Expeditionary Nerve Center

Aug. 1, 1998

In September, about 100 military personnel will “deploy” to Southwest Asia as command-and-control element of a massive 1,000-sortie-per-day air campaign. The effort will be undertaken in defense of an American ally that has been “attacked” by a rogue state, and the task will be to swiftly and decisively halt the heavily armed invading force.

That’s the scenario USAF will use as the basis of EFX 98, first in a new breed of Air Force warfighting experiments. EFX 98 will be the opening act of the Expeditionary Force Experiment series that the Air Force approved last year when it established Air and Space Command and Control Agency under Air Combat Command.

The setting is Southwest Asia in or around the year 2005. However, all of the action will take place within the continental United States, unfolding during the period Sept. 14-26. The Eglin AFB/Hurlburt Field complex in northern Florida will represent the territory of a threatened ally. Langley AFB, Va., will serve as a rear air operations hub. The mobile command element will deploy to Florida and direct operations of assets from around the United States. The forward element will stay in constant contact with the larger element at Langley.

The postulated threat is a nine-division force in a state adjacent to the American ally. The aggressor will use 2.5 of the nine divisions as the initial invasion force. The Air Force, in response, will deploy an AEF to break down and then halt that invasion.

With each annual exercise, the Air Force will explore new technologies, procedures, and requirements that affect its operations and systems. EFX is the service’s way of dealing with a critical DoD-wide issue: how to harness the Revolution in Military Affairs and advances in information technology to improve the way the US armed forces fight wars.

The EFX series differs greatly from traditional exercises conducted in the past. In Green Flag exercises, for example, the Air Force hones the tactics and procedures of existing command, control, and intelligence assets. EFX, on the other hand, is experimental and therefore serves a different purpose. It looks at the new, unproven, and futuristic.

The impact will be felt mostly on the operational Air Force of tomorrow, not that of today.

EFX will have some common themes. These include live-fly missions, simulations, and insertions of advanced technologies in a specified and controlled war environment. The overarching goal is to integrate emerging capabilities with existing ones in an Air Expeditionary Force concept, said the Air Force in an EFX paper.

EFX 98, for its part, will focus on command and control, viewed as the brains of any major air campaign. The Air Force presents the EFX 98 hypothesis this way: If command centers and platforms are connected to a robust “global area network” that moves information rapidly and efficiently, then a rapid halt of an invading force can be achieved sooner, with less risk to friendly forces.

Right, Right, Right, Right

The object is to incorporate improved command-and-control systems and procedures into a given Air Expeditionary Force. Maj. Gen. John W. Hawley, the ASC2A commander who oversees EFX 98, said, “It is about providing commanders the right information, at the right time, so they attack just the right targets, in the right way, at the right time. No more, and no less.”

For Gen. Michael E. Ryan, Air Force Chief of Staff, the entire EFX initiative is part of an effort to become an expeditionary aerospace force that can decisively halt an enemy early in a conflict.

“Part of the expeditionary mode is the ability to command and control whatever forces you have forward,” said Ryan. “Part of that is to get the show on the road quickly.”

EFX 98 will focus sharply on the crucial first 15 days of the war and include the demands of the critical logistics buildup that is often overlooked when campaigns are simulated.

The live-fly portion of EFX 98 will include a variety of combat and special operations aircraft-F-15 and

F-16 fighters, B-1B and B-2 bombers, AC-130 gunships, MC-130 Combat Talons, and an MH-53 special operations helicopter. Also playing a critical role will be reconnaissance assets such as E-3 AWACS, E-8 Joint

STARS, and RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft, which will provide data on the air, ground, and signals environments, respectively and in combination.

These assets will generate up to 60 actual combat and combat-support sorties per day. In addition, assets at Hurlburt will generate upwards of 900 simulated sorties per day, bringing the total to about 1,000 daily sorties.

In the final weeks before EFX 98, USAF is conducting a series of workups to try to ensure the experiment runs smoothly. Three so-called “spirals” will take place before EFX 98 begins. Each covers an increasingly large part of the experiment, culminating in a large dry run scheduled to run from late August through early September.

During each spiral, the Air Force is able to work through the kinks that arise when someone puts together a very large command-and-control architecture. The goal is to eliminate any technical hiccups that later could bedevil the experiment.

Shrinking the “Brain”

One key element in September will be experimentation with a small, 100-person Joint Air Operations Center. Plans call for the unit to be “forward deployed” on the Eglin range complex, hard by the “theater of conflict” in this simulated war.

