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Theater Air Mobility: Historical Analysis, Doctrine, and Leadership.

We made this train. Why are we making it so hard to drive?

Major Ted E. "Gene" Carter, Jr


In April 1992, Air Force Chief of Staff General Merrill A. McPeak initiated a major reorganization within the Air Force. When he was finished, the entire air mobility in-theater command and control (C2) structure and organization had changed. The changes mirrored the airlift C2 structure used during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. These old but new changes were specifically felt in the application of new Air Force and air mobility doctrine as well as in the new air mobility leadership during contingency operations. Gone were the days when a commander of airlift forces (COMALF) exercised command authority over airlift forces. [1] Enter a director of mobility forces (DIRMOBFOR), who is tasked to carry air mobility into the future, armed with coordination authority but no command authority. [2]

With the end of the Cold War, national strategy documents and joint publications assert that most military operations today and, especially, those in the future are likely to be military operations other than war (MOOTW) and multiple joint task forces (JTF), or task forces (TF), rather than major theater war (MTW). Because of this, air mobility forces need to return to a centralized command and control structure at the theater air mobility level versus one at the air component commander or joint force air component commander (JFACC) level. Therein lies the problem. Current Air Force and air mobility doctrine establishes C2 with the commander of Air Force forces (COMAFFOR) or JFACC instead of the DIRMOBFOR, who oversees theater air mobility operations. During Operation Allied Force, this lack of C2 at the air mobility level created a coordination nightmare for the DIRMOBFOR before tactical control (TACON) was transferred to the commander of the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), because air mobility coordination was extremely complex with validation/coordination required with numerous commands and organizations. If the national strategy is correct in predicting future operations, the DIRMOBFOR may be in charge of multiple JTFs/TFs. Trying to support these multiple task forces by coordinating each mission may lead to a breakdown in coordination, causing some missions to fail.

One way to prevent the failure of air mobility missions is to move command authority back to the DIRMOBFOR at the theater air mobility level. There should be one commander of all Air Force forces with a commander of air mobility forces, or a commander of airlift and tanker forces (COMATFOR), who reports to the COMAFFOR/JFACC but also exercises C2 over air mobility forces. Since a commander is the only one who has the authority to control forces through either operational control (OPCON) or TACON, [3] the DIRMOBFOR could be replaced by a COMATFOR. Then OPCON/TACON could be transferred directly to the commander, making the operation more flexible. With command authority at the theater air mobility level, the COMATFOR would have authority to efficiently and effectively execute missions because authority would be matched with responsibility.

Historical Foundations

Let it be admitted that the modern technological revolution has confronted us with military problems of unprecedented complexity, problems made all the more difficult because of the social and political turbulence of the age in which we live. But precisely because of these revolutionary developments, let me suggest that you had better study military history, indeed all history, as no generation of military men have studied it before.

Frank Craven

Rapid global mobility operations require a seamless infrastructure to support conflicts, humanitarian needs, and natural or manmade disasters, To better understand today's air mobility forces infrastructure, one need only look at the history of airlift and examine the command and control of strategic and theater airlift operations during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War. [4]

World War II

Transport planes were used by the Air Corps Ferrying Command from 30 May 1941 to 9 March 1942 under the direct command of the Chief of the Air Corps, Major General George H. Brett. [5] As US involvement in World War II kicked off, many of the airlift support missions were not coordinated between Army air transport operations and the Navy, resulting in wasted airframes and missions. Often, two aircraft would fly different cargo from the same location to the same destination when one could have carried both loads. [6]

In March 1942, General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, the new commander of the Army Air Forces, wanted to centralize air mobility operations and bring some form of order to the situation. To do this, he established the Air Transport Command (ATC) and broke it down into two divisions. The Ferrying Division delivered aircraft and transported personnel, while the Air Transport Division delivered supplies and equipment from the continental United States (CONUS) to the theaters. [7] This type of airlift is known as intertheater--or strategic--airlift because it operates between two theaters. Arnold also wanted to keep theater airlift operations centralized, so he assigned troop carrier units to the air force commander within a theater. This provided a means of transportation for combat troops--both airborne and infantry--and glider units and supported the theater commanders by providing them with dedicated airlift within their theater. [8] This type of airlift is called intratheater--or theater--airlift because it operat es within the air force commander's theater. Arnold made command and control of these strategic and theater airlift forces easy. He appointed himself commander of the ATC strategic forces and put the air force theater commanders in charge of the theater airlift forces within their theater. His goal was to centralize command and control. [9]

