What is Tango Oscar?

Tango Oscar is a code used in the military and aviation fields to refer to the status of a target object. It stands for “Target of Opportunity” and indicates a target that has been identified outside of the normal targeting process and procedures.

What does Tango Oscar mean?

Tango Oscar or T.O. is shorthand for “Target of Opportunity.” It refers to a target that emerges outside of the deliberate targeting cycle and presents an unexpected chance to engage a target. Tango Oscar represents a target that is identified too late to go through the normal vetting and approval process but still presents a valuable chance to take action.

When is Tango Oscar used?

Tango Oscar is used when a target emerges quickly and unexpectedly, requiring immediate action. For example, an enemy tank unit might begin maneuvering to attack but its movement was not previously detected or anticipated. With little time to spare, the enemy tanks may be designated Tango Oscar to indicate that they should be engaged swiftly based on the immediate opportunity.

How does a target get designated as Tango Oscar?

Targets are designated as Tango Oscar through quick coordination between controllers and operators in the field. For instance, a forward air controller may positively identify a valid target that presents a sudden opportunity. They will coordinate via radio with available strike aircraft to designate the target as Tango Oscar, validate its engagement, and clear fires on it.

What are the steps to engage a Tango Oscar target?

1. Identification – A forward observer or another asset identifies an emerging target opportunity

2. Coordination – Information about the target is quickly relayed to strike assets through brief radio coordination

3. Validation – The firing asset confirms that they have the correct target in sight

4. Designation – The target is designated and confirmed as a Tango Oscar target

5. Cleared Hot – The strike asset is cleared hot to engage the Tango Oscar

6. Engagement – The Tango Oscar target is engaged, often with little time to spare

What are examples of Tango Oscar targets?

– An artillery unit that begins setting up to attack but was not previously identified
– A tank platoon maneuvering to a new concealed position
– A high value leader that briefly exposes their location
– A shipment of enemy supplies that was unknown until it is spotted
– Mobile air defense systems repositioning to engage
– Any other target that emerges outside the normal targeting process

When would a target NOT qualify as Tango Oscar?

A target would not qualify as Tango Oscar if there is sufficient time to go through normal vetting and approval procedures. Examples include:

– A known command bunker that has been identified for weeks
– Routine interdiction of an enemy supply route
– Engaging pre-planned targets from a target list
– Attacking enemy forces that have been tracked and observed for some time

In these cases, there is enough time to designate the target, assess it, obtain approval through proper channels, and execute deliberate targeting procedures. Tango Oscar is meant for more emergent targets that necessitate an accelerated process.

What are the benefits of designating a target Tango Oscar?

– Allows exploiting opportunities quickly when there is little time to act
– Enables flexibility to engage highly valuable targets that emerge suddenly
– Keeps decision authority closer to operational commanders instead of higher headquarters
– Allows seizing the initiative when the battle situation is rapidly evolving

What are the risks of Tango Oscar targeting?

– Increased risk of errors such as mistargeting due to hastened processes
– Possibility of unintended escalation since Senior oversight is bypassed
– Potential for abuse by field commanders without proper oversight
– Lower confidence in assessment since staff planning is shortened
– Less consideration for long term consequences or strategy

How is the authority for Tango Oscar delegated?

The authority to designate Tango Oscar targets is typically delegated down to operational field commanders based on their assigned area of operations. This allows for rapid coordination and engagement of Tango Oscar targets. The level of commander with Tango Oscar authority depends on factors like:

– The echelon of the unit – i.e. Battalion vs Brigade
– The phase and intensity of operations
– ROE and commander’s intent
– Type of forces involved – air, maritime, or ground
– Geographic scope of operations

Higher echelons retain the authority to impose additional restrictions and oversight on Tango Oscar procedures as needed.

How is Tango Oscar different from targets on a Joint Target List?

Joint Target Lists contain targets that are identified and vetted through a formal process in advance. Tango Oscar targets arise outside that formal process and are more ad hoc based on immediate opportunity. Key differences include:

Tango Oscar Targets Joint Target List Targets
– Ad hoc based on immediate opportunity – Vetted through formal process
– Identified in the field – Identified through intelligence
– Rapidly coordinated and engaged – Planned deliberately on target lists
– Limited strategic vetting – Extensive vetting process

When was Tango Oscar first used?