This is a major departure from the Air Force norm. In late 1990, the Joint Air Operations Center responsible for activity in Operation Desert Shield required more than 1,500 people. Getting all the troops and materiel in place cost $4 million, took two weeks, and required 25 C-17­sized aircraft loads. A lean JAOC with only 100 people would cost $200,000, deploy in a day, and take only one or two C-17s for transport.

What’s the significance of conducting an air war with a forward deployed element of only 100 people? The obvious operational benefit is being able to put bombs on target much earlier and stifle the aggressor’s ground offensive before it can be fully unleashed.

Moreover, Hawley pointed out, a small JAOC is much more flexible. “We don’t really know where we have to fight next,” he said, so the ability to deploy at a moment’s notice anywhere in the world is increasingly important.

Hawley further noted that, with the smaller unit, “95 percent fewer people are at risk on the front lines-with no change in capability.” That’s particularly important given the lack of a robust theater missile defense system to protect those troops.

In EFX 98, all staff will be joint-service, the better to make the forward JAOC establishment realistic. Also, an element of the Army’s 82d Airborne Division will be air-dropped into the Florida range from C-17s to secure an area where the operations center can be set up. As would be the case in a regular operation, the Army paratroopers will then go on to other missions, and USAF security forces will come in to protect the JAOC.

Air Force officials said they are able to reduce the size of the forward ops center because they also are establishing a rearward JAOC comprising about 300 people. This larger unit exists to provide critical support and depth to the personnel deployed to the theater. Hawley said the rear JAOC is a “1-800 Help Desk” for the forward deployed commander and staff. The two centers will stay in constant touch by using the military’s global communications channels.

The rear JAOC can call on subject matter experts located anywhere in the world and then funnel their input to the forward center. For example, the rear JAOC might lean heavily on experts at Air Mobility Command, Scott AFB, Ill., to help deal with theater transportation difficulties. One key advantage of operating through this distributed network is that subject matter experts are left in their familiar environments to work most efficiently with the best tools of the trade.

All communications will take place over a global area network connecting different facilities and information databases in the US and overseas. One of the main means of providing data to forward deployed forces will be the Global Broadcast System. Unlike other communications “pipes,” GBS is relatively rich in bandwidth. The system already is in use today, supporting military forces in Bosnia.

Situational Awareness

A second major USAF initiative focuses on improving the situational awareness of the Joint Forces Air Component Commander-usually the top Air Force official on scene.

Heretofore, JFACCs have had to wait to get into a theater before they could begin to put together all the intelligence needed to get a clear picture of the battlefield. But that time delay wastes critical hours, possibly days, during which air operations may not be running at their optimum.

If the exercise unfolds as planned, the JFACC will be kept in constant touch with developments in the combat zone. Plans call for connecting the rear and forward JAOCs and JFACC’s transport aircraft via the global area network that links all the dispersed Air Force elements.

The most critical aspect may be keeping the JFACC in touch with theater forces while he is en route to theater, since the combat theater changes by the minute.

“With a better, faster, and constant flow of information, the JFACC will make better and more timely decisions which will, in turn, shorten conflicts,” Hawley said.

The initiative also seeks to keep the air component commander fully connected even when he is on the move in the combat zone. By keeping the JFACC fully informed at all times, he can more rapidly react to changes, swiftly directing attacks or counterattacks.

Fast reaction is a dominant theme that invariably crops up in the 30 or so initiatives the Air Force will be looking at during EFX 98. In the past, air campaigns have been slowed by the need for detailed, lengthy target planning before missions could be flown. EFX 98 hopes to show that this no longer is the case.

Heavy bombers that take off from the US or from forward bases such as Guam or Diego Garcia will be launched much faster and sent on their way with incomplete mission plans. All the planning activity that used to be done before an aircraft launched will now take place while the bombers are en route to targets. Flight crews will either conduct their own planning using onboard tools that provide access to time-critical battlefield intelligence or they will receive mission plans from the JAOC as they approach the combat zone. USAF has already done much work toward this end under various Real-Time Information to the Cockpit efforts.

Smaller Footprint

The numerous EFX 98 initiatives will try to find answers to a host of other questions. One concerns how to reduce the on-ground footprint of an AEF, while another focuses on the issue of speeding up the deployment of such a force.

Though the operational initiatives are new, some of them depend on technologies that are considered relatively mature. Some have been proposed and are being conducted by different USAF or Defense Department organizations, including the National Reconnaissance Office, while others are under study in some areas of industry.