In March 1944, Headquarters Army Air Forces directed the Army Air Forces Board to analyze airlift operations and ensure their efficiency. The Board concluded that a single commander could best meet the needs for strategic as well as theater airlift operations. The commander for strategic operations would be the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces, and the commander for theater operations would be the theater air force commander who had his own airlift assets and could be augmented as required. By affirming Arnold's in-place infrastructure, the Board cemented the foundation of our current airlift structure. [10]

Post-World War II

In 1948, President Truman issued Executive Order 9877 as part of the postwar reorganization to eliminate duplication between the Services. He ordered naval airlift transport assets and ATC to merge. This order led to the birth of the Military Air Transport Service (MATS). All CONUS-based airlift assets came under the single command of MATS. However, this reorganization did not include theater airlift assets. They remained under the command of the theater commander. [11] Although MATS was established, there was no change in the command and control structure for strategic or theater assets.

The Korean War

The C2 structure for airlift during the Korean War was the same as that during World War II. MATS maintained control, operation, and administrative support of strategic operations by moving personnel, supplies, and equipment from the United States to Japan where theater airlift took over. The theater air force commander was in charge of theater airlift operations. Theater operations eventually fell under the control of the 315th Air Division, commanded by Major General William H. Tunner (Lieutenant General). He felt airlift could perform any mission as long as it was centrally managed and under the command of the theater air commander. After the war, the Far East Air Forces report stated, "The assignment of both the troop carrier and transport tasks to a single airlift commander was successful in that it provided maximum efficiency and effectiveness in the utilization of the theater air force airlift resources." [12] Almost 10 years after the Army Air Forces Board results, the Far East Air Forces report on th e Korean War also recommended two separate command structures for strategic and theater forces. MATS would continue conducting strategic operations while theater commanders controlled their own airlift operations within their theater. [13]

Pre-Vietnam War

Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, under the emerging Flexible Response strategy, examined the command and control of strategic and theater (troop carrier) military airlift. McNamara testified before a special House Subcommittee on National Military Airlift, chaired by Representative Carl Vinson:

... distinctions made between troop carrier and strategic airlift operations, which were based upon aircraft capabilities, would no longer be significant with the acquisition of the C-l30Es and Cl4ls... and ... it might prove entirely feasible to load troops and their equipment in the United States and fly them directly to the battle area overseas, instead of moving them by strategic airlift to an overseas assembly point and then loading them and their equipment on troop carriers .... This might require some changes in organization. [14]

McNamara directed a review of the MATS organizational structure. He wanted to examine the effects the new C-130s and C-141s would have on the strategic and theater airlift infrastructure, operations, cost considerations, and the need to support theater commanders. Vinson was also curious because he, too, feared duplication of effort and costs associated with separate strategic and theater airlift command structures. To him, the differences between strategic and theater airlift operations were not well defined. Although the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Curtis E. LeMay, disagreed with McNamara and Vinson, he ordered MATS to develop a plan for the possible implementation of McNamara's proposal, which would place strategic and theater airlift forces under a single command and a single commander. [15] That command became the Military Airlift Command (MAC).

The Vietnam War

In January 1966, MATS was redesigned as MAC and maintained command of all strategic airlift forces. As the Vietnam War began, strategic airlift drew upon doctrine from Air Force Manual (AEM) 1-9, Theater Airlift Operations, which underscored that theater airlift forces should remain under the command of the theater commander. [16] As the war progressed, there were some growing pains. For starters, the Pacific Air Forces' 315th managed airlift forces for the Southeast Asia (SEA) theater from Tachikawa, Japan, more than 2,000 miles from the theater. This was a poor arrangement for communications and decentralized command and control of SEA theater airlift forces at that time. To get a better grasp on the SEA theater C2, on 15 October 1966, the 834th Air Division was established at Tan Son Nhut AB in South Vietnam. [17] The 315th continued to coordinate strategic airlift operations with MAC. The SEA theater requirements grew to a point where the strategic MAC crews staged out of Tan Son Nhut in order to expedite the movement of troops and equipment as close as possible to the front lines. At this point, the conflict between where strategic missions ended and theater missions began complicated the airlift mission. "In MAC's view, the optimum arrangement for airlift activities was single managership." [18] The time had come to integrate the strategic and theater airlift forces under one command and eliminate the complications between strategic and theater operations.

