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Post-Cold War development of United Kingdom joint air command and control capability.

Editorial Abstract: The United Kingdom received a "wake-up call" from Operation Desert Storm when that country's unpreparedness for "expeditionary" and indeed joint warfighting was highlighted. The mid-1990s brought extensive consequential changes to the United Kingdom's joint operational command structures, including the organizational development of its air command and control capabilities that encompassed the eventual formation of the UK Joint Force Air Component Headquarters.

Coming out of the Cold War

In the mid-1980s, the focus of both the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the rest of the United Kingdom's (UK) military forces was, as it had been for nearly four decades, almost exclusively on their respective contributions to the defence of NATO's Central Region and the UK mainland. The RAF's aircraft were primarily located and operated from main operating bases (MOB), with many permanently deployed in Germany where they were expected to train and fight. These MOBs were collocated with both their required support infrastructure and well-defined national and NATO command and control (C2) organizations. Then in the late 1980s the political/military status quo changed at an amazing pace. In 1987 US president Ronald Reagan and USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev met in Washington to sign a nuclear weapons treaty. In December 1988 President Gorbachev gave more freedom to the states of Eastern Europe, and a month later he withdrew the Soviet military from Afghanistan. By the end of 1988 President Gorbachev renounced the use of force in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Rumania, whose communist regimes had fallen. Then on 9 November 1989 the world watched in amazement as Germans tore down the Berlin Wall. In May 1990, Presidents Bush and Gorbachev met in Washington and signed treaties that called for a reduction of nuclear weapons and a ban on chemical weapons. Later that year, President Gorbachev met with German chancellor Helmut Kohl, signed a nonaggression pact, and initiated the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Eastern Germany.

However, through this period of fundamental and rapid change in the grand and military-strategic realpolitik, little if anything changed in the United Kingdom's military focus. (1) As the RAF entered the 1990s, while remaining honed to an extremely fine edge at the tactical level of war, at the operational level of war it was still psychologically wedded to a Central Region "bunker mentality" embodied in the fixed operational-level NATO C2 organization; fixed NATO infrastructure and logistic support; fixed MOBs, with their hundreds of hardened aircraft shelters proofed against nuclear, biological, and chemical attack; and fixed "play-book" of war plans. With a Royal Navy focused largely on the Soviet submarine threat, a British Army focused on its defensively orientated "heavy-metal" armoured divisions, and an RAF dependent on fixed infrastructure and, most pertinent to this article, fixed operational-level NATO C2, it is likely that it was only with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990 and the United Kingdom's subsequent deployment for and execution of the coalition operations of Desert Shield and Desert Storm (United Kingdom's Operation [Op] Granby), did the full realization hit the UK political/military establishment that its extant Cold War posture was in need of change.

Operation Desert Storm--The Dawn of Realization

And so it was that at some time during or shortly after Desert Storm did the term expeditionary suddenly drop into the lexicon of the RAF. The author of this article can vouch that as part of an operational, front-line aircrew the only time the term expeditionary was used was in the context of a week's walking excursion to the Scottish Highlands! However, as a result of the Gulf War and its associated US after-action reports and UK lessons-learnt processes, and the subsequent doctrinal stocktaking, UK attention was drawn to some significant problem areas related to the RAF's ability to execute air C2 on a national, expeditionary basis. Firstly, it came into stark focus that the RAF was dependent on an operational-level legacy system of fixed C2 and infrastructure that had very limited adaptability, and therefore in fact possessed no effective deployable air C2 capability whatsoever. Equally, there was an equivalent lack of C2 capability possessed by the other UK services, and as no UK environment had any national, operational-level C2 capability worthy of note, it is not surprising that there was no effective doctrine or procedures for operational-level coordination between them. Indeed, the other word that was not widely prevalent in the UK operational lexicon at this time was joint. While following the lessons of the Falklands War, a Joint Force Operations staff was established, and the doctrine for a Joint Headquarters (JHQ) and Joint Force HQ (JFHQ) was developed. There was little in the way of single-service doctrine regarding the operational-level planning and integration of air/land/ maritime operations. It also became clear that nationally little was provided by the way of operational-level C2 training; this was especially true in the case of air C2 training, where there was no effective operational training at all for air commanders or their battlestaff. Understandably, as the RAF had little need to undertake operational-level planning or C2 outside of a NATO context, it had largely abrogated the responsibility for the training and provision of operational-level air C2 expertise to NATO. The result was that at the time of Op Granby, the RAF had little or no air C2 expertise, and not surprisingly therefore the UK air input to the US-led air planning and C2 process was marginal. In 1992, taking account of some of the air C2 lessons from Op Granby, the Department of Mr Warfare at the RAF College Cranwell revamped the Air Battle Management Course (ABMC) and instituted the "estimate" process as a formal air campaign planning process both in the course and in the new Air Operations Manual (AOM). However, without an identifiable Air HQ neither the ABMC nor the AOM could be targeted at any specific audience. (2)