The exact origins of using “Tango Oscar” to designate targets of opportunity are unclear, but its use became common during the Vietnam War in the 1960s-70s. The phrase reflected the brevity codes and procedures developed to enable rapid coordination during fast-paced air combat operations over the radio. It has since become widespread across the services as standard terminology for time-sensitive targeting.

Is Tango Oscar targeting allowed under the laws of armed conflict?

Yes, designating targets as Tango Oscar does not inherently violate the laws of armed conflict. So long as those targets qualify as military objectives, and appropriate precautions are taken to minimize civilian harm, they can be lawfully engaged as targets of opportunity. The laws do not mandate following a formal targeting cycle, so the expedited Tango Oscar process is permitted. However, care must still be taken to positively identify targets and conduct proportionality assessments.

What are some examples of Tango Oscar targeting historically?

– In the Gulf War, mobile Scud missile launchers were high priority Tango Oscar targets that had to be struck swiftly before disappearing.

– During the Iraq War, insurgent leaders that briefly revealed themselves while moving from safehouse to safehouse were designated as Tango Oscars.

– In Afghanistan, Taliban fighters that massed for surprise attacks on short notice were engaged as Tango Oscar targets.

– In the Vietnam War, truck supply convoys identified moving down the Ho Chi Minh trail were often Tango Oscar targets directed to strike aircraft.

What technology is associated with Tango Oscar targeting?

– Datalinks and networks for rapid information sharing and coordination
– ISR assets like drones that can track and identify targets
– Communications systems like radio to designate Tango Oscars
– Targeting pods on strike aircraft to identify and engage targets
– Precision guided munitions to increase speed and accuracy of strikes
– Digital mission planning systems to reduce engagement timelines
– Command and control (C2) systems to cut through layers of bureaucracy

Advanced data processing and communications technology allow identifying Tango Oscar targets faster and striking them more quickly and precisely.

How could artificial intelligence impact Tango Oscar targeting?

Artificial intelligence (AI) could potentially accelerate and enhance Tango Oscar targeting through:

– Automated analysis of sensor data to rapidly identify potential targets
– Flagging opportune targets for human operators to evaluate
– Filtering targets to optimize choice of Tango Oscars
– Semi-autonomous designation of Tango Oscar targets
– Optimized engagement planning and execution
– Learning to tighten the sensing-deciding-acting loop
– Predicting the likelihood of certain Tango Oscar targets appearing
– Fusing intelligence to uncover hidden or fleeting targets

But existing limitations in AI may constrain its current effectiveness for autonomous Tango Oscar selection and engagement.

What are rules of engagement for Tango Oscar targeting?

Rules of engagement provide constraints on the use of Tango Oscar targeting. Example ROE include:

– Positive target ID required before engagement
– Collateral damage estimation still required
– Proportionality must still be considered
– Clearance of fires by authorized commander required
– Actions must match commander’s intent and end state goals
– Hostile act or intent must be evident
– Self-defense rules may be more decentralized
– Danger close restrictions still apply
– Higher review of Tango Oscars post-engagement
– Only certain target categories may be designated T.O.

ROE are designed to balance operational flexibility with the disciplined application of force.

What is the Joint Targeting Cycle?

The Joint Targeting Cycle is the formal 6-phase process to identify, vet, analyze, and engage pre-planned targets systematically:

Phase 1 Target Development
Phase 2 Target Validation
Phase 3 Capabilities Analysis
Phase 4 Commander’s Decision & Force Assignment
Phase 5 Mission Planning & Force Execution
Phase 6 Assessment

Tango Oscar targeting allows accelerating the process for pop-up targets, but still must be coordinated with the larger joint cycle.


In summary, Tango Oscar refers to time-critical targets of opportunity that emerge outside the standard targeting process. Designating these targets allows field commanders to seize fleeting chances to engage the enemy. However, proper precautions must still be taken to ensure rules of engagement are followed and risk of civilian harm is minimized. Tango Oscar targeting has evolved as a methodology enabled by modern technology and communications. When utilized correctly by disciplined operators, it can provide a decisive edge in the counter-terrorism and conventional battlespaces.

Leave a Comment