Because of the same airlift characteristics and overlapping missions, it was hard to determine when strategic airlift ended and theater airlift began. As a result, the official Air Force-directed Lindsay report stated, "Duplication and/or overlap of the responsibilities and functions occurred in aerial ports, airlift control elements .... In this case, there were two airlift forces with similar capabilities performing within and between an area command." [19] The report recommended that the Air Force combine all airlift assets under one command. Finally, MAC made the recommendation to combine all airlift operations under one command to simplify the C2 process and provide a seamless operation between strategic and theater operations. The need for a separate theater C2 structure within the theater, however, remained in order to manage the strategic and theater missions.

Post-Vietnam War

In addition to the Lindsay report and MAC's recommendation to combine strategic and theater airlift operations, the 1969 Project Corona Harvest reports recommended, "All USAF airlift resources should be consolidated under a single organization for airlift." In July 1974, Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger directed the merger of strategic and theater assets under the single command structure of MAC and designated MAC a specified command. "In 1974, Headquarters Air Force designated MAC as the single manager for airlift, and in December 1974, all Air Force strategic and theater airlift resources were consolidated under MAC" [20] to reduce the duplication of effort and costs associated with separate strategic and theater airlift command structures.

The Gulf War

Much like Vietnam, the Gulf War proved the flexibility, versatility, and significance of having strategic and theater airlift forces combined under a single command. As in Vietnam, the strategic operations remained with MAC, but the COMALF, acting on behalf of the MAC commander, monitored and managed strategic airlift forces coming into or going out of the theater. MAC delegated OPCON/TACON responsibilities for theater operations to the theater commander in chief (CINC), in this case the Commander in Chief Central Command (CINCCENTCOM). CINCCENTCOM then delegated control to the JFACC, who passed it on to the COMALF. Based on the command authority vested in the COMALF, Brigadier General Frederick N. Buckingham, the first COMALF during the Gulf War and the theater point of contact for all airlift operations, said it best, "Anything that smells or kinda looks like airlift, they come directly to you. They don't think about the chain of command." Brigadier General Edwin E. Tenoso (Lieutenant General), the second C OMALF, also believed his responsibility was to link with the users to ensure their airlift needs were met. "These Gulf War COMALF experiences reinforced the need for an in-theater airlift commander to justify basing and resources, interface with the strategic airlift system, and ensure the readiness of the airlift force." [21]

Airlift forces must be tailored for the future. One way to prepare for the future is to study the past. The review of the strategic and theater infrastructure from World War II shows the necessity of in-theater airlift command. In 1992, under the direction of the Air Force Chief of Staff, the single command structure created by Schlesinger in 1974 was changed back to separate command structures for strategic and theater airlift. The strategic airlift forces moved back under the newly formed Air Mobility Command, while the theater forces were placed under the COMAFFOR. This drove numerous new challenges and changes.

This historical analysis provides a backdrop on how air mobility command and control was formed during World War II and how it began to change during the Vietnam War. During the Vietnam War, an airlift commander within the theater proved to be a solid link, ensuring the efficient and effective use of airlift. Although under a single command, the theater commander carried over to the Gulf War in the form of a COMALF. The sole purpose of the COMALF was integrating strategic and theater airlift, as well as supporting airlift forces. The April 1992 change reorganized the Air Force and airlift organizational structure. These changes also affect the application of Air Force and air mobility doctrine.


It seems very queer that we invariably entrust the writing of our regulations for the next war to men totally devoid of anything but theoretical knowledge.

Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr

Sir Richard Burton once quoted an old proverb, "Peace is the dream of the wise; war is the history of man." [22] Today's military is one of the tools used by the government to shape the global security environment. However, that shaping is not as much through peace and war as it is through MOOTW. Like the name suggests, MOOTW are operations involving the use of military capabilities in a variety of situations or circumstances that are not considered wartime operations. [23] These operations vary widely from humanitarian assistance and natural disaster response to armed conflict. On one end of the spectrum, Operation Atlas Response delivered humanitarian supplies to flood-ravaged Mozambique. On the other end, during JTF Noble Anvil, the air war portion of Operation Allied Force, US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces used airpower to force Slobodan Milosevic to cease aggression in Kosovo. For the first time in history, an armed conflict was conducted exclusively through airpower, with more than 38,00 0 sorties in 78 days. [24] Both of these operations are considered MOOTW. Today, one cannot pick up a newspaper without reading about the trend of military operations supporting MOOTW rather than MTW. Because of this trend, Air Force and air mobility doctrine must address a number of concerns specific to MOOTW, such as conducting several small-scale contingency operations at the same time, in the same area of responsibility (AOR) or theater, the delegation of C2 (OPCON/TACON) of mobility forces at the theater level, and where the air mobility experts should reside. Do they stay in the air operations center (AOC) if better operational and communication support and theater expertise are available in the air mobility operations control center (AMOCC)?