Preparing for United Kingdom Deployed Joint Operations

In January 1994 the UK government drove a Ministry of Defence (MoD) Defence Costs Study (DCS) that inter alia identified a number of shortcomings with the C2 of UK military operations overseas. As one result, on 1 April 1996, a Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) for joint military operations was established at Northwood, in northwest London. This HQ brought together on a permanent basis intelligence, planning, operations, and logistics staffs. The establishment of PJHQ was intended to provide a truly joint force HQ that would remedy the problems of disruption, duplication, and the somewhat ad hoc way in which previous recent operations had been organized. MOD officials described the primary role of PJHQ as
 working proactively to anticipate crises and
 monitoring developments in areas of interest to
 the UK. The establishment of PJHQ has set in
 place a proper, clear and unambigauous connection
 between policy and the strategic direction
 and conduct of operations. Because it exists on
 a permanent basis rather than being established
 for a particular operation, PJHQ is involved
 from the very start of planning for a possible
 operation. It will then take responsibility
 for the subsequent execution of those plans if
 necessary. (3)

Commanded by the chief of joint operations (CJO), the PJHQ's primary role is to be responsible, when directed by the UK chief of Defence Staff (CDS), for the planning and execution of UK-led joint, potentially joint, combined, and multinational operations. CJO is also responsible for exercising operational command of UK forces assigned to combined and multinational operations led by others. Commanding at the operational level, PJHQ is responsible for directing, deploying, sustaining, and recovering forces on operations. It was envisioned that the forces employed would be drawn from a Joint Rapid Deployment Force (JRDF) that would become operational on 1 August 1996 and would be designed to be able to fulfill a wide range of combat or non-combat missions, mounted nationally or as part of any contribution to operations mounted by NATO, the European Union, or the United Nations. While it was stated that the JRDF-earmarked units would "conduct extensive training on a regular basis, thereby increasing their ability to come together quickly and operate together as an effective and cohesive package at short notice," there was no explicit detailing of any facilitating, deployable in-theatre C2 capability. (4)

United Kingdom Combined Air Operations Centre--The First Air Command and Control Steps

Despite the realizations highlighted above and the fact that the RAF had been engaged constantly after the Gulf War in support of the air operations Warden and Jural over northern and southern Iraq, respectively, few practical forward steps were made in terms of air C2 by the RAF over this four-to-five-year period that followed Op Granby. The catalyst that finally promoted action in the air C2 arena was the tragic events of 14 April 1994, when two US Black Hawk helicopters with 26 personnel on board and operating in support of Op Provide Comfort were engaged and destroyed by two USAF F-15Cs operating from Incirlik AB, Turkey, on Op Warden. In the aftermath of the analysis of this "blue-on-blue" incident, that overlaid in time the work already ongoing as a result of the United Kingdom's DCS mentioned above, and ongoing operations in the Balkans (e.g., Op Deliberate Force), it was realized by the UK chiefs of staff (COS) that if the United Kingdom were to try to mount a national-only deployed operation similar to any of those currently ongoing, it would need to significantly develop the United Kingdom's own operational-level deployable C2 capability. As a result, inter alia, the UK COS directed that the United Kingdom's should "adopt the USJFACC [joint force air component commander] concept," as the underpinning doctrine for national C2 of deployed operations. (5)

