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Operational Readiness Takes Flight

October 2000
By Christian B. Sheehy

Communications connectivity remains a high command and control priority.

Over the past decade, downsizing in the U.S. Air Force has refocused the service’s goals on the efficiency, readiness and maximization of manpower and resources within a tighter budget. Restructuring the organization’s planning and allocation systems under a new program will ensure that the challenges of a rapidly changing global defense picture will continue to be met.

After a move by Congress decreased funding for staffing in the mid-1990s, the Air Force began concentrating on ways to maintain battle preparedness with fewer people and divisions. Long-range strategic and logistic planning of budget financing and material movements gave rise to new programs that could accommodate the needs of a more resource-efficient military. The Air Combat Command (ACC), Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, addresses these issues with a three-pronged mission aimed at controlling the manpower, programming and planning sides of the service’s active air wing.

Command and control capabilities have long been paramount to a nation’s ability to successfully field its armed forces and a key component of the operational architecture of the Air Force. “Without the elements that enable a commander to see and control the big picture during a tactical movement, warfighters are left with a chaotic and unpredictable battlefield,” Brig. Gen. Bentley B. Rayburn, USAF, ACC’s director for planning and programming, states. “By staying technologically current, we can continue to support task forces in helping them to maximize their resources and better coordinate multinational coalition efforts.

“Since the Gulf War, peacetime requirements have dictated that the Air Force get smaller for both money and position availability reasons. As we have gotten smaller, we’ve had to find ways of getting smarter to keep up with the demands of an increasingly technological world,” Gen. Rayburn shares.

To handle the organizational needs of a more thrift-conscious Air Force, the ACC designed the XP program to help centralize responsibilities so that fewer people are needed to accomplish the same tasks. The XP program has three departments: XPM, manpower; XPP, programs; and XPX, strategic plans. The primary department is the XPM, which deals with manpower. It is tasked with providing ACC commanders and functional managers with the right organizations and manpower resources for both peacetime and contingency operations. “Ensuring that the proper personnel are assigned to a particular job is key with new equipment modifications coming off the line almost daily,” the general remarks. “Once an examination of the project scope has been conducted, we determine the manpower requirements necessary to complete the task.”

The annual and projected budgets are central to how the ACC’s XPM department accomplishes its personnel placement agenda. This year, the fiscal year 2002 to 2007 program objective memorandum has been under debate. Issues range from establishing new units to allocating congressional funding for the ACC’s yearly budget. “The program objective memorandum this year is centered around a five-year fiscal plan for the command. It will go back and forth between the services and the OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] before it is finally submitted to Congress as part of a budget request,” Gen. Rayburn explains.

The ACC maintains a manpower innovation flight team (MIF) as a subset of the XPM. The team’s chief responsibility is to find innovative ideas that could be applied to produce solutions for the Air Force. Improving combat capabilities by optimizing resources in areas such as personnel logistics and unit acquisition are some of the primary tasks of the MIF.

To find ways to save money, the ACC is exploring the possibility of outsourcing to civilian contractors to help achieve its program goals. The privatization of key sectors within the Air Force in order to maximize work efficiency is an ongoing consideration for ACC leaders. This issue is a main focus of the XPP.

“Achieving a balance between force sustainability and modernization is key to the function of [the] XPP,” the general says. “Through the future years defense plan, the ACC program is continually integrated and evaluated so that it maintains the integrity and discipline necessary for meeting Air Force command and control requirements.” One part of the XPP is the review and development of funding options for ACC operations. It is an important phase that is conducted on a regular basis to address any fiscal goals that must be met.

The XPX, or strategic plans department of the ACC, is the command’s focal point for the modernization and conversion efforts that enable and maintain combat capability for the combat air forces. “Projecting an agenda for dealing with military, economic and even environmental variables that can affect the execution of a particular operation is essential to unit preparedness,” Gen. Rayburn notes. “Our role as ACC planners is to develop and deploy strategic direction to help guide task forces, investment and the impact that our presence will have on the surroundings.”