Air Force Doctrine

The National Security Strategy, National Military Strategy, and numerous Joint publications--specifically Joint Pub 3-07, Joint Doctrine for Military Operations Other Than War--address the current global and political situation and how US military assets will be used in an MOOTW role rather than an MTW role. For example, the National Security Strategy for a New Century states:

...the United States must be prepared to respond to the full range of threats to our interests abroad. Smaller scale contingency operations encompass the fill range of military operations short of major theater warfare, including humanitarian assistance, peace operations...and reinforcing key allies. These operations will likely...require significant commitments over time" [25]

Regarding the full spectrum of crises, the National Military Strategy says:

The United States military will be called upon to respond to crises across the full range of military operations, from humanitarian assistance...and...smaller scale contingencies. We must also be prepared to conduct several smaller scale contingency operations at the same time.... [26]

Joint Pub 3-07 discusses the principles, types, and planning for MOOTW. MOOTW is specifically addressed in Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 2-3, Military Operations Other Than War. AFDD 2-3 is a broad discussion of the way to employ aerospace power in a MOOTW environment, and as pointed out in the introduction, "The doctrine discussed herein focuses on the operational level; appropriate tactical doctrine is addressed in other Air Force and joint publications." [27]

The tactical doctrine referred to by AFDD 2-3 for air mobility operations includes AFDD 2, Organization and Employment of Aerospace Power, and AFDD 2-6, Air Mobility Operations. AFDD 2 outlines the essentials of "organization and employment of Air Force air, space, and information capabilities to accomplish the missions assigned by ... CINCs." [28] AFDD 2-6 describes "mobility organizations, command relationships, and operational elements to include airlift, air refueling, and air mobility support assets," as well as how those forces should be employed. [29] AFDD 2 and AFDD 2-6 provide excellent guidance in support of a single JTF, but they do not address, as AFDD 2-3 alludes to, the tactical doctrine of conducting several smaller scale contingencies in the same theater/region at the same time that may be associated with MOOTW. In addition, AFDD 2-6 does not address the complexity of the role of the DIRMOBFOR in support of MOOTW, as was encountered during the many task forces of Operation Allied Force.

Air Mobility Doctrine

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the US military, particularly the Air Force, was downsized dramatically. In response, McPeak merged control of air refueling forces and airlift forces under the newly created Air Mobility Command (AMC) in 1992. Theater C2 responsibilities for air refueling and airlift fell under the guidance of the newly created DIRMOBFOR. According to AFDD 2-6, the DIRMOBFOR is the "designated coordinating authority for air mobility with all commands and agencies, both internal and external to the joint force. The DIRMOBFOR is responsible for integrating the total air mobility effort" [30] between the AOR and between the global systems and the AOR. In reality, the DIRMOBFOR's predecessor, the COMALF, had always been dual hatted, coordinating both strategic and theater airlift. According to Tenoso, who served as the COMALF during Operation Desert Storm, "The DIRMOBFOR has now become a huge dual role by working both airlift and tanker issues." [31]

Doctrinal Questions and MOOTW

National strategy documents and joint publications indicate that most of today's military operations and those in the future are likely to be MOOTW. Because of this, Air Force doctrine should consider possible scenarios across the full spectrum of conflict rather than focusing on operations supporting a single JTF. Air mobility doctrine needs to address issues such as multiple MOOTW scenarios occurring at the same time and what should happen if these MOOTW are in the same theater but in different AORs not associated with an AOC. This situation actually happened during Operation Allied Force when the DIRMOBFOR, Colonel Robert D. Bishop, Jr (Brigadier General), was working seven different task forces supporting Operation Allied Force that had little relation to JTF Noble Anvil. [32] He was coordinating air mobility issues for the humanitarian relief efforts, JTF Shining Hope, and the deployment of Army helicopters for Task Force Hawk, to name two. This situation brought to light two substantial flaws in current doctrine. How can (or should) the DIRMOBFOR operate out of an AOC that, first, does not have sufficient support, specifically communications support, for the DIRMOBFOR to work the other JTF issues [33] and, second, has no support from the JFACC, whose focus is bombs on target and air refueling support for the fighters in the AOR? [34]

Questions have also surfaced about the feasibility of providing a DIRMOBFOR for each JTF. While there would be no problem with one person having visibility over the JTF, the existence of multiple JTF DIRMOBFORs would cause competition for limited theater airlift resources and would most likely hinder the DIRMOBFOR's efforts to execute centralized command and control over mobility issues.