The RAF took this COS direction forward, and in 1995 the RAF's Air Force Board Standing Committee endorsed a paper entitled "Command and Control of STC [Strike Command] Assets" that reviewed the UK structure for air C2 and recommended the permanent establishment in peacetime of a UK combined air operations centre (CAOC). By April 1997 this new air C2 organization had been implemented in full alongside the RAF's STC peacetime HQ at RAF High Wycombe. It subsumed the NATO defensive operations capability that had existed at Sector Operations Centre (SOC) United Kingdom, at nearby RAF Bentley Priory, and became responsible for the vigil over UK national and NATO airspace and the monitoring and control of the UK Air Surveillance and Air Control System (ASACS). In addition to the very real-world SOC responsibilities, the UK CAOC went on to achieve a capability to plan, task, and control offensive, defensive, and combat support air operations. Surprisingly, however, given the genesis of the decision to form it, the UK CAOC was not initially tasked with, nor equipped for, the conduct of C2 of deployed operations. Notwithstanding a lack of higher HQ guidance, an in-house UK CAOC initiative developed an interim deployable capability that was in place by late 1997, although this was limited to an ability to host the "initial CAOC capability" air battle-management system (ABMS) (NATO's equivalent to the Contingency Theatre Automated Planning System/Theater Battle Management Core System) on a limited number of deployable laptops.

Strategic Defence Review Pushes Forward "Deployability" and "Jointery"

In July 1998, the UK government announced its Strategic Defence Review (SDR), which it labeled as "a radical review of the UK's defence requirements, with the aim of modernizing and reshaping the UK's Armed Forces to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. (6) The two central pillars that were to emerge were moves towards more rapidly deployable armed forces and "jointery." The SDR identified that, in addition to maintaining extant standing commitments, the United Kingdom should also be able to do the following:

1. Respond to a major international crisis. This might require a military effort of a similar scale and duration to the Gulf War.

2. Undertake a more extended overseas deployment on a lesser scale while retaining the ability to mount a second substantial deployment if this were made necessary by a second crisis. We would not, however, expect both deployments to involve WF [warfighting] or to maintain them simultaneously for longer than six months.

3. Rebuild, given much longer notice, a bigger force as part of NATO's collective. (7)

SDR also identified that, other than under a warfighting (i.e., significant military) threat to the United Kingdom, the RAF would almost certainly deploy overseas and operate from host-nation airfields or ships in support of national, allied, or coalition operations under a range of possible C2 arrangements; this observation manifested itself in the draw-down of RAF squadrons in Germany and reconstitution on the UK mainland.

SDR addressed the fact that NATO was responding to the evolution from static to expeditionary warfare by establishing Reaction Forces with the capability of countering possible short-notice threats to its flanks, and stated that the United Kingdom had developed its own Joint Rapid Reaction Forces (JRRF)--a pool of highly capable units from all services that is maintained at high readiness for contingency operations. The establishment of the JRRF was probably the most important joint initiative in the SDR and is still central to current UK defence planning. PJHQ's CJO became responsible for the JRRF, although until deployed, operational command (OPCOM) of units is retained by the single-service commanders in chief (CinC). Units within the JRRF are trained to joint standards and would be deployed in joint force packages, tailored to meet the operational requirement. To command the JRRF in-theatre, a fully resourced JFHQ was established at Northwood, under PJHQ's command, and is permanently held at 48 hours' notice to move.

Deployable Air Command and Control--The Need Is Established

To reflect the earlier introduction of the JRDF, AOCinC STC had previously, on 1 April 1998, tasked UK CAOC to provide, at 48 hours' notice (R1), the core air C2 element of a deployable Joint Force Air Component Headquarters (JFACHQ) for JRDF operations. However, this significantly enhanced tasking was not matched at the time with any provision of additional personnel, computer information systems (CIS), infrastructure, training resources, or budget. Notwithstanding the lack of facilitating resources, a new concept of operations (CONOPS) was developed for the UK CAOC and issued in September 1998. In parallel, the development of a CONOPS for this "deployable JFACHQ" began and achieved a one-star circulation by March 1999; this was the genesis of the UK's JFACHQ.