The success of EFX 98 isn’t going to be measured by how the simulated campaign turns out but by how much insight has been gained from the different initiatives. Reviewers are going to examine each initiative and decide whether the system or tactic should be integrated into the combat force, further developed, shelved for a while, or simply discarded. The Air Force hopes that, with early user involvement in the development of technologies, it will be able to identify systems with true operational promise and also what changes might be needed as a system enters the regular acquisition path.

EFX 98 operators will encounter at least one self-induced challenge: attacks on computers throughout the exercise. The Air Force does not want to fall into the trap of assuming that all systems will operate in a benign environment.

“We’ll be aggressively testing our ability to protect our information systems,” Hawley said.

How exactly the systems will be challenged is closely guarded, but different forms of hacking will be employed. USAF operators know that the only way to get robust command-and-control systems is to have good system design up front. Hawley said EFX 98 will show whether that in fact was accomplished.

USAF is putting $40 million in the first edition of EFX. Hawley said it’s a worthwhile investment. “If we learn something from this experiment that allows us to make just one better budget decision, we’ll likely save the American taxpayers the cost of this experiment and much, much more.”

Another payoff from the investment is the creation of “leave behind” capabilities. USAF estimates that $16 million, or some 40 percent of the total investment, will go to equipment that will be available long after the completion of EFX 98. For example, the service will have acquired hardware at Langley for a rear JAOC, as well as the hardware package for a small forward ops center that could be used to support any Air Expeditionary Force deployment.

Budget pressures already have taken their toll. Some EFX technology initiatives had to be dropped from the experiment due to lack of funds. One of those is a promising experiment using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses. The UAV would carry a payload capable of detecting and providing targeting information on enemy radars, jamming those radars, and acting as a fighter or bomber decoy. That experiment will now take place as a stand-alone effort early next year.

Air Force Edge

No one is certain that the EFX plan can be executed in the current budget situation. Perhaps more than other services, the Air Force has a chance to succeed in its effort to capture the benefits of the information revolution. For one thing, it has a long history of developing these type of force multipliers, most notably in the Tactical Exploitation of National Capabilities program. TENCAP for years has enabled warfighters to derive benefits from technology investments made for intelligence gathering purposes. Secondly, USAF systems operate at a higher level of technical sophistication, so integrating new technology should be technically and culturally easier for the Air Force than it will be for the other services.

The Air Force already has specified a couple of objectives for future EFXs.

In EFX 99, which will run for about 12 days next summer, the service wants to take a closer look at space operations. One of the goals of next year’s experiment, USAF says, will be a “more thorough integration of space-based capabilities and space-derived information with expanded live scenario elements to highlight the important role of aerospace, mobility, and agile combat support” to fulfill warfighting needs.

It will take place in July 1999.

EFX 98 Initiatives

As of mid-summer, the Air Force was listing 30 major initiatives in its EFX 98 plan.*

  • AWACS airborne C2 and real-time common operational picture
  • AWACS broadcast intelligence
  • Remote location in-transit viewer
  • Dynamic information gateway management system
  • Joint targeting workstation
  • Defensive information warfare
  • Joint STARS assured satellite communications connectivity
  • Expeditionary operations center en route concept
  • Track II
  • Collaborative virtual work space
  • B-1B data link
  • Master battle planner
  • Air tasking order viewer
  • Sensor box “look forward”
  • Sensor box integration into the Air Operations Center
  • Wireless broadband system
  • Link 16 to situational-awareness data link
  • Steel Rattler
  • Joint total asset visibility
  • Tactical automated security system
  • Joint Tactical Information Distribution System satellite communications connectivity
  • Tactical data exploitation/automatic target recognition
  • Joint Forces Air Component Commander en route information system
  • Lightweight long-range information and communications system
  • Agile combat support improved logistics C2 capability
  • Theater Battle Management core systems version 1.0 as EFX infrastructure
  • Near Real-Time Intelligence in Cockpit multimission advanced tactical terminal
  • Common object framework/Special Operations Forces planning and rehearsal system
  • Global Broadcast System
  • Distributed mission rehearsal and analysis

* List subject to change.

Robert Wall is the Pentagon reporter for Aerospace Daily, a Washington-based defense and commercial aviation periodical. Wall’s most recent article for Air Force Magazine, “The B-2 Proves a Point,” appeared in the July 1998 issue.