AFDD 2-6 says the DIRMOBFOR is the tanker expert and should stay in the AOC. [33] Frankly, it is difficult to imagine how Bishop could have followed the AFDD 2-6 guidance and worked refueling issues from the AOC in Vicenza, Italy, when he received the best support for coordinating the seven task force issues out of Ramstein AB, Germany, because he could better utilize the support provided by the AMOCC.

Finally, are there too many tasks assigned to the DIRMOBFOR? In a multiple MOOTW scenario or even an MTW scenario, the DIRMOBFOR could really get bogged down trying to perform the dual role of directing both airlift and tanker operations. Speaking of the current DIRMOBFOR position, Tenoso said:

I could not possibly have done that job during Desert Storm if I had to worry about tankers. Brigadier General Patrick K. Caruana [Lieutenant General] was responsible for all tankers in theater, and I was responsible for the entire theater airlift. So, you had two brigadier generals with two full-time jobs, and now, supposedly, it is assumed under a single DIRMOBFOR? [36]

Perhaps doctrine should designate a deputy with air refueling expertise so the DIRMOBFOR could direct all mobility issues, and the deputy could work air refueling issues and airlift issues from the AOC. Are there other possible options?

Numerous questions have been raised concerning the doctrinal aspect of air mobility operations. Current air mobility doctrine does not answer many of these questions, and these and other doctrinal issues need to be studied more thoroughly. Because of the increased importance of MOOTW and the potential overburdening of the DIRMOBFOR during an MTW scenario or multiple JTF/TF scenarios, Air Force doctrine writers should reassess air mobility doctrine and the responsibilities of the DIRMOBFOR.

Air Mobility Leadership

An army cannot be administered. It must be led.

Franz-Joseph Strauss

As discussed earlier, in 1992, the Military Airlift Command became the Air Mobility Command and assumed the air-refueling role, in addition to its traditional airlift role. Basically, MAC's (now AMC's) responsibility expanded and became what is generally considered a mobility role versus a pure airlift role. McPeak's change in air mobility's role and organizational structuring eliminated the need for an air mobility commander or COMALF equivalent. Because the new theater leadership role had changed to that of a director or coordinator versus a commander and airlift and air refueling merged to form a new mobility role, AMC and the air staff developed the DIRMOBFOR as the title for the new theater air mobility leadership. [37]

During contingency operations, the joint forces command (JFC) organizes forces to accomplish a specific mission. In organizing the forces, the JFC will normally designate someone to have hands-on control of the air mobility forces. These air mobility forces consist of strategic and theater airlift, air refueling, operational support airlift, and aeromedical evacuation. Because of the United States Transportation Command's (USTRANSCOM) and AMC's global commitment to provide air mobility forces, the DIRMOBFOR must coordinate and integrate theater air mobility requirements with global commitments and provide the JFC with enough theater air mobility forces to allow "rapid and flexible options, allowing military forces to respond to and operate in a wider variety of circumstances and timeframes." [38]

What type of air mobility leadership can best meet this need, and should the leadership role be that of a director or a commander? Table 1 compares how the COMALF and the DIRMOBFOR roles meet the requirements for eight leadership functions. Figure 1 shows the organizational structure of the COMALF prior to the restructuring in 1992, and Figure 2 shows the organizational structure after 1992 and where the DIRMOBFOR fits in.

Prior to 1992, the theater airlift leadership role was performed by a commander, the COMALF, as shown in Figure 1. The COMALF position was developed during the Vietnam War and tested and proven during the Gulf War. Since 1992, the COMALF role has been replaced by a director, the DIRMOBFOR, as shown in Figure 2. The DIRMOBFOR is very much like the COMALF, still coordinating with AMC while supervising strategic forces, and reports to the JFACC. [39] When comparing the basic leadership roles of the COMALF and the DIRMOBFOR, there are also some similarities, but there are aalso some big differences.

