Abstract: After its debut during the Gulf War, the Air Operations Center (AOC) became the core of the U.S. Air Force’s execution of operational command and control. As the drive for Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) solutions increases, a simple solution to make AOCs more joint will not be sufficient for future all-domain warfare.
Joint all-domain operations and the requirements for success are at the forefront of everyone’s minds in the drive to modernize the U.S. military. As weapons and systems modernize, the question of how and who will command and control these capabilities is an urgent need to address the requirements of near-neighbor conflict outlined in the latest U.S. National Defense Strategy.[i] In 2018, Brig. Gen. Chance Saltzman, then the current U.S. Air Force Operations Director, defined Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) as “a system in one domain that not only supports operations in another domain… Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) [现在JADO] It’s high-velocity, operationally agile action…requiring seamless, dynamic, and continuous integration capabilities, with impact in and across all domains. “[ii]Admiral Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, formally designated the Air Force as the lead agency for the development of JADC2.[iii]
The requirements of JADC2 will be difficult for the U.S. Air Force, stagnating mission command and operational command and control knowledge in the relatively permissive environment of the global war on terror.[iv]We can no longer assume that the United States will be able to quickly and easily acquire and maintain EMS control (which is essential for back-up command and control organizations), air superiority, and freedom of movement at sea, we will be on the offensive at all times, and decentralized centers will be able to Maintain constant communication with units that can project power with guaranteed resupply.[V]The simple answer for the USAF as the designated JADC2 leader is to adopt their operational command and control model in the Air Operations Center (AOC) and work towards integrating more joint and thematic elements into the organization and rename it Joint Global Operations Center. This will be an error. JADC2 will require seamless joint operations, speed and complexity.[vi]The AOCs that exist today cannot do this.
To understand why AOC cannot implement JADC2, we must understand when it was developed and how it functions today.
The USAF Air Operations Center is the organization through which the Joint Force Air Force Commander exercises command and control over all designated joint or joint air forces.[vii] The AOC proved effective during the Gulf War, and the processes it developed during that conflict have become standard operating procedure.[Viii]The original concept assumed that an enemy entrenched in open warfare would require air support for pre-planned ground combat. The ability to command and control the entire air domain in joint air combat was a resounding success, and AOC was a cutting-edge development and capability at the time. Updates to command and control have not kept pace with technology and doctrine, and changes are now required. Because most air operations centers today operate on a competitive continuum, they struggle with how to produce effects on the battlefield that kinetic air power cannot.[ix] [x]
Today’s AOC seems functionally designed to encourage the chimney, as it segregates people into professional teams. Two of these are specialized by intelligence and mobility functions (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISRD) and Air Mobility (AMD)), and the other three are organized by time within the 72-hour Air Task Order (ATO) cycle (Strategic Division) (SRD), Combat Planning Division (CPD), and Combat Operations Division (COD). There are numerous professional teams, liaisons and communication functions within and outside these departments. Importantly, all of these teams with expertise are planning and operating at the same time, but not in sync. Strategic communication happens separately from goals, goals separate from collections, and hopefully in the end they will support each other and support operational goals. There are other members on temporary assignments or short-term deployments as airframe or specialty specialists who also work primarily within the COD.[xi]All of these elements are centered on the development and execution of air mission orders.
JADC2 Requirements: Joint
The description of this AOC is already very complicated. This is only a superficial primer, and there is no in-depth explanation of the more than 20 teams distributed in various departments and the products they are responsible for. This is not an easy organization to explain or understand for joint partners who don’t have time to immerse themselves. In current designs, joint or coalition aspects are typically limited to liaison officers (LNOs) primarily assigned to the COD, whose primary function is to communicate with their Nation or Service assets. As a joint integrated organization, it would fall apart if the only representatives from the other services were liaisons and only responsible for their air defense or air defense units. It is not enough to simply increase this representation.
JADC2 Requirements: Speed
The speed required for JADC2 to succeed does not exist in AOC. The AOC runs all its planning and operational cycles within the 72-hour air mission order process, as it is the most important document AOC generates. The ATO is the administrative document responsible for the accurate mission, airspace, timing, and weapons loading of all assets requiring airspace.[i]During this time frame, planning cycles for targeting, collection, planning, strategic communication and other aspects are taking place in accordance with the AOC’s mandate. None of these are synced to maximize other effects throughout. The task assignment documents produced during these planning cycles are detailed and prescriptive, with little insight into the mission strategy and overall goals.[ii]And because combat changes so quickly, very specific mission orders written 48 hours ago are often outdated and require huge changes in execution, all still managed and approved by senior authorities in the Division of Combat Operations. Due to the rigor of this timeline, effects that are difficult or impossible to plan within 72 hours are often underutilized or seen as too limited. The inability to blend these effects for maximum potency is a huge problem for near-peer combat.[iii]
JADC2 Requirements: Complexity
Finally, this manual chimney process does not allow for the complexity inherent in command and control of joint all-domain combat. Currently, AOC planners write mission assignment documents that attempt to manually resolve conflicts over how to efficiently use the least amount of assets to meet requirements—this only applies to standard kinetic targets with ISRs, all of which are controlled by air assets in a permissive counterterrorism environment. Satisfy. Today, this is a time- and labor-intensive process, and inefficient as multifunctional platforms grow. Other Services, coalition partners, and interagency capabilities are underutilized due to the focus on air component assets.Implementing JADC2 means utilizing all domains (spatial, electromagnetic spectrum [包括网络]air, ground, sea and human[iv]), and the AOC’s inability to command and control all six, making it a poor choice for executing JADC2.
This process is impossible in a near-peer JADO battle. It is too slow and centralized, has limited capacity, and is too vulnerable. If the AOC is cut off from its tactical units, those units’ ability to continue their mission is limited because so much content has been concentrated. Over the past two decades, our possible adversaries have observed the U.S. military’s reliance on these back-up command and control centers, a logical assumption that continuous connectivity is not possible.[v]The future will not allow the normative micromanagement command and control that the Air Force has been able to use for the past three decades.
Solutions to these problems must come from multiple fields and experts—technical, procedural, legislative. Beyond that, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of our human realm. How we organize people in command and control relationships and how we train them will be key to the successful execution of JADC2. The Ministry of Defense has the best weapons of the people. The authors envision an operations center with a combined team of planners and experts for each effect, fully trained as all-domain integrators, who plan on timescales without the artificial constraints of a 72-hour cycle. If we accept that the AOC cannot execute JADC2, leaders must begin experimenting immediately to find solutions to the conflicts of the coming 21st century.