The joint personnel recovery coordination center: the next step in joint integration.
PERSONNEL RECOVERY (PR) has improved dramatically in the last 15 years. (1) At every level of the Department of Defense, PR is a priority mission, a fact reflecting the high value that American warriors place on their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. Each service has devoted personnel, thought, and resources to this critical mission area in order to improve the joint force's overall capability and interoperability. Especially in the years since Operation Desert Storm, the military has purchased better radios, as well as more sophisticated surveillance and reconnaissance equipment, and has improved training--all with an eye toward carrying out "one of the highest priorities of the Department of Defense." (2) The success of this approach has saved lives in battlefields since the war with Iraq in 1991--from the high-profile rescues of downed F-117 and F-16 pilots over Serbia, to the less renowned but more numerous missions in Afghanistan, and to such notable successes as the recovery of Pfc Jessica Lynch during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Despite this enviable track record, we still have an obligation to look to the future and develop new methods for tomorrow's battlefield, which may require even more PR.
Improving our PR capability requires that commanders understand the tasks involved, delegate them appropriately, mad leverage the personal and organizational creativity latent in the force to carry out those tasks in the most effective and efficient way possible. Of course, any changes to the current system must produce significant improvement and remain successful, yet be financially realistic.
In an effort to improve PR integration, joint force commanders (JFC) should create a new entity in their staffs--the joint personnel recovery coordination center (JPRCC)--to replace the joint search and rescue center (JSRC). (3) By working for the JFC, the JPRCC will intensify its focus on operational warfare. (4) This arrangement will also allow components--particularly the air component--to better direct their attention to tactical PR efforts and will open up new possibilities for enhanced joint integration, especially by using more flexible command relationships. Furthermore, none of these changes will come at the expense of recent improvements.
Current joint doctrine offers JFCs the option to retain the JSRC at their headquarters or delegate it to a component commander (fig. 1). (5) In practice, JFCs have routinely chosen to delegate this responsibility to their air component. But retaining the JSRC at the JFC level has the potential to improve PR dramatically by better monitoring and coordinating all means of recovery, such as combat search and rescue (CSAR), non-conventional assisted recovery, and so forth. (6) This new location allows a more holistic view of PR and has spawned a new name, JPRCC, which indicates a broader view of the mission--specifically, less tactical control and more operational integration. Joint PR doctrine, now in draft, should sanction the addition of the JPRCC to the JFC's staff and delineate the risks associated with delegating it to a component. (7)
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Creating a JPRCC at the JFC's headquarters will not decrease current tactical successes but will open up new avenues for operational integration. Retaining traditional CSAR activities at the component level, such as the joint force air and space component commander's (JFACC) rescue coordination center (RCC), will significantly broaden PR options without slowing responsiveness or agility. It will maintain the current record of successful missions and increase joint awareness and involvement in PR. A new JPRCC will not require significant funding, nor will it substantially increase the number of personnel for the JFC or the components. Although it will add some personnel to the JFC's headquarters, the war-fighting components will continue to function as they have, retaining the vast majority of their manning. (8) More importantly, this new concept will not alter PR/CSAR tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) for any service. (9) It will, however, require some new approaches to operational thinking--demands that the small groups of military PR schools can meet. Such new approaches can easily become part of Joint Chiefs of Staff and theater exercises, most of which already include PR events. (10)
Improved Operational Focus
The JSRC, routinely delegated to the JFACC, has become the focal point for all PR efforts by "plan[ning], coordinat[ing], and execut[ing] joint search and rescue [SAR] and CSAR operations; and ... integrat[ing] CSAR operations with other evasion, escape and recovery operations within the geographical area assigned to the joint force." (11) However, because the JSRC combines the tactical focus of the JFACC's RCC and the operational focus of the JFC, its efforts are divided between tactical execution and operational planning (fig. 2). This dual-hatted function has forced JSRCs to concentrate on essential tactical tasks and accept risk by losing focus on other means of recovery. Current JSRCs at the JFACC level devote much effort to developing and publishing special instructions and communicating with components, as well as monitoring and (frequently) directing PR incidents. Maintaining control over PR tactical operations--something that a component RCC must do--hampers JSRCs. But a JPRCC will unleash new potential by developing PR-specific joint intelligence preparation of the battlespace (JIPB), allowing the JPRCC to generate a broad threat-decision matrix; integrating PR themes into the JFC's psychological operations (PSYOP); including nontraditional military forces in planning; improving links to interagency and non-conventional forces; and harnessing more flexible command relationships. Relieved of the RCC responsibility of controlling tactical operations (retained by component commanders), JPRCCs could concentrate more effectively on these operational links, thus significantly improving PR efforts by more effectively leveraging national power for this high-priority mission.