The Director Versus the Commander

The biggest difference is the DIRMOBFOR now only has coordinating authority. [42] Although responsible for the theater air mobility forces, the DIRMOBFOR is not automatically delegated C2 authority over these forces like a COMALF. [43] For example, Bishop was the DIRMOBFOR in October 1998 when an airlift request was made to support a U-2 mission. As a coordinator and not a commander, Bishop had to coordinate with multiple commands and organizations (for example, USTRANSCOM, AMC, USAFE, European Command [EUCOM], Tanker Airlift Control Center [TACC], and Air Mobility Control Center [AMCC]) for authority to validate the mission and alert an aircrew to support the mission. As Figure 3 and Table 2 indicate, Bishop made 19 phone calls, starting with the USAFE Crisis Action Team (CAT), to request validation to support the mission. The request went from the USAFE CAT to EUCOM operations and USTRANSCOM before being approved by the TACC at AMC. Once the validation was received, Bishop directed AMCC to alert the aircrew . As a result, the mission was delayed 4 hours, new slot times were required to enter another nation's airspace, and new landing times had to be approved at the destination. The user was dissatisfied, and the host nation did not like the numerous changes it had to make to support the mission. This is one example of the benefit of changing the DIRMOBFOR back to a commander. Before TACON was transferred to the USAFE commander, air mobility coordination was extremely complex because of validation/coordination with numerous commands and organizations. Current Air Force and air mobility doctrine establishes C2 with the COMAFFOR or JFACC instead of the DIRMOBFOR, who oversees theater air mobility operations. There should be one commander of all Air Force forces with a mobility commander, who reports to the COMAFFOR/JFACC but also exercises C2 over air mobility forces. Then OPCON/TACON could be directly transferred, making the operation more flexible. With command authority at the theater air mobility level, the aut hority will be matched with the responsibility to efficiently and effectively execute missions. As a commander with command authority (OPCON/ TACON), the DIRMOBFOR could have taken care of the U-2 mission request with two phone calls. The first call should have been to EUCOM to get verbal validation, and the second should have been to the AMCC directing that it alert the aircrew. [44]

According to current joint publications and Air Force doctrine, once a contingency develops, the theater CINC may select a DIRMOBFOR from within the theater or request one from AMC to direct airlift and air refueling operations. Technically, only commanders can exercise control (OPCON/TACON) of forces. Therefore, OPCON/TACON is retained by the JFACC instead of the DIRMOBFOR because the DIRMOBFOR can only exercise TACON over the air mobility forces when it is delegated. Thus, the centralized command of theater air mobility forces is pushed up the chain of command to the air component commander or JFACC. According to AFM 2-50, the COMALF is different from the DIRMOBFOR in that the COMALF is "nominated by the appropriate AMC numbered air force, designated by the AMC commander, and approved by the theater combatant commander to exercise operational control of the airlift forces assigned to a theater or area of responsibility." [47] Still under command of the JFACC, the COMALF had true centralized control of all theater airlift forces. [48]

With the reduction in C2 authority, there is an increase in the DIRMOBFOR's responsibility for coordinating both the airlift and air refueling forces. The COMALF was only concerned with airlift forces. There is also a difference in grade. The COMALF during the Gulf War was a brigadier general in command of airlift forces only. Depending on the intensity of the conflict, today, there can be a colonel or a lieutenant colonel [49] coordinating airlift and air-refueling forces. According to Bishop, the DIRMOBFOR's job would be made significantly easier if the person had already pinned on brigadier general. "Through five deployments as a Brig Gen (S), I have had to, time and again (we have supported a total of ten different joint task forces/task forces), establish credibility and fight to get a seat at the table." [50] As a member of Bishop's DIRMOBFOR staff during Operation Allied Force, Major Jack Burns saw firsthand how this reduction in rank put mobility efforts at risk. If the DIRMOBFOR cannot get a seat at the commander's table, how do mobility issues get elevated? [51] "As demonstrated during the Gulf War, it was difficult to procure the needed support mechanisms for the airlift operations with a COMALF." [52] How much harder will it be to get things implemented in the next MTW with a field grade officer instead of a flag officer?

Leadership Assessment

With the introduction of the DIRMOBFOR concept, centralized C2 of theater air mobility forces for contingency operations was taken from an airlift expert in the COMALF and given to the JFACC/COMAFFOR. While JFACCs/COMAFFORs are certainly airminded individuals, they may not have an airlift background. In addition, JFACCs are more interested in the air war than they are airlift or air refueling. During a conflict, the JFACC delegates responsibility of all theater air mobility forces to the DIRMOBFOR. Tenoso gives the example of when he became the Gulf War COMALF. In his conversation with General Charles A. Homer, Tenoso said "I don't know anything about airlift. You take your airlift, and if you need anything from me, you let me know. I'm too busy fighting the air war." [53] A similar incident occurred when Bishop showed up in theater.

Once the USAFE/CC was given TACON, General [John P.] Jumper exercised TACON of air mobility forces through Colonel Bishop. In fact, many general officers expressed to Brigadier General Bishop that the duties of the JFACC are so involved with the air war that they can't worry about the logistics tail and depend on the DIRMOBFOR to work these issues for them. [54]

In essence, the command responsibility of mobility forces was taken from the COMALF and moved up the chain of command to the JFACC/COMAFFOR. Then, responsibility minus command got delegated back down the chain of command to the DIRMOBFOR in the role of coordinator/director. That leads one to ask why control of airlift and air-refueling forces was turned over to the JFACC/COMAFFOR in order to give it back to a coordinator.