The initial development of this new JFACHQ CONOPS, undertaken by its STC project officer (ProjO) in early 1999, was driven by the SDR that had redefined the RAF's operational C2 responsibilities, requirements, and structures and introduced the JRRF. (8) A significant consequence of which was that STC was now required to "be able to deploy, at very short notice, responsive, coherent Composite Air Expeditionary, Forces, commanded centrally at the tactical level through a JFACC." (9) SDR had also identified the need to mount, on a unilateral basis, two concurrent medium-scale operations, one warfighting and one non-warfighting. Moreover, it also stated that the United Kingdom was to be able to assume a leadership role in coalition operations with other European forces. SDR therefore drove a requirement "to be able to deploy one fully manned JFACHQ while identifying the core elements of a second HQ," with the additional "implied" task that the envisioned JFACHQ had to be able to act as a Combined Force Air Component HQ (CFACHQ). (10) While the above defined well the task, the resources for meeting that task were being addressed as part of the RAF's STC Structure Beyond 2000 Study. (11) It became obvious to the JFACHQ ProjO that there was an organizational "dislocation of expectation" when he discovered that this study assumed that no additional resources were to be made available and had scoped the manning level for the R1 core JFACHQ cadre at just 28 personnel, the number hinting been derived from the anticipated provision of a group captain (0-6) director, an executive officer, and just a core combat plans and combat ops--that is, a skeletal air operations centre (AOC). With echoes of the earlier lack of resourcing of the expanded UK CAOC task, the ProjO was given to recall a US saying: "Vision without funding is hallucination."

The author believes that it was fortuitous timing (if that can be said of any conflict) that at this point in the RAF's restructuring, the Balkans erupted once more, in the guise of Kosovo, with the resulting execution of Op Allied Force. Without addressing the extensive number of lessons that fell from this operation, it is sufficient to state that many were related to the C2 of this primarily air operation, and many lessons were carry-overs from Desert Storm some nine years earlier. In the context of this article, principal among these was that the assumption that a medium-scale air operation could be executed just by the elements of an AOC (i.e., combat plans and combat ops) was proven to be erroneous. While undertaken with the best military endeavour by all those personnel involved, the consequential expansion of the Vicenza AOC into an operational-level JFACHQ was a case study in ad hoc crisis management. Only after the belated formation of a strategy division was a form of a joint air operations plan (JAOP) developed and signed off by the CFACC on the 40th day of air operations along with the first air operations directive. Similarly, it was to be another five to 10 days before a guidance, apportionment, and targeting process was established. Across the whole range of HQ staff cells (A1-A9), augmentors were being thrown in together, often without cadre personnel or identified procedures to follow.

As a result of his experiences at Vicenza, the JFACHQ ProjO argued that the SDR remit would only be met with the provision of a core JFACHQ and not just a core AOC. The need for the "command" element of C2 of any JRRF air element was highlighted, along with the likely need, given the understandable political realities of delaying decisions to commit forces, of air C2 elements being able to "hit the ground running." It was also identified that C2 augmentors require a core cadre framework of personnel around which to form and establish standard operating procedures (SOP) to reference. As well as identifying deficiencies, a positive highlight was identified as being that the RAF's ability to provide even a limited number of experienced and trained personnel to the coalition AOC (from Air Warfare Centre, UK CAOC, and other RAF elements) had enabled a significant degree of influence to be exercised within the Allied Force air C2 processes. These "lessons" manifested themselves in a November 1999 paper on the proposed structure and establishment of the UK JFACHQ, which identified the following main lines to take:

1. UK JFACHQ is absolutely pivotal to STC provision of effective expeditionary air power capability.

2. Proposed structure and establishment provide expertise in all essential C2 areas but at skeletal or digital manning levels: any "thinning" will result in the loss of core expertise and capability.

