By: Hanna Terino
Estimated Time to Read: 9 mins
Abstract: After a successful debut during the Gulf War, the Air Operations Center (AOC) is at the heart of how the US Air Force executes operational command and control. As the drive for a Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) solution increases, the easy solution of making an AOC more joint will not be enough for the future of all domain warfare.
Within the drive to modernize the United States military, Joint All Domain Operations and the requirements to succeed are at the forefront of everyone’s mind. As weapons and systems modernize, the question of how and who commands and controls these capabilities is an urgent problem to solve to meet the requirements of near-peer conflict as outlined in the latest National Defense Strategy.[i] In 2018 then Air Force Director of Current Operations, Brig Gen Chance Saltzman, defined Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) as requiring “more than systems in one domain supporting operations in another…Multi Domain Operations (MDO) [now JADO] are high velocity, operationally agile operations…requiring seamless, dynamic and continuous integration of capabilities generating effects in and from all domains.”[ii] GEN Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has officially designated the Air Force as the lead service on developing JADC2.[iii]
JADC2 has requirements that are going to be difficult for the US Air Force, which has allowed mission command and operational command and control knowledge to become stagnant during the relatively permissive environment of the Global War on Terror.[iv] We can no longer assume that the US will be able to quickly and easily gain and maintain EMS control (which is critical for reach back command and control organizations), air superiority and maritime freedom of movement, that we will be on the offense at all times, and that decentralized centers will be able to have constant uninterrupted communication with units that can project force with guaranteed resupply.[v] The easy answer for the Air Force as the appointed JADC2 lead is to take their operational command and control model in the Air Operations Center (AOC) and work to integrate more joint elements and subject matter elements into the organization and rebrand as the Joint All Domain Operations Center. This would be a mistake. JADC2 will require seamless joint operations, speed, and complexity.[vi] The AOC as it exists now is incapable of that.
To understand why the AOC cannot execute JADC2, we must look at when it developed and how it functions now.
The Air Operations Center is the organization through which the Joint (or Combined) Forces Air Component Commander executes command and control of all assigned joint or coalition air forces.[vii] The AOC proved effective during the Gulf War, and the processes it developed in that conflict have become standard operating procedure.[viii] The original concept assumed an entrenched enemy in open warfare requiring air support for a pre-planned ground battle. The ability to command and control the entire air domain in a joint air war was a resounding success, and at the time the AOC was a cutting edge development and capability. Updates in command and control have not kept pace with technology and doctrine, necessitating a change now. As most AOCs today operate in the competition continuum, they struggle with how to drive an effect in the battlespace that is not delivered by kinetic airpower. [ix][x]
The AOC of today functionally seems designed to encourage stovepipes as it isolates personnel on to specialized teams. Two of the divisions are specialized by function for intelligence and mobility (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Division (ISRD) and Air Mobility Division (AMD)) with three others organized by time in the 72 hour Air Tasking Order (ATO) cycle (Strategy Division (SRD), Combat Plans Division (CPD) and Combat Operations Division (COD)). There are within and outside these divisions a myriad of specialty teams, liaisons, and communications functions. Importantly, all these teams with their specializations are planning and operating simultaneously, but not synchronized. Strategic communications are happening separately from targeting which is separate from collections, with the hope at the end they will be supportive of each other and the operational objective. There are additional members on temporary assignment or deployed for short stints to act as experts on their airframe or specialty, also primarily working within the COD.[xi] All these elements are centered around developing and executing the Air Tasking Order.
JADC2 Requirement: Joint
This description of an AOC is already complicated, and this is a surface level primer without the in-depth explanation of the more than twenty teams spread amongst divisions and the products they are all responsible for. This is not an organization that lends itself to easy explanation or understanding for Joint partners who do not have time to become immersed. In it’s current design, the joint or coalition aspect is generally limited to liaison officers (LNOs) primarily assigned to the COD, where their primary function is communicating with their country’s or service’s assets. As a joint integrated organization, it falls apart if the only representatives from other services are liaisons, and only for their air or air defense elements. Simply increasing that representation is not enough.
JADC2 Requirement: Speed
The speed that is necessary for JADC2 to be successful does not exist in the AOC. The AOC runs all it’s planning and operation cycles on the 72 hour Air Tasking Order process, as it is the most important document the AOC produces. The ATO is the governing document that tasks all assets requiring air space with their exact missions, air space, timing, and weapons load out.[i] Within this time frame there are planning cycles happening for targeting, collection, planning, strategic communications, and others depending on the AOC mission. None of these are synchronized to maximize other effects as they go through the process. The tasking documents produced throughout these planning cycles are detailed and prescriptive, with almost no insight into the mission strategy and overarching objectives.[ii] And because of how fast the fight changes, a very specific tasking order written 48 hours before is often woefully out of date, requiring huge changes in execution, all still managed and approved by the Combat Ops Division senior authorities. Because of the strictness of this timeline, effects that are difficult or impossible to plan for in 72 hours are often under utilized or disregarded as too limiting. Not being able to converge these effects for maximum effectiveness is an enormous problem for a near peer fight.[iii]
JADC2 Requirement: Complexity
Finally, this manual stovepiped process does not allow for the complexity inherent in having command and control of a Joint all domain fight. Currently AOC planners write tasking documents attempting to manually deconflict how to effectively use minimal assets to satisfy requirements – and this is only for the standard kinetic targets with ISR, all satisfied by air assets in a permissive counter terror environment. Today it is a time and labor-intensive process, and inefficient with the growth of multi-function platforms. Because of the focus on air component assets, other services, coalition partners, and interagency capabilities are underutilized. Executing JADC2 means taking advantage of all domains (space, electronic magnetic spectrum [which includes cyber], air, ground, maritime, and human[iv]), and the AOC is unable to command and control all six, making it a poor option for the execution of JADC2.
