Tactical Air Control originated with British and German air support control units during World War II. The United States adopted the idea in the Pacific Island Campaign at Guadalcanal, and to a lesser extent, in North Africa. As a result of these experiences, a concentrated effort was made to set up and train several groups of personnel as Air Support Parties.
These Air Support Parties first saw action during the Aleutian Islands Campaign of 1943. The Attu operations in May of that year saw the first Air Support Control Unit (ASCU) employed afloat. Consisting of three officers and a radioman, they operated from a card table embarked on USS PENNSYLVANIA. In spite of inclement weather, ten close air support missions were flown and controlled by this unit during the amphibious phase of the operation. From this unit evolved the modern day Tactical Air Control Squadron.
Experience demonstrated the need to embark the naval, landing and air commanders on one ship so that the overall commander could more effectively coordinate the entire amphibious operation. The invasion of the Marshall Islands in January 1944 implemented this concept and was the first use in the Pacific of the Amphibious Flagship (LCC). Two of these ships were employed, each embarking an ASCU.
Iwo Jima operations brought about the final development of the methods used throughout the remainder of the war. At that time, control units were not commissioned and drew their personnel for each campaign from the amphibious staffs. When the war in the Pacific ended, the air support organization had grown from its humble beginnings to twenty-four Air Support Control Units, with a combined total of 2,328 officers and enlisted, and commanded by a Rear Admiral.
In late 1946, the Air Control Units were commissioned and re-designated as Tactical Air Control Squadrons (TACRONs). At present, there are four “active duty” TACRON squadrons. Two serve the Atlantic Fleet (TACRON 21 and 22), and two serve the Pacific Fleet (TACRON 11 and 12).
In 2019, TACRON 21 successfully deployed onboard the USS KEARSARGE to 5th and 6th Fleets. TACRON 21 most recently has deployed a detachment onboard USS IWO JIMA for a deployment in support of overseas contingency operations.