USAF Looks to Create New Command and Control Structure

Brig. Gen. Chance Saltzman, USAF's director of current operations, speaks on multidomain command and control conference hosted by Mitre in Massachusetts on Wednesday. Screenshot photo from YouTube live stream.

The Air Force’s command and control structure is not designed to synergistically integrate capabilities across air, space, and cyber domains, but it needs to be if USAF is going to be successful in future conflict against a peer adversary, said Brig. Gen. Chance Saltzman, who leads the service’s multi-domain command and control initiative, one of Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein’s top three focus areas.

“Multi-domain operations has to be characterized by high velocity, operationally agile operations,” and information will need to be shared with and coordinated through multiple combatant commands, said Saltzman during Mitre’s 2018 Space Computing and Connected Enterprise Resiliency Conference in Massachusetts on Wednesday.

For example, targeting cycles often require three different combatant commanders to work together and agree on which targets should be placed on what list. “That’s not an inconsequential thing, when you’re talking about a battle rhythm” that sometimes “requires crossing 12-16 different times zones to orchestrate,” said Saltzman.

So in future multi-domain command and control operations, who should be the package commander to ensure that operations can be dynamically adjusted as needed? If the service requires an air defense commander, must it also have an equivalent space commander? What general guidelines need to be put in place to help commanders determine what is a hostile act in space, such as how close is too close for two nation’s satellites to get?

To tackle these and other challenges, USAF is establishing the “Doolittle War Game series,” which will be held annually, with the first exercise to be held in October at Maxwell AFB, Ala. The players will be a mix of subject matter experts from the 505th Command and Control Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla., joint and coalition partners, as well as students from the Air Command and Staff College and Air Warfare College—so majors and lieutenant colonels who have taken a year-long break from their regular jobs to study. Saltzman said he hopes this will give them the time and freedom to “think more broadly about this.”

Moving forward, training and education will be key, because USAF doesn’t currently have a process that builds command and control experts. Today, roughly 86 percent of airmen who are assigned to work in an air operations center only do one assignment, “never to return again,” said Saltzman. “It’s a very small percentage of people who do multiple tours in an AOC, which gives them the chance to really get good at it.”

Saltzman acknowledged another problem is the Air Force’s “tribal nature,” in which airmen stick closely to their Air Force Specialty Code throughout their career to ensure they continue to be promotable.

“In recognition of that, we decided we have to create a new tribe,” he said. That “tribe,” will be the new 13 Oscar career field. The idea is for airmen to spend the first half of their career working in their “accession career field,” gaining expertise in their specialty area, whether it be flying fighters or tankers, operating space assets, or operating in cyberspace. Then at the nine- to 12-year point, “a small portion” of those airmen will cross flow over to the 13O career field, where they will spend the rest of their career doing command and control work in places such as air operations centers or at Fort Meade, Md.

“This will enable us to train multi-domain and command and control effects in a way that we really can’t do now,” said Saltzman.

Although he said, “We’re still designing this concept,” Saltzman is hoping to get approval later this month for the first cross-flow board, with the goal of having the first class “up and running this summer.”

Technology and its enabling structures pose another challenge. Future conflicts will be decided, said Saltzman, by the side with the intelligence advantage. As such, gathering, sharing, and interpreting data will be integral.

Saltzman said USAF already has access to “tremendous technology” in areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and information assurance, but the service doesn’t have the appropriate architecture in place that allows it to take advantage of such technology.?

In the future, he emphasized, “It’s not about the s?ide that can bring the most capacity to bear, or break the most things. It might be about the side that breaks the right things,” he said. “We will have to sort out the wheat from the chaff and make decisions at an operational tempo. Right now we don’t really have a command and control structure to support this.”