3. National 82-man UK CAOC to be replaced by 66-man UK JFACHQ.

4. UK JFACHQ should be viewed as STC's C2 "jewel in the crown": requires same priority in manning as other front-line R1 operational units. (12)

In early December 1999, a final STC "justification" paper was submitted and approved. (13) It stated that PJHQ had confirmed that it may be essential for the JFHQ to deploy with a complete JFACHQ and that the JFACHQ should mirror the JFHQ's availability and readiness at R1. The paper supported both these lines, noting that with so many JRRF air assets at R1, there was a prima facie case for holding a C2 element at the same readiness. The paper went on to state that "the need for an efficient CAOC has also been reinforced by the Kosovo operation" and identified the need to have a "full range of expertise and staff functions A1-7 from the outset. " (14) It also drew on common experience from Ops Desert Fox and Allied Force that the UK's Defence Crisis Management Organization (UK equivalent of US Department of Defence and Joint Staffs) required significant reinforcement for the operational-level planning stages of an operation. The paper therefore recommended that it should be the JFACHQ A5 (strategy division) that supported this, thereby enabling the maintenance of continuity from operational-level planning to tactical-level execution. (15) On 26 January 2000 STC's policy for the introduction of the UK JFACHQ was issued, with the intention of forming the UKJFACHQ at RAF High Wycombe on 3 March 2000. (16)

United Kingdom Joint Force Air Component Headquarters: Air Command and Control Leads the Component Field

When the UK JFACHQ officially formed in March 2000, its mission spanned a wide range of tasks in peace, crisis, and war. Its raison d'etre and primary tasks were identified within this still extant mission statement:
 To provide a UK core JFACHQ for the command
 and control of expeditionary air operations,
 and to develop, and provide, training
 in, the command and control of joint
 air operations in order to maximise UK's
 operational air power capability. (17)

This mission was broken out into three substantive tasks:

1. To develop, exercise, and maintain, at R1, a deployable core JFACHQ for the C2 of national or coalition expeditionary air operations in order to maximise the United Kingdom's deployable joint air capability.

2. To develop and document the United Kingdom's operational joint air C2 processes, procedures, and CIS in order to maximise the United Kingdom's air power potential.

3. To sponsor, provide, co-ordinate, and standardise air C2 training in order to ensure the United Kingdom has sufficient fully trained JFACCs, core and augmentor air battlestaff, and joint component liaison personnel to meet the JRRF air C2 commitment. (18)

The UK national C2 CONOPS for the deployment of UK forces on joint national operations assumed the appointment of a joint commander (It Cored), who exercises OPCOM at the military strategic and operational levels, and a joint task force commander (JTFC), who normally exercises operational control (OPCON) over assigned forces throughout a theatre of operations. The JTFC is responsible for planning and executing the joint campaign and normally directs operations from a Joint Task Force Headquarters (JTFHQ) in-theatre.

Within the JTF, joint force component commanders would normally be appointed. These would include a JFACC, who is responsible to the JTFC for developing and executing the JAOP to best support the JTFC's overall campaign plan. The JFACC is also the JTFC's principal air advisor and responsible to the latter for the co-ordination of all theatre air operations. It was intended that the JFACC and his or her HQ would normally be collocated with the JTFHQ on land or afloat but, if geographically separated, it was to be capable of stand-alone operations--usually at the air component's primary deployed operating base. However, the other deployment scenarios that were to be enabled included the following: simultaneous deployment of two JFACHQs in support of a medium-scale warfighting (MSWF) operation and a non-warfighting operation; single JFACHQ collocated with a JTFHQ afloat; small forward JFACHQ in-theatre supported by "reach-back," (19) and UK JFACHQ providing framework for a CFACHQ supporting a UK-led European operation.

The UK JFACHQ's situation within the joint operational structure is shown in figure 1. The co-ordination linkages shown in this organizational structure resulted from the UK JFACHQ's initial leadership fully grasping, from the unit's inception, the vital need for vertical and horizontal operational integration and liaison, and subsequently institutionalizing it within its CONOPS and manning documents. Thus, air operations co-ordination centres (AOCC), comprising a senior liaison officer (the JFACC's personal representative) and other air operations staffs, were identified as being required for every joint-force component HQ; similarly, the need for the reciprocal hosting of other components' liaison elements (e.g., battlefield co-ordination detachment and maritime liaison element) was codified. The later peacetime implementation of some of these UK JFACHQ co-ordination and liaison elements and their operational debut during Op Iraqi Freedom was but one clear demonstration that the UK JFACHQ was in the vanguard of the development of UK and coalition joint and air C2 processes. (20)


