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Aerospace Experts Refocus the Tactical Picture

November 2000
By Robert K. Ackerman
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The Air Force’s newest weapon is information, and the service is already developing its related weapon system.

The next air combat operation may feature command and control as a distinct warfighting element. U.S. Air Force planners are working to move information processing and decision making directly into the flow of combat.

This approach does not require choosing between bytes and bombs. Instead, information derived from intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) would join air-to-air missiles and precision-guided bombs in an aircraft’s arsenal. Data assimilated from diverse sources would elevate decision making to a level at which it would become an interactive part of warfighting operations.

The need to network various sensors to provide a common situational awareness picture is neither new nor limited to the Air Force. However, the Air Force’s tactical operations present unique challenges. Pilots flying fighter aircraft swirling amid the heat of battle must make split-second decisions while engaging in their own form of personal multitasking. Soldiers, for example, can duck into a foxhole to consult personal digital devices, but pilots must comprehend displays while simultaneously waging air combat. And, the pilots’ individual actions can suddenly shift the momentum of battle and impel new strategies and priorities.

Several major thrusts address these issues under the aegis of the Air Force Air Combat Command’s Aerospace Command and Control and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center (AC2ISRC) headquartered at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. The AC2ISRC includes the Air Force Experimentation Office, the Air Force command and control training and innovation group, and the Air Force command and control (C2) and unmanned aerial vehicle battle laboratories. The AC2ISRC also runs the Joint Project Office for the Joint Warrior Interoperability Demonstration, or JWID (SIGNAL, October, pages 71 and 79).

Maj. Gen. Gerald F. Perryman, Jr., USAF, AC2ISRC commander, states that the Air Force long has been capable of operating at the tactical level. However, it must improve its ability to conduct an aerospace campaign at the operational level. This calls for a command and control capability that is joint rather than solely Air Force-oriented, he notes.

The AC2ISRC was formed a few years ago to integrate C2ISR across the Air Force as a system of systems, he relates. Working within stovepipe systems such as the U-2 or a specific satellite does not take into account how all of these systems work with one another to generate information from their collected data.

“We have approached the rapid change in acquisition of technology in the wrong way,” Gen. Perryman allows. The Air Force often spent years defining requirements for information technology or command and control systems, after which many more years would be consumed developing, testing and fielding the procurement. The result would be outdated systems that could not meet warfighter needs.

However, the service also must avoid rapid procurements that deploy stovepipe systems. “It would do little good for you, if you were building a home, to send plumbers, carpenters and masons to a building site, knowing that they all have their own codes, without having a plan to integrate their efforts,” he analogizes. “You would have to do [this integration] on the fly for them.” To avoid that pitfall, the AC2ISRC is developing an operational architecture to serve as an overarching blueprint.

“We have no intention of building an Air Force blue C2 universe,” Gen. Perryman declares. “Our intention is to build something that connects and treats C2ISR as a system of systems.”

The center focuses on 10 core areas that Gen. Perryman describes as priority efforts. Foremost among these is a new Combined Aerospace Operations Center (CAOC)–Experimental. Known as CAOC-X, this Langley facility began operation in late September. Users from the combat air forces and the mobility air forces, members of the Air Force Materiel Command research and development acquisition communities, and experts from the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center can work together in small teams to create a CAOC weapon system.

This weaponized CAOC, Gen. Perryman explains, will use command and control processes as well as employ a standardized manner of providing aerospace power to a joint force air component (JFAC) commander. The first thrust of this CAOC-X team will be to web-enable all command and control applications. This CAOC-X is considerably smaller than its equivalents in past operations such as the Gulf War and in Kosovo, and this size reduction is one goal of the CAOC efforts.

Not having the CAOC weapon system in Kosovo denied the Air Force “a clear and shared understanding of how our team could work together,” Gen. Perryman allows. The Air Force also lacked a clear way to reach back to information sources located elsewhere, along with a way to train similarly in both peacetime and wartime. “We spent too long agonizing over certain time-critical targets when, with a quicker more responsive C2ISR system focused by the CAOC, we could have done that job,” he elaborates. “Clearly, we did what we had to do to meet our objectives in Kosovo, but we could do better.”

The CAOC-X also will try to produce a JFAC cockpit. Gen. Perryman explains that pilots flying the newest fighter aircraft will rapidly receive summarized information on threats and targets. For example, a cockpit radar screen could be automatically configured to display when a target of interest looms within range. Then, the JFAC user would employ the weapon system to obtain information about the specific target. This commander would be able to retask sensors and platforms to confirm the target information. The JFAC radar scope subsequently would provide a status report on the air tasking order and provide feasible options within the tasking order.