The Air Command and Control Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center (AC2ISRC) is a key entity within the ACC’s architecture. Responsible for resource prioritization, configuration control and equipment modernization for the Air Force, the AC2ISRC is an integral part of the command and control (C2) side of the ACC. The center provides the information necessary for the effective implementation of C2 in a combat situation. According to AC2ISRC’s Capt. Todd Fleming, USAF, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance give vision to unit commanders in wartime situations so that they can make appropriate decisions in a changing tactical environment. “Anything that supplies information about the battlefield back to the task force falls under ISR,” Capt. Fleming explains.

One of the AC2ISRC’s primary initiatives is the Aerospace Operations Center (AOC). As the chief command for orchestrating and conducting air campaigns, the AOC increasingly has been seen by the Air Force as a weapons system in itself. Past conflicts have supported a belief that the center should take on a more prominent role as the leading command behind air operations. “We need to standardize and baseline all of the components that make up an AOC, including items such as equipment, processes, training and people,” the captain says. “This will allow us to train our C2 warriors on common equipment and processes so they can hit the ground running at an AOC when deployed during an operation.”

In today’s battlefield environment, the majority of warfighters that staff an AOC during a conflict are deployed from other units. They are not familiar with all of the processes and equipment used in a particular AOC, and it can take weeks to train them to engage in planning an air tasking order. “We need to know that when warfighters walk in the door of an AOC, they all know the processes and equipment being used,” Capt. Fleming states. “With true standardization, a greater degree of quality in communications connectivity can be achieved through the use of common equipment and software.”

Another area for potential improvement within an AOC is the ability to discover and engage time-critical and mobile targets such as missile launchers and tanks. Although systems development has enabled the efficient execution of joint coalition air tasking orders for fixed targets and close air support, conflicts such as the Gulf War and operation Allied Force convinced the Air Force that it needed to enhance its capability to locate and destroy fleeting time-critical targets. Using the kill chain—find, fix, track, target, engage, assess—an AOC’s mission is to mark, track, target and neutralize any unfriendly contacts as quickly and completely as possible. “Time-critical targeting is an ongoing focus of [an] AOC,” Capt. Fleming notes. “Our goal is to kill mobile targets within 30 minutes from the moment they are first detected.”

Improving data fusion techniques is high on the service’s agenda. Through the Air Force fusion roadmap effort, sensors collect data on potential enemies. However, the ability to task, process, exploit and disseminate this information still requires work. “You can gather as much information as possible, but if it is not delivered in a clear format to the people that need it, then it isn’t worth anything,” the captain offers.

By integrating multiple sensor data inputs, an AOC can deliver the right data to the right personnel in critical situations. Efforts are underway to introduce automated data fusion by combining inputs from many sensors to expedite the transmission loop of decision-quality information to commanders and warfighters. “Data fusion enables us to command aerospace power during wartime by getting the necessary facts to our fighters, bombers and support aircraft so that they know what threats they are facing and how best to dispatch them,” Capt. Fleming says. The communications network responsible for carrying all of the fused data throughout the AOC is the global information grid. Work is ongoing to expand the Link 16 and datalink programs in an effort to achieve better C2 capabilities.

The planning and programming areas of the Air Force’s C2 component are connected through the enterprise integration management (EIM) program. Built around the idea of cost optimization through early preparation, EIM helps the AOC develop a refined focus on capability requirements and issues before trying to create solutions or specific programs. “We try to determine the effects that we are attempting to achieve and the capabilities that will produce these effects,” Capt. Fleming states. “One of the strong focuses of this year’s aerospace C2ISR campaign plan is information processing and dissemination and how different techniques can be used with many of our existing systems.”

Several other programs are underway at the AC2ISRC. For example, the global command and control system–Air Force and theater battle management core systems aim at enhancing C2 software products for use by the AOC. ISR programs, including unmanned aerial vehicles and the advanced remote ground unattended sensor, are in development along with already existing assets.

In an effort to maximize the latest investment in strategies that will produce better ways to prioritize and move information, the AC2ISRC is compiling ideas for its aerospace C2ISR campaign plan 2001. The plan will outline Air Force time-phased capability objectives and performance measures needed to achieve the service’s budget goals for both Joint Vision 2020 and its global vigilance, reach and power vision. “Maximizing communications control has and will continue to be one of our top priorities,” Capt. Fleming remarks. “Making information actionable is the real objective.”