An operational JFACHQ's size would be tailored to the scale of the operation it was supporting, and the C2 specializations involved (defensive, offensive, maritime, etc.) would be matched to the operational tasks. As the JFACHQ was intended to be fully scaleable, dependent upon the size of operation to be supported, its actual size and shape would depend upon a number of criteria but principally would need to take into account the increased level and detail of planning required for offensive sorties. In particular, there would be additional focus on the requirements for targeting, weaponeering, calculation of collateral damage expectancy, composite air operations (COMAO) packaging, airspace management, and combat support. It was considered that, as a worst case (i.e., most manpower-intensive), during UK MSWF operations on a 24-hour basis, a JFACHQ should be capable of handling approximately 180 offensive/defensive counter air sorties per day plus an equal number of combat support sorties (i.e., up to approximately 400 total sorties).

In looking at the generic structure above, one sees that one significant point of difference between the US and UK operational-level command structures is worthy of highlighting. This is the absence from within UK doctrine of the concept of single service commanders of deployed forces. Under US doctrine, deployed USAF elements would have a commander, Air Force forces (COMAFFOR). The COMAFFOR is the USAF-designated service-component commander responsible to the JFC for organizing, training, equipping, sustaining, and, when delegated, exercising OPCON for employing USAF forces in support of JFC objectives. (21) This commander may also be nominated the JFACC, but this could be a separate individual altogether. Under UK doctrine, the responsibilities of the COMAFFOR are broadly shared between the deployed JFACC and AOCinC STC acting as a supporting commander to the operation's Lt Comd (normally CJO). It is to meet the UK JFACC's portion of his AFFOR-type responsibilities that he has a support division within his HQ, typically staffing all theatre A1, A4, A6, and A8/9 issues.

The permanent peacetime structure of the UK JFACHQ was based directly on the intended operational JFACHQ structure, shown in figure 2. This HQ would support a nominated JFACC of "any cloth" (i.e., of any service) within the above national joint C2 structure. To achieve its mission, the UK JFACHQ structure was intended to provide the JFACC with an HQ that could plan air operations from the provision of input to the national military-strategic and operational-level planning processes; the joint air estimate process, through to JAOP development; and, once in-theatre, the development of air operations directives, air tasking orders, and airspace control orders through execution and both combat and operational assessment. The cadre UK JFACHQ was comprised of the functional areas outlined in figure 3, with core personnel representing all JFACHQ divisions and cells and, in addition, an A7 Doctrine and Training Division. (22)


This cadre UK JFACHQ was configured to enable the immediate provision of a deployable, coherent core of expertise representing the majority of divisions and cells required for a UK JFACHQ conducting MSWF. For operations of a lesser scale, or for multiple small-scale operations, it was planned to draw on cadre JFACHQ personnel to form ad hoc JFACHQ entities as required by the prevailing scenario. However, it was quite rightly identified that "available air C2 CIS equipment, is likely to limit the number of concurrent national operations that can be supported." (23) The significant potential deficiencies in terms of both CIS and support manpower were a major driver toward the intended collocation of the JFACHQ with the JTFHQ. Again, with the intention of keeping the deployed footprint to a minimum, elements of the HQ such as A2 and A4, would employ "reach back" to the maximum extent possible. However, despite the potential of some small savings in deployed manpower, deployment planning envisaged that the 66-strong cadre would need to be reinforced by up to 350 augmentor personnel to man a stand-alone JFACHQ to support an MSWF operation.

Operation Palliser--United Kingdom Joint Force Air Component Headquarters' Trial by Fire