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PR planners have struggled with recommending when and how to execute PR missions. One of the JSRC's current combat-operations tasks--a PR decision matrix, tailored to the current threat--is designed to aid PR decision makers in this regard. (12) JSRCs typically have no planners since they are usually located in the combat-operations section of the air and space operations center and are prepared to tactically control a PR mission. Unable to look beyond current air tasking orders due to the demands of short-range planning meetings, JSRCs must focus on the current fight. A JPRCC, however, could more readily focus on long-term issues.
PSYOP and information operations in general allow war fighters to inform enemy forces and populations about friendly actions--a capability particularly important to PR missions in which isolated or distressed persons must evade the enemy in either hostile or neutral territory. PSYOP can convince people in these areas not to interfere in recovery missions. In fact, under favorable circumstances, PSYOP may be able to persuade neutral parties to assist isolated personnel and return them to friendly control. Since the JFC usually develops and/or approves operational PSYOP themes, having the JPRCC closer to this planning process will invariably improve the effectiveness of PR. Integrating PSYOP into a comprehensive PR plan requires time--which tactically focused JSRCs don't have.
Integration with nontraditional military forces, such as Civil Affairs (CA), could also increase our PR efforts. (13) Although some people think that CA personnel arrive only when the fighting is over to build bridges, repair infrastructure, and coordinate humanitarian-relief operations, in reality they operate side by side with combat forces as decisive operations and nation-building phases merge. Central Command established CA in Afghanistan and Iraq long before combat operations ended; moreover, US forces are simultaneously conducting nation-building and antiterrorist operations. Because CA personnel gain local knowledge in their day-to-day dealings with the population, they can provide key insights to PR planners and executors. Their routine contacts with many non-governmental organizations further broaden their knowledge base. Although it is unrealistic for these forces to participate actively in combat-rescue efforts, they do lend valuable guidance to a JPRCC's threat assessment or evasion policy. Afghanistan and Iraq aside, not all military operations are combat operations. Frequently, US forces provide humanitarian relief in areas overwhelmed by natural disasters or internal strife, as occurred numerous times in Africa in the late 1990s (e.g., Rwanda and Mozambique). But this change offers the JPRCC opportunities beyond the links to military forces.
The many boards, bureaus, cells, and offices in a JFC headquarters--all of which fuse various elements of national power--frequently are the first places where diplomatic, information, and economic expertise mix with military forces to achieve strategic or campaign goals. (14) An operationally focused JPRCC will easily tap into these rich sources of information to provide war fighters more tools and options for the entire force. Since PR includes concerns about prisoners of war (POW), having access to an interagency working group makes available the diplomatic arm of US power, highlighting the need to account and care for US/allied POWs and personnel missing in action. The Joint Staff frequently deploys national intelligence support teams to JFC headquarters to assist in harnessing the vast capability of the various intelligence agencies. (15) As with the interagency working group, a JPRCC located above the components--and thus having ready access to these teams--will be able to leverage its power.
Better Tactical Focus
Similarly, JFACC staffs will find the change an improvement over the current method. As already mentioned, these personnel struggle with dual tasking, serving as the component RCC and operational JSRC throughout the joint operations area. (16) This situation works due to the incredible effort by the dedicated men and women who make up these staffs. We no longer have to require so much work from so few people or rely on the good graces that have recently made our PR efforts successful, especially when the price of greater capability is relatively low.