There are three lessons to be learned in comparing the roles of the DIRMOBFOR and the COMALF, particularly with respect to Operation Allied Force. First, future conflicts may again be fought with airpower alone. Second, if this happens, the JFACC will be busy fighting the air war and will have little or no interest in air mobility operations. Third, since air component commanders may not know much about airlift, they will need someone, preferably a commander, to be their expert and advisor on air mobility issues. These lessons suggest there should be a mobility expert with C2 authority (for example, OPCON/ TACON) delegated directly from AMC for strategic air mobility operations and/or from the JFACC/COMAFFOR to control theater air mobility operations. As Tenoso said of the COMALF, "The position worked great!" [55]

Regarding the comparison of the functional roles performed by the COMALF and the DIRMOBFOR, there are some similarities, but there is a big difference. The COMALF was a commander who exercised OPCON and TACON over strategic and theater airlift forces. The DIRMOBFOR is only a coordinator facilitating air mobility missions. The answer to the dilemma rests in a combination of the COMALF and the DIRMOBFOR. The true role for theater air mobility leadership is a commander of airlift and tanker forces (COMATFOR).

The True Role for Theater Air Mobility Leadership

The success of my whole project is founded on the firmness of the conduct of the officer who will command it.

Frederick the Great

Air mobility forces need centralized C2 for theater air mobility operations, rather than C2 delegated by the JFACC on an as-need basis. The DIRMOBFOR has no authority and must report to and coordinate with a lot of commands and organizations such as USTRANSCOM, AMC, TACC, USAFE, EUCOM, task force commanders, and so forth. While the mission is most important, eventually this lack of authority may affect the mission, as it did in the previously mentioned U-2 support mission that ended in 19 phone calls, a late takeoff, and a disgruntled user, when it could have taken 2 phone calls. The old COMALF can fix this; however, to meet the needs of the combined airlift and air refueling mobility mission, the role should become that of a COMATFOR.

In Bishop's after-action report for Operation Allied Force, he recommended the DIRMOBFOR role change to that of a commander of mobility forces, or COMMOBFOR. His observation and recommendation were:

During contingency and airpower employment, CFACC [Combined Force Air Component Commander]/JFACC does not have the time to exercise TACON of strategic airlift assets. Additionally, command interrelationships were such that airlift's major task--the deployment of Task Force Hawk--did not come under the purview of the CFACC/JFACC (during the deployment phase, HAWK had no formal command relationship to the JTF). Create a commander of mobility forces (COMMOBFOR) or commander of air mobility forces (COMAMOBFOR) position. The position would work directly for the JFACC/theater air component commander and would be responsible for all air mobility movements. TACON could then be transferred for specific missions on an up-front, agreed-upon basis by CINCTRANS/AMC commander. [56]

If the DIRMOBFOR became a commander, the JFACC could then delegate OPCON or TACON to the COMATFOR and not have to worry about exercising C2 for air mobility forces that are part of the JFACC's focus during a contingency. The COMATFOR could set up C2 of mobility forces to best meet the needs of the JTFs and the AOC and could exercise command authority and raise mobility issues to higher levels for action.

The point in having a commander for air mobility forces is important for other reasons as well. According to Tenoso:

The DIRMOBFOR needs to be a commander because if you (sic) get into a MTW like Desert Storm, the AFFOR will want a commander who has command responsibility for care, feeding, safety, etc. He will not want a director; he will want a commander.

Implementation of the COMATFOR

Using Table 1 as one example of the benefits of a commander versus a DIRMOBFOR, the implementation of a COMATFOR would begin with the JFC delegating C2 (OPCON/TACON) of all theater air mobility forces through the JFACC to the COMATFOR. In addition, the COMATFOR would have the ability to supervise transient strategic air mobility missions that operate into and out of the theater. As a commander, TACON passed by the USCINCTRANSCOM and AMC commander would pass directly to the COMATFOR, allowing a smooth transfer of control and placing authority at the level of responsibility. This would expeditiously and efficiently allow coordination through USTRANSCOM and AMC to have strategic airlift forces and additional air-refueling forces to augment the forces already in theater.