In the first week of May 2000, after only some eight weeks of existence, the JFACHQ was called on to support Op Palliser in Sierra Leone. This operation was initially a noncombatant evacuation operation (NEO) that quickly developed into an intervention/ peace support operation. Although small in scale, the significant challenge posed by the operation was well met by the embryonic HQ. The tempo of the operation was exhilarating for those involved. The A5 Division was called to support the strategic estimate at PJHQ on 5 May and an air estimate undertaken on 7 May. Meanwhile, UK 1 Para (1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment), having been warned only on 6 May, successfully secured Lungi airfield in Sierra Leone over 7-8 May and began the NEO. On 9 May the air estimate was revisited to allow for the employment of seven RAF GR7 Harriers and six RN FA2 Harriers from the CVS HMS Illustrious (R06), eight C-130s, and a mix of 12 helicopters. On 11 May as the CVS entered the operating area, the JFACHQ's peacetime director was nominated as the operation's JFACC, and he and eight other cadre JFACHQ personnel deployed. By 13 May, having visited en route the JTFC at his HQ in Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, the JFACC and his small HQ established themselves on board the CVS (see photo). While, by 12 May the NEO had largely been accomplished and was being scaled down, the nature and scale of the operation developed to meet an increasing threat posed by the rebel forces of the Revolutionary United Front. On 17 May, fixed-wing operations began over Sierra Leone, undertaking three main lines of operation: (1) "friendly" or "hostile" air-presence missions in support of the JTFC's information operation, (2) tactical air recce, and (3) training and establishing local SOPs for close air support. Over 23-26 May, 42 Commando Brigade conducted a relief-in-place with 1 Para, and, with the situation significantly more stable, over 7-8 June the CVS covertly left the joint operations area, and the JFACHQ recovered back to the United Kingdom.

The Op Palliser deployment proved to be a highly successful "proof of concept" for the JFACHQ at the national-only, small-scale level of operation. It also reinforced many known C2 truisms or already known issues. Most significant among them was the reinforcement that whenever possible, the JFACC--along with, if not his whole HQ then at least his A5 staff--should be collocated with the JTFHQ. In hindsight the positioning of the JFACC and his A5 on the CVS proved to be a mistake, for they were never able to "be in the JTFC's mind," and a full understanding of the JTFC's intent and CONOPS could never be gained. This location issue was compounded by the recurrent issue of a lack of operational-level communications; the CVS had only a tenuous single route for secure communications with the JTFHQ only some 50 nautical miles away in Freetown.

United Kingdom Joint Force Air Component Headquarters--An Air Command and Control Capability That's Here to Stay?

With the significantly added advantage of its experience and lessons from Op Palliser "under its belt," the UK JFACHQ was declared as having an initial operating capability in October 2000. During the course of the next year, it continued to train its cadre personnel and procure its CIS and deployable support infrastructure (the main deployable fabricated HQ system is shown below). The development of capability continued and was marked with a declaration of full operational capability (FOC) in October 2001.

While this declaration of FOC marked a very significant step in both the RAF's and United Kingdom's warfighting capability, the author believes that the continued provision of a robust air C2 capability still has some doctrinal and organizational fights ahead of it. He would also argue that there are still lingering indications that, even within the RAF, the acceptance of the need for, and the concomitant cost of, providing a national air C2 capability that could effectively execute a UK MSWF air operation is far from ubiquitous or yet fully institutionalized. These indications have included the following: the 10 percent manning cut applied to the UK JFACHQ (as part of an HQ staff review) on the same day it was declared as being FOC; the persistent failure of the UK JFACHQ to be designated and treated as an operational force element (as, for example, the USAF does with its Falconer AOCs and air operations groups/squadrons); the unit's recent re-brigading under a training grouping within the peacetime staff structure of Headquarters Strike Command; and, during the course of researching this article, the author was unable to find on the RAF's Web site among its listing of order of battle and organisations, any reference to its only operational-level C2 entity: the UK JFACHQ. (24)

However, notwithstanding the concerns raised above, since its FOC declaration, the UK JFACHQ has been a leading and pivotal element in the RAF's contributions to the coalition air C2 organizations that planned and executed Ops Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and has been involved in nearly all significant UK joint and US coalition C2 exercises and training events. Almost from the outset, the capability and performance of the UK's JFACHQ and its cadre personnel have demonstrated that it and they were fully living up to the RAF's vision of being: "An Air Force that strives to be first and person for person remains second to none." (25) In the experience of the author, it is accepted widely at home and in the United States that the RAF's JFACHQ certainly is person for person, second to none in the provision of operational-level component C2. Indeed, the author believes that the UK JFACHQ has already all but achieved the five-year vision he helped draft for it:
 To become the UK's recognized centre of excellence
 for both the development and execution
 of all aspects of the command and
 control of joint air operations. (26)