In the years preceding and immediately following Desert Storm, PR predominantly meant rescuing downed aircrews (CSAR to most people), so it made great sense to place the JSRC with the air component. However, in recent conflicts, ground troops operating in rear areas or serving as border guards on a peacekeeping mission, for example, are vulnerable. CSAR procedures, designed and tested for and by aviators, do not always work because ground forces face different realities, such as phase lines and surface boundaries, which airmen have difficulty understanding. JSRCs, used to transmitting information rapidly via the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network to secure air bases and to airmen with a common vision of the battlespace, now struggle to understand land warfare and infantrymen. A JPRCC, with representatives from all the components, can establish procedures for the entire joint force, allowing the JFACC to concentrate on PR for airmen and not on the unfamiliar field of land warfare. (17)
Current staffs struggle with many of the less-obvious tasks involved in PR, routinely overlooking repatriation, for example. What does one do with a survivor once friendly forces regain control? If the survivor is a JFACC pilot, the JFACC's RCC/JSRC has complete control over the repatriation process as well as the survivor. However, if the survivor is from another component, as were the three Army soldiers captured in Kosovo in 1999, the situation becomes much more difficult. Under a JPRCC, the JFACC will no longer be responsible for enforcing policies on a sister component. Likewise, the other components will view PR as part of their joint responsibilities and no longer solely as their contribution to the JFACC's process. If the JFC owns the process (created with input from all components) through the JPRCC, then no component can circumvent it.
The shift in responsibility required by this approach will make the change transparent to most war fighters. The JPRCC will not command and control but will plan and integrate the joint force, leaving tactical tasks to the war-fighting components. During a PR event, the JPRCC will monitor to maintain situational awareness in the event the affected component requires assistance or is incapable of performing PR tasks. In such a case, the JPRCC--acting as the JFC's agent and with his or her guidance--will act as broker, nominating a supported component and, with JFC approval, designating other components to support. Tactical control of the PR event will remain with the war-fighting component, as it is now. This will assure continued success and, by limiting the JPRCC's role in tactical operations, will prevent undue influence on service-specific TTP. Such a scenario offers a win-win situation for JFACC staffs--the JFACC retains the air-component RCC but is relieved of the responsibility to integrate other elements of military power not directly related to air-power. However, there are even greater advantages to creating the JPRCC.
Better Joint-Force Integration
The single greatest improvement from such a move is the ability to use more flexible command relationships. Currently, most JSRCs assume tactical control (TACON) of any elements conducting PR missions. (18) Although this relationship has worked for air-dominant PR, TACON is usually not clearly defined (e.g., when does it begin and end?). Other c6mponent commanders have been highly reluctant to hand over control of their assets to the JSRC when they have their own war-fighting missions to carry out, and they fear being forced to use another component's TIP. TACON also creates more problems during the fusion of warfare across the land, air, and sea mediums. But establishing a JPRCC at JFC headquarters and using the more flexible command relationship of support could eliminate both of these concerns. (19)
For more than 10 years, JFACCs have taken TACON of the other components' air sorties to incorporate them into a seamless air campaign. This action works because JFACC staffs have a great capacity to integrate this airpower. JSRCs have translated this concept to PR because that mission has frequently meant the recovery of downed pilots through the use of airpower alone. Since those pilots belonged to the JFACC, TACON was the right command relationship. Recent contingencies have challenged this paradigm, however, and have opened gaps in the TACON approach. For example, the number and reach of special operations forces (SOF) introduce a more complex battlefield with small teams throughout, representing unique PR challenges and requirements. A special-operations commander with a team in distress should be able to tap into the JSRC for expertise without automatically passing control of the mission to another component. When a JFACC pilot is the survivor, the JFACC commands that individual, who is unfamiliar with the environment and requires detailed direction for recovery. But a SOF team has dramatically greater situational awareness and the capability to make decisions favorable to its recovery. SOF commanders may require limited assistance (e.g., close air support [CAS] and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance [ISR]) to recover their teams but have frequently been forced to relinquish control of their forces (air and ground) to leverage the support of another component. This requirement hasn't caused mission failure in recent years, but the resultant friction has significantly delayed missions while the SOF component and JSRC resolved issues. (20) A JPRCC's designation of one component as the supported command and the others as supporting elements will eliminate this problem. Regardless of which is supported, none will lose tactical control of assets. The supported commander will dictate the priority, timing, and effects while the supporting commander retains control of TTP to fulfill the mission.
