Prioritizing Multi-Domain Command and Control

Brig. Gen. Chance Saltzman, director of current operations, speaks at an AFA Mitchell Institute space forum on Capitol Hill on June 16, 2017. Staff photo by Mace Carpenter.

Developing multi-domain command and control (MDC2) for the battlefield of the future is one of the Air Force’s top priorities. Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has identified the task as one of the three major efforts of his tenure. However, congressional leaders speaking at an AFA Mitchell Institute event on Friday said the Fiscal 2018 budget shows the service is not taking the requirement seriously.

Brig. Gen. Chance Saltzman, director of current operations and leader of Goldfein’s MDC2 initiative, affirmed its significant on Friday, saying MDC2 has five major pieces. First, it integrates the combat domains of ground, sea, air, space, and cyber. Second, it identifies threats as trans-regional. Third, it embraces multi-service joint capabilities. Fourth, it recognizes the US’ ability to fight with allies in coalitions as a unique “asymmetric advantage.” And last, it recognizes the decisive importance of speed in battlefield decision-making.

MDC2 is “not about the product, it’s about the process,” Saltzman said. The goal is to develop “decision superiority” and an “information advantage” and use those to distance US operations from the abilities of adversaries. He told the audience at the Capitol Hill event not to expect primarily a new MDC2 acquisition program. “We think there’s a lot of non-material solutions” to the problem, he said.

Two examples he offered are personnel reforms and information maximization efforts.

He explained that, currently, command and control is not a separate career field within the Air Force. This means that airmen who train in those particular skills may be called away to other tasks within their specialty, and the service will lose their institutional knowledge and experience. The Air Force needs “a cadre of command and control professionals” who will continue in the work and help others learn it more quickly, Saltzman said.

He also wants to take advantage of “big data analytics” to solve operational problems. To that end, Saltzman’s team has toured operations at Amazon and small technology companies connected to the DOD’s DIUX innovation programs in Boston and Silicon Valley. Saltzman wants to make use of commercial partners in this realm, but “we’re not limiting ourselves to the traditionals,” he said.

There are elements of a more programmatic effort ongoing as well. Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, speaking at the same forum, said the FY18 President’s Budget includes funding for “an integrated command center” for space operations. She said the effort will have an “open architecture” and that new systems developed by contractors in the future will be required to be compliant with the command center.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) told the forum these efforts may not be enough. He called out the Air Force for moving $138 million in command and control funding out of the budget request and onto the unfunded priorities list. Lamborn said he was “completely baffled” by USAF’s funding choices given that the service says MDC2 is a priority.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) agreed, saying “it’s time to start really adequately funding” command and control systems. The “systems integration lab” and other command and control items on the unfunded priorities list “must be funded” he told the audience.