So while it could be argued that the RAF does lead the international field in the provision of rapidly deployable operational-level air C2 expertise, the absolutely essential need to provide an air C2 capability is not yet institutionalized in the RAF as it is within the USAF. To date, advocacy for the effective implementation of an air C2 capability within the RAF has, in the main, been a "bottom-up" process, while in the USAF, air C2 advocacy starts unequivocally at the very top with successive USAF chiefs of staff personally directing its development and resourcing. The author's fear is that until a similar situation of "top-down" advocacy and ubiquitous understanding of operational-level air C2 prevails within the RAF, the above vision that is so close to being delivered is over time in danger, through lack of resourcing as a front-line force capability, of atrophying into hallucination.


(1.) German for "politics of reality"; foreign politics based on practical concerns rather than theory or ethics.

(2.) Ministry, of Defence, AP 3000: British Air Power Doctrine, 3rd ed. (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office [HMSO], 1999), 1.3.8.

(3.) "Permanent Joint HQs (PJHQ)," The Management of Defence, 10006.html.

(4.) Secretary of State for Defence UK, Statement on the Defence Estimates 1996: Defence Policy; Joint Rapid Deployment Force, Cm. 3223 [Command Paper] (May 1996), par. 164, mod/defence/c1tx4.htm.

(5.) RAF Board Standing Committee Paper AFBSC(95)11, Command and Control of STC Assets, STC/9096/53/1 /2/CP.

(6.) Secretary of State for Defence UK, Strategic Defence Review, Cm. 3999 (July 1998), sdr/intro.htm.

(7.) Ibid., par. 89.

(8.) This ProjO was the author of this article. He had also been the squadron leader (0-4) ProjO for the introduction of the earlier UK CAOC working as the junior member of a three-man team with a group captain and wing commander.

(9.) UK Joint Force Air Component HQ "Policy Statement," UK CAOC/121/FE 17 November 1999.

(10.) Ibid.

(11.) UK STC, STC Structure beyond 2000 Study, STC/ 101/CINCSEC, 22 February 1999.

(12.) UK JFACHQ Proposed Structure and Establishment, JFACHQ/101/1/POL, 23 November 1999.

(13.) Justification of the Establishment and Infrastructure for a Joint Force Air Component Headquarters (JFACHQ), JFACHQ/101/Pol, 13 December 1999.

(14.) Ibid.

(15.) Ibid.

(16.) HQ STC, Policy for the Introduction of UK Joint Force Air Component Headquarters, JFACHQ/101 /1/Pol, 26 January 2000.

(17.) Ibid.

(18.) Ibid.

(19.) The capability of a forward-deployed command to "reach back" to tap into data hanks, intelligence, and imagery.

(20.) The need for significantly enhanced horizontal and vertical integration and liaison during the US planning for Operation Iraqi Freedom was to be one of the first observations of the United Kingdom's air-liaison team (drawn from UK JFACHQ) when it joined the now coalition air-planning effort at HQ US Central Command Air Forces. While, as discussed, the need for liaison and co-ordination is well institutionalized in UK air C2 doctrine and practice, the USAF's air coordination element (ACE) concept was only to manifest itself in the immediate run up to Iraqi Freedom's execution.

(21.) Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 2-8, Command and Control, 16 February 2001, 25.

(22.) Figure 3, Combat Service Support Division, is broken into "Support" and "CIS."

(23.) HQ STC, Policy for the Introduction of UK Joint Force Air Component Headquarters, JFACHQ, par. 12, 26 January 2000.

(24.) RAF, Royal Air Force Equipment Strength, http://

(25.) RAF, "The Royal Air Force Vision Statement," March 2000,

(26.) HQ STC, Policy for the Introduction of UK Joint Force Air Component Headquarters, JFACHQ, par. 8, 26 January 2000.
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Author:Thompson, Redvers T.N.
Publication:Air & Space Power Journal
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 22, 2004
Previous Article:Joint Publication 3-16, Joint Doctrine for Multinational Operations: "if you work with friends, bring it along!".
Next Article:Operation Iraqi Freedom: coalition operations.

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