This principle's greatest test comes as conventional forces operate in less linear ways. For example, in Millennium Challenge 02--an experiment by Joint Forces Command--conventional forces leaped over pockets of resistance to attack key nodes in order to achieve the desired effects. (21) This tactic created a nonlinear battlefield with pockets of friendly forces--similar to the fight in Afghanistan and Iraq today. An air-component JSRC that tries to assume TACON of non-JFACC forces for PR is frequently unaware of the overall campaign and of the impact its action will have on the surface fight. (22)
Thus, commanders are reluctant to pass TACON to other components because the latter do not understand those forces. Typically, Air Force and Navy airpower remains under the control of a single airman, who can exploit their similarities. Frequently, Army and Marine Corps ground power comes under the control of a single ground commander, who can synchronize their operations. These forces can conduct air-ground operations without passing TACON between the air and ground components because they recognize their common efforts and their dissimilar abilities. For instance, air commanders provide CAS to ground commanders to help them achieve ground objectives without passing TACON of the aircraft. Air commanders develop specialized command and control elements to provide this support while retaining control of their assets. This practice works since ground commanders have little or no ability to control airpower. The same sort of thinking should apply to PR.
Changing PR command and control to "support" will produce a shift in favor of the rest of joint war fighting. Rather than a radical change, this is really an example of the broader joint approach. A JPRCC above the components will be able to effectively use this technique, delegated by the JFC, because of its ability to view the broader implications of joint warfare. This capacity to improve the command and control of PR offers the greatest potential to increase capability without additional forces or cost. Simply allowing other component commanders to retain control of their assets while they direct or assist PR operations will dramatically increase their willingness to participate.
Cost of Training
Since JFCs and component commanders must incorporate this shift into their battle-staff training, any attendant costs would be realized there. But these are recurring events, both within the services and jointly, so little expense is involved. This change will not levy any new training requirements or tactical training but, hopefully, will improve the quality of PR training. All that's needed is a mental shift to align more closely with the rest of joint war fighting.
American values demand that PR remain a high-priority mission. So the challenge for PR planners and operators lies in creating a system that harnesses the massive talents of our military without setting aside so much power that doing so would impede the primary mission, whatever that might be. Creating a JPRCC at the JFC's headquarters helps solve this problem.
Such an arrangement will provide better focus on the core functions of integration. It offers relief from tactical operations--true for all boards, bureaus, cells, and offices--allowing concentration on operational issues such as a PR-specific JIPB, including both ground power and airpower. A JFC-level JPRCC will be better positioned to integrate with non-conventional elements of US power such as PSYOE CA (where appropriate), and interagency groups. And since a JPRCC will not assume control of tactical operations, the war-fighting components will retain authority over their own forces or TTPs, thus enhancing their chances of success. Without adding funding or forces, PR will lend perspective and reach to the joint battlefield, but the greatest improvement lies in the shift toward true joint war fighting.
Using more flexible and responsive command relationships will better integrate the components into a truly joint PR operation. Many components fear the loss of control and capability when the only option calls for passing TACON of key assets to another component. Creation of a JPRCC and elimination of any tactical role might cause the future of PR to look like this: the air component provides ISR and airborne warning and control with E-8C and E-3 aircraft, respectively; the land component provides a ground armored-reconnaissance element; the maritime component provides the recovery vehicle with HH-60 helicopters; and the special-ops component provides a SEAL team to move the survivor to a linkup point (fig. 3). The JPRCC's role in such a mission simply involves designating the supported component and then monitoring operations. Although an extreme possibility, such a scenario highlights the potential interaction possible when command relationships cease to become impediments to PR operations. This will be possible only when the JPRCC relinquishes its war-fighter role and becomes a facilitator. Today's fluid battlefield, intermixing linear and nonlinear warfare, requires more agile responses. Moving the JPRCC away from the war-fighting components offers just such agility.
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Many good men and women have struggled for years to improve PR and bring us the successes we've seen over the last few years. This change will capture their hard work and excellent results. It will also offer greater opportunities for more innovation and improvements to make sure that Americans who go into combat know that their nation and its forces will do everything possible to bring them home alive, no matter their situation.