This process is not possible in a near peer JADO fight. It is too slow and centralized, limited in capacity, and far too vulnerable. If an AOC is cut off from its tactical units, those units have limited ability to continue mission execution as so much has been centralized. Over the last twenty years our likely adversaries have observed the US military’s dependence on these reach back command and control centers, and it is a logical assumption that constant connection will not be possible.[v] The future will not allow for the prescriptive micro-managed command and control that the US Air Force has been able to utilize for the past thirty years.
The solutions to these problems must come from multiple realms and experts – technical, programmatic, legislative. Beyond those, it is important that we do not disregard our human domain. How we organize personnel within the command and control nexus, and how they are trained is going to be the lynchpin to success in executing JADC2. The best weapon the Department of Defense has its people. This author envisions an Operations Center with joint teams of planners and experts in each effect, fully trained as all domain integrators, where they plan along a time scale not artificially restrained by a 72 hour cycle. If we accept that the AOC cannot execute JADC2, leaders must begin experimenting immediately to find the solution for the 21st Century conflicts to come.
Captain Hanna Terino is currently the Chief of Targets at the 612th Air Operations Center. She is an Active Duty Intelligence Officer, with a Master of Arts in Inter Area Studies from the University of Oklahoma and a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Washington.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force or the United States Government.
Featured Image Source: https://breakingdefense.com/2020/07/air-force-boosts-high-speed-contract-pool-for-abms/>>)
[i] Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication 1-02: Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, (Washington DC: Department of Defense, 2010). 11.
[ii] Rozman, J. (2020). Integrated Air and Missile Defense in Multi-Domain Operations. 3
[iii] Nisperos, E. (2020, June 01). Joint All Domain Effects Convergence: Evolving C2 Teams. Retrieved August 05, 2020, from https://othjournal.com/2020/03/10/joint-all-domain-effects-convergence-evolving-c2- teams/
[iv] Reilly, J. (2016). Multidomain Operations: A Subtle but Significant Transition in Military Thought. Air and Space Journal, 30(1). https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Portals/10/ASPJ/journals/Volume-30_Issue-1/V-Reilly.pdf
[v] Seip, Mark. (2020). Bad Idea: All Sensors, All Shooters, All the Time – a Joint All-Domain Command and Control System That Prioritizes Centralization | Defense360. Defense360. https://defense360.csis.org/bad-idea-all-sensors-all-shooters-all-the-time-a-joint-all-domain-command-and-control-system-that-prioritizes-centralization/.
[i] Department of Defense. National Defense Strategy. 2018.
[ii] Lingel, S., Hagen, J., Hastings, E., Lee, M., Sargent, M., Walsh, M., … & Blancett, D. Joint All-Domain Command and Control for Modern Warfare. 7-8
[iii] Hitchens, T. (2020, July 27). Milley Assigns Service Roles In All-Domain Ops Concept. Retrieved August 07, 2020, from https://breakingdefense.com/2020/07/milley-assigns-service-roles-in-all-domain-ops-concept/.
[iv] Tsougas, Nick. “Is The USAF Effectively Embracing The Challenge Of Executing Multi-Domain Operations?”. Over The Horizon, 2019, https://othjournal.com/2019/02/20/is-the-usaf-effectively-embracing-the-challenge-of-executing-multi-domain-operations/.
[v] Department of the Air Force. Annex 3-1 Department of the Air Force Role in Joint All Domain Operations (JADO). Maxwell AFB, AL: Curtis E. Lemay Center for Doctrine Development and Education, 1 June 2020, 30.
[vi] United States, Congress, Military Capabilities and Programs, et al. Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2), 9 Dec. 2020. crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF11493.
[vii] Department of the Air Force, Air Force Tactics Techniques and Procedures 3-1. AOC, (Nellis AFB, NV: USAF Warfare Center, 2010). 32.
[viii] Lingel, S., Hagen, J., Hastings, E., Lee, M., Sargent, M., Walsh, M., … & Blancett, D. Joint All-Domain Command and Control for Modern Warfare. 1
[ix] Mulgund, Sandeep S., and Mark D. Kelly. “Command and Control of Operations in the Information Environment; Leading with Information in Operational Planning, Execution, and Assessment.” Air & Space Power Journal, vol. 34, no. 4, 2020, http://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Portals/10/ASPJ/journals/Volume-34_Issue-4/SLP-Mulgund_Kelly.pdf.
[x] Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Doctrine Note 1-19: Competition Continuum, (Washington DC: Department of Defense, 2019)
[xi] Department of the Air Force, Air Force Tactics Techniques and Procedures 3-1. AOC, (Nellis AFB, NV: USAF Warfare Center, 2010). 32.