As a colonel, how can the DIRMOBFOR get the respect needed if the AOC director, who handles the fighting forces under command of the JFACC, is a brigadier general? As a brigadier general, the COMATFOR would be on the same level as the AOC director, greatly facilitating coordination with the general/flag JTF commanders and multinational forces.

A COMATFOR would also give air mobility troops someone to put their eyes on and say, "That is our commander. That's the one looking out for our needs, both flying and nonflying." The COMATFOR would also take care of the mobility ground support troops living in the field. The esprit de corps gained by having an air mobility commander in theater should not be underestimated.


To assist the COMATFOR with air refueling and other separate JTF issues, there should be a deputy COMATFOR. Tenoso commanded the airlift forces, and Caruana commanded the air refueling forces because both were full-time jobs. The COMATFOR should be able to call on multiple deputies as needed to accomplish each mission or assigned tasks. Other personnel can be brought in from CONUS to act as deputies to support and assist the COMATFOR during deployment, employment, sustainment, and redeployment of combat forces.

Using Operation Allied Force as an example, Bishop had several deputies working different JTFs and issues. One colonel worked Joint Task Force Shining Hope, one worked operational support airlift and C-130 issues, one handled tanker operations within the AOC, and one worked airlift issues in the AOC. [57] These O-6s would fall under the command of the COMATFOR for centralized command and control.

The Air Force should reevaluate AFDD 2-6.2, Air Refueling Operations, and publish doctrine that is flexible enough to meet varying organizational constructs and different mission focus for tanker operations. For example, during the initial deployment of combat forces for a given operation, AMC would provide tankers to the supported CINC through the COMATFOR. During contingencies that involve a large combat air campaign, a deputy COMATFOR for tanker operations can represent and work for the COMATFOR during the deployment phase of the operation within the AOC. When the tanker operations shift to support combat operations and when specified by the JFACC, the COMATFOR deputy for tanker operations could assist the AOC combat planners and the JFACC in planning tanker operations to support the fighters in the AOR. The deputy would maintain a link with the COMATFOR in case there is a need for theater tanker support for airlift or other supported functions through the AMD. When fighting ceases and when specified by t he JFACC, the COMATFOR deputy would assist the COMATFOR with redeployment operations, while maintaining a link with the AOC director for continued support of AOC-planned missions. This scenario existed during Operation Allied Force. [58]

A Natural Choice for COMATFOR--The AMOCC Commander

Today, in place of the air divisions that existed prior to the 1992 reorganization, there are two air mobility operations control centers. One is located at Ramstein AB, Germany, and the other is at Hickam AFB, Hawaii. The AMOCC is the "theater's single command and control layer for theater air mobility operations external to a JTF." [59] The AMOCC does not work for the JFC, but it does work for the theater commander. In that role, the AMOCC provides centralized planning, tasking, scheduling, coordination, and C2 for assigned and attached theater airlift and air-refueling forces operating in the geographic CINC's AOR." The AMOCC handles both strategic and theater missions for a seamless operation and validates user requirements and force allocations. They also have C2 teams that are deployable to austere locations. [60] The AMOCC commander handles all strategic and theater mobility operations external to the JFC, yet the AMOCC commander is the most experienced mobility expert in the theater, and the AMOCC com mander already has a control center, tanker planners, and airlift planners controlling theater air mobility operations. Why is it limited to operations that are only external to the JFC? If the 615th and 621st Air Mobility Operations Groups (AMOG) were to downsize and combine with the AMOCC, the AMOCC commander would have a very robust control center, much like the old [322.sup.d] and 834th. This setup actually occurred during Operation Allied Force. According to Bishop, "The leadership actually recognized the AMOCC as the old [322.sup.d] by another name and under the command of USAFE and not AMC. There were a lot of pros that knew what they were doing when the AMD (AMOG personnel) and the AMOCC were combined." [61] By default, as the theater mobility expert with a robust command and control organization, the AMOCC commander would be a good candidate for the COMATFOR responsibilities for the theater.

The COMATFOR will bring back the centralized C2 for theater air mobility forces, providing effective and efficient utilization of theater air mobility assets through OPCON and TACON. With a centralized command authority established by the COMATFOR, the deputies will act as the air mobility experts to oversee JTFs or other operations yet remain under the command authority of the COMATFOR, providing air mobility to support anything, anywhere, anytime.


You may be whatever you resolve to be.

Lieutenant General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson

Tenoso, who served as the COMALF during Operation Desert Storm, and Bishop, who has served as the DIRMOBFOR for ten contingencies--most recently during Operation Allied Force-- have had a chance to test the COMALF and DIRMOBFOR positions against the elements of a major conflict. The theater air mobility infrