, depending upon the P-3 variant. The P-3a/b models had the 5-man tactical crew seated side by side, face out over the port wing. These were, from front to back, the SS-3, Navigator, TACCO, SS-1, SS-2.  The advantage to this arrangement was that the SS-1 and SS-3 could also look over at the TACCO display, and the SS-3 could share data easily with the Navigator. All 5 crewman were close together so they could also talk with each other.

In the P-3c and later models, the SS-1/2 positions remained in their original spot. The Navigator was moved to the forward starboard position facing forward, right behind the flight station. The TACCO moved to the Port forward station, facing forward, directly behind the flight station.  The SS-3 moved to a compartment directly behind the Navigator’s station, also facing forward.

Once the crew arrives onstation, the TACCO will wait for the data from the BT Buoy to modify his first sonobuoy pattern, then orient the flight crew to the initial drop point, and alert them to the line of bearing he wants them to fly once they reach that datum.  In the P-3a/b model, the buoys are dropped through a pressurized set of tubes if at a higher altitude, or an unpressurized chute if lower down. The TACCO will have informed the Ordnanceman what setting to use on the buoys, IE: what depth for the hydrophone, what lifetime,etc. The Ordnanceman will load the buoy into the chute, and the TACCO will call the drop with a “Drop now.. now.. now”, with the buoy out on the final now. The Ordnanceman will call “Buoy Away!” and the SS-1/2 will let the TACCO know when the buoy starts transmitting.

On the P-3c and later, most of the buoys are pre-set and loaded into launchers underneath the aft belly of the fuselage. The TACCO will select the buoy from a panel at his station, and release it when the aircraft reaches the desired point.  The P-3c also has a set of internal tubes for use when needed.

As the mission develops, the TACCO will modify the pattern as needed, or put in a new one. Once contact is generated with the target, he will refine the data through new passive buoys until he has a good data set. At that point, if the mission requires, he will employ active buoys to finalize the target’s course, speed and depth, and have the flight crew descend to around 500 feet for MAD employment, and, eventually, weapons release.  The TACCO can open the bomb bay doors and release the weapon himself, or have the flight crew do it from their station if he’s busy, with the TACCO calling the weapon release, or authorizing the flight crew to release the weapon when the mark on top of a specific buoy or datum.

Afterward, the TACCO is responsible for gathering all of the data together and is the primary representative at the debrief, although all the positions are debriefed individually as well.

TACCO’s are selected for their abilities and their normal pipeline goes from Naval Flight Officer School, to the RAG (replacement air group)  to the NavCom (Navigator/Communicator) position, to eventually the TACCO position.

Interestingly enough, although the Tactical Coordinator’s acronym is TACCO, he is universally called TC by the crew when communicating on the ICS.

P-3b TACCO station. SS-1 is to the left, Navigator position to the right.


4 Responses to “P-3 Orion Crew: The TACCO”

  1. 1 Flugelman
    April 13, 2010 at 15:51

    Ah Tim, yer makin’ me heart go pitty pat with the P3 pr0n. The shot of the P3B Update Tacco station brings back memories. I was in the first squadron to get the updated Bravos and was the ComNavAirPac NATOPS IFT/RO evaluator for that model.

    The earlier models had the ASA-16 display that integrated the APS-80 radar with buoy position markers. Those indicators could be “dropped” on the screen by moving a switch on the console. When the marker was “dropped” a potentiometer geared to a large ring gear was unlocked and allowed to move independently, being driven by the ring gear. That ring gear was driven by the aircraft’s air data sensors. There were two of these ring gears, one for north-south data and one for east-west data.

    When the marker was no longer needed it was “picked up” by flipping it’s switch to the off position. This caused the potentiometer to be driven back to it’s “zero” position corresponding to the aircraft’s position and a pawl dropped into a slot to “lock” it into position.

    Sometimes the pawl would hang up and allow the potentiometer to continue to drive, seeking the “zero” position. This resulted in the marker repeatedly zipping across the face of the display. This resulted in a call to the IFT to “DO SOMETHING!”, fast. The remedy was to open the bay door just to the right of SS3 and give the large black box containing the errant potentiometer a swift kick to jar the pawl loose and restore sanity to the TACCO’s scope.

    I always enjoyed the look on the new TACCO’s face who had never seen this level of trouble-shooting before.

    • April 13, 2010 at 15:58

      Heh….. that was similar to the drop check” tests done to other pieces. I remember the look of horror I had when I saw a boot print on the door of the tape recorder.

      What fascinated me most was how we could have one circuit board in the AQA-7 receiver go bad, and the IFT would swap it out with another one beside it, and both would start working.

      Like they said, Electronics is all FM’ It’s frikkin’ magic.

  2. 3 Smut
    April 4, 2012 at 05:07

    The TACCO cannot open the bomb bay doors from his station. That switch is on the pilot’s armament control panel right next to master arm. Also on that same panel is search power.
    It’s configured this way for a few reasons, namely the two man rule (pilot and tacco are in agreement a weapon is to be dropped) and safety of flight: we are over water (for search stores) and/or it’s clear of friendlies or fishing boats or tourists or what have you when dropping anything. If the tacco selects a weapon and master arm is not on, the pilot will get a que light, if the selected store is in the bomb bay a bomb bay que light will illuminate indicating the switch needs to change position. These are purely “manual only” for the reasons i listed above.

    October 24, 2014 at 21:04


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