This capability currently is lacking in a CAOC. The general declares that the CAOC needs operationalized, decision-quality information that can be presented rapidly to the JFAC user. This in turn will permit faster execution of the “kill chain—find, fix, track, target, engage and assess activities,” he notes.

It is vital that the CAOC link with the air tasking order. The CAOC must be able to change that order, based on the priorities of the joint force commander, as it is presented in the CAOC. This treatment of the air tasking order depends largely on the status of the CAOC as a weapon system, which the general sees as lacking.

“The problem is that we are not treating the CAOC as a weapon system,” the general explains. “So we man it with a pickup team; we give them processes that are nonstandard from one theater to the next; we don’t exercise them sufficiently at our ‘blue flags’; and then we expect that when we go to war, we are going to man them with people from across the Air Force who have never met each other.

“The problem isn’t the air tasking order. The problem is twofold for time-critical targeting: It is the lack of a CAOC weapon system, and it is also the lack of datalinks so that our aircrews can have instantaneous knowledge about what is going on in the air,” Gen. Perryman declares.

Efforts also are underway to produce automated tools that will enable the JFAC commander to better perform strategy, tasking, planning and execution. “We have relied too often on paper maps and post-it notes to make sense of a campaign,” the general observes. “It doesn’t have to be that way, and we waste a lot of man-hours trying to answer questions or get information summarized from the execution of the air tasking order.

“We waste a lot of time trying to figure out what to attack and what to assess as well,” he continues. “After you have attacked a time-critical target, you ought to be able to know the positions and capabilities of the ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] sensors—whether they are in air or in space—so they can do whatever it is they are going to do to give you information.”

The AC2ISRC also must ensure that the CAOC-X helps improve links among mobility, combat air and space forces across the entire Air Force, Gen. Perryman adds.

A CAOC-X at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, will provide links between the operational and tactical levels of warfare. This will permit warriors to grasp the full extent of their combat on a campaignwide basis. It also will enable continued study and development of horizontal C2ISR integration.

Another important AC2ISRC core area involves the existing Air Force command and control training and innovation group at Hurlburt Field, Florida. This group has the capability to allow the AC2ISRC to integrate and test all of the elements of the command and control system of systems as well as to train CAOC personnel as one team, Gen. Perryman offers.

The AC2ISRC’s Air Force Experimentation Office orchestrates joint expeditionary force experiments (JEFXs) in even-numbered years. For the odd-numbered years, the office is setting up the advanced process and technology experiments. The first of these smaller, more focused experiments will be set up in the Joint Battle Center in Suffolk, Virginia. Gen. Perryman relates that it will focus on processes and technologies necessary for U.S. allies to join in CAOC activities. The goal is to enable allies to train in peacetime at a level similar to that of wartime CAOC operations.

An integrated road map for datalink requirements is high on the AC2ISRC’s wish list. The general notes that datalinks provide more of an advantage to the warfighter than voice communications, but the Air Force has not established them sufficiently in cockpits and the command and control system. To overcome this inconsistent fielding, the AC2ISRC will bring affected parties together to develop this plan.

Another goal is an integrated concept of operations that would lead to a synthetic mission operations capability. The general notes that the Air Force can network its sensors and shooters in models and simulations. Networking these assets in the theater of battle would enable faster decision making. The distributed mission operations capability will allow networked training or rehearsal, including simulation of actual flight, with all of these assets.

The general adds that the center also is working to produce a way ahead for the operationalized family of pictures needed by joint warriors at all levels. Under direction by Joint Staff charter, this effort will permit data to be appropriately shared and presented. “We’re not going to try to tell the services what to build,” he explains. Instead, the center is working with the services to determine the information to be shared, how to present this information, which formats are desirable for the different types of warfighters, and the steps to be taken to achieve this goal. Gen. Perryman expects to present the center’s plan to the Joint Staff within six months, after which the other services will produce this road map.

A related effort aims at producing a concept of operations for a multimission C2ISR aircraft. This kind of vehicle, instead of concentrating on a single discipline, would be better equipped for correlating and fusing its information collected over the battlefield. This is not a short-term project. Gen. Perryman suggests that at least 10 years will be needed before procurement of this multimission aircraft can begin.

The AC2ISRC also is working toward the creation and integration of improved decision-quality logistics tools to assist the commander of Air Force forces or the JFAC. The general relates that existing information technology can help improve logistics, medical and personnel information for field commanders. In the recent JEFX, this effort was known as the agile combat support thread.

A broad-based effort aims to generate an integrated program objective memorandum for all C2ISR across the Air Force. Input from the major command staffs will help create new capabilities. “We need to not just build things to fulfill a program, but [instead determine] the overarching capability that we want,” Gen. Perryman says.