(1.) Personnel recovery is
the aggregation of military, civil, and political efforts to obtain the release or recovery of personnel from uncertain or hostile environments and denied areas whether they are captured, missing, or isolated. That includes US, allied, coalition, friendly military, or paramilitary, and others designated by the [president and secretary of defense]. Personnel recovery ... is the umbrella term for operations that are focused on the task of recovering captured, missing, or isolated personnel from harm's way. PR includes but is not limited to theater search and rescue; combat search and rescue; search and rescue; survival, evasion, resistance, and escape; evasion and escape; and the coordination of negotiated as well as forcible recovery options. PR can occur through military action, action by non-governmental organizations, other US Government-approved action, and/or diplomatic initiatives, or through any of these.
Joint Publication (JP) 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, April 12, 2001, 405.
(2.) Department of Defense Directive (DODD) 2310.2, Personnel Recovery, December 2000, 3, par. 4.1.
(3.) Joint personnel recovery center (JPRC) is the new term proposed for the next version of JP 3-50.2, Doctrine for Joint Combat Search and Rescue (now in final coordination). To avoid confusion with the existing joint personnel reception center, I've altered the term to joint personnel recovery coordination center--a more accurate name and one that should become the standard. This designation also indicates its new role, distinct from the one most people associate with the current JSRC model.
(4.) JP 3-0, Doctrine for Joint Operations, September 10, 2001, describes operational warfare as the level that links tactics to strategic objectives and that focuses on the operational art (II-2).
(5.) JP 3-50.2, III-1.
(6.) European Command has created a joint personnel recovery coordination cell at its standing joint force headquarters, and Southern Command has moved the JSRC function from its air component to its headquarters.
(7.) JFCs always have the option of altering their force and staff structure, however. See JP 5-00.2, Joint Task Force Planning Guidance and Procedures, January 13, 1999.
(8.) JP 3-50.2, chap. 6, lists the doctrinal JSRC requirement (15 personnel in three shifts); in practice, each JSRC is task-organized in line with "mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops and support available--time available" (METT-T) considerations. Therefore, it's not realistic to precisely predict the number of personnel required for this new JPRCC; however, the additional manning most likely will not be significant.
(9.) Substantial differences exist between the meanings of PR and CSAR, the former covering the holistic mission in the theater or throughout the joint operations area and the latter indicating the combat tactical task performed by designated rescue forces. Since CSAR is a subset of PR, I use PR as the broader, more appropriate umbrella term.
(10.) PR exercises are either stand-alone service events or additions to existing Joint Chiefs of Staff or theater exercises. In the latter case, they are usually minor events that would benefit greatly from locating the JPRCC on the JFC's staff.
(11.) JP 3-50.2, vii.
(12.) Ibid., chap. l, par. 3b.
(13.) According to US Special Operations Command, "Civil Affairs" are the forces, and "civil affairs operations" are the mission.
(14.) Boards, bureaus, cells, and offices are staff elements of a JFC's headquarters that focus on a specific facet of the operation, such as the joint movement center, Joint Information Bureau, and Joint Targeting Coordination Board. JP 5-00.2 lists more.
(15.) These teams usually have elements from various US intelligence agencies, such as the Defense Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (formerly the National Imagery and Mapping Agency), National Security Agency, and so forth.
(16.) The joint operations area is "an area of land, sea, and airspace defined by a geographic combatant commander or subordinate unified commander, in which a joint force commander (normally a joint task force commander) conducts military operations to accomplish a specific mission." JP 1-02, 284.
(17.) A JPRCC will gain its perspective from both augmentees (as JSRCs do now) and liaison officers, which all components send to the JFC. JSRCs have always requested augmentation and liaison officers from other components, but the latter--viewing the mission as CSAR and not PR--frequently have sent only their air planners.
(18.) TACON is "command authority ... limited to the detailed direction and control of movements and maneuvers ... necessary to accomplish missions." JP 1-02, 519.
(19.) JP 3-0 lists support as a "command authority" whereby "one organization should aid, protect, complement, or sustain another force ... in accordance with a directive requiring such action" (emphasis in original) (II-9, GL-17). It can be used at any command echelon below combatant commander (the secretary of defense frequently uses this between combatant commands as well).
(20.) Problems with the TACON relationship caused hours of delays for both rescues during Operation Allied Force (Kosovo) in 1999. In the case of the downed F-16 pilot, the delay nearly caused the rescue force to attempt the mission under less-than-optimal daylight conditions in a medium-threat environment.
(21.) The 18th Airborne Corps, the original joint task force (JTF) for Millennium Challenge 02, planned to experiment with retaining the JSRC at the JTF. However, when contingency operations prevented its participation late in the preparation for MC02, the 18th cancelled the plan.
(22.) This change also eliminates the likelihood of a PR mission's running counter to another component's operation. During the rescue of Bat-21B (Lt Col Iceal "Gene" Hambleton) in the late stages of the Vietnam War, ground forces felt that their mission was sacrificed because the air component focused solely on the rescue of a downed airman. Although the PR mission probably didn't cause any true disruption of the ground mission, the perception was that each component fought independent and contradictory battles.
Tactical Control Accomplishing the Mission
Tactical control (TACON) is inherent in operational control (OPCON), but moves from the authority to organize and employ forces to the use of assigned or attached forces or military capabilities to meet specific missions or tasks. Air Force doctrine now emphasizes effects-based operations (EBO), rather than just executing a tasked mission to destroy a target or planning for annihilation or attrition warfare. Now airmen must think through the full range of specific missions, consider their associated outcomes, and then choose the mission outcome that best achieves the assigned objective, while finding ways to mitigate any impediments to achieving that objective. Therefore, TACON involves more than "just" accomplishing the mission.
Joint Pub 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, defines tactical control as the "command authority over assigned or attached forces or commands, or military capability or forces made available for tasking, that is limited to the detailed direction and control of movements or maneuvers within the operational area necessary to accomplish missions or tasks assigned.... Tactical control provides sufficient authority for controlling and directing the application of force or tactical use of combat support assets within the assigned mission or task" (p. 519).
TACON is typically exercised by the service component commander or the functional component commander (e.g., an Air Force service component commander is referred to as commander, Air Force forces [COMAFFOR], and an Air Force functional component commander would be the joint force air and space component commander [JFACC]). Normally, TACON is delegated from the combatant commander (CDR) to the joint force commander (JFC), who then should delegate it to a component commander. However, TACON can be dele gated to and exercised by any commander at any level. When OPCON is transferred between CDRs or is delegated to a subordinate commander, TACON is also transferred or delegated.
TACON allows the commander to move forces as required and to give them local direction. However, it does not include authority to change the organization of forces or to conduct readiness training. It also excludes administrative and logistical support (unless specifically included). For example, if an Air Force JFACC is given TACON of Navy aircraft, then the JFACC can task those aircraft, using the air tasking order, but does not have the authority to alter the structure or command relationships of those forces or to discipline their personnel. The service component commander retains those responsibilities. In this example, that would be the commander, Navy forces (COMNAVFOR).
In a memorandum dated September 28, 1998, the secretary of defense directed one exception to these TACON doctrinal guidelines as they apply to the force-protection mission. He directed that "geographic [CDRs] CINCs will exercise directive authority [TACON], for the purposes of force protection, in the covered countries, over all DOD personnel." This exception raises an interesting implication. When a JFACC is also the area air defense commander (AADC) and has been delegated TACON over Army Patriot batteries and naval aircraft for area air defense, the JFACC can, while acting as AADC and for the purpose of force protection, direct the movement of those Army and Navy units.
As airmen, successful mission accomplishment is our job, and receiving TACON for a mission is both a duty and an honor. Every airman must be aware of the responsibility that comes with TACON and the full range of options enabled by those additional forces, and then make the choices that lead to successful mission accomplishment.
To Learn More ...
Air Force Doctrine Center. "Tactical Control (TACON)." Doctrine Watch, no. 4, December 2, 1999. https://www.doctrine.af.mil/DoctrineWatch/DoctrineWatch.asp?Article=4.
Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 1. Air Force Basic Doctrine, November 17, 2003. https://www.doctrine.af.mil/Library/Doctrine/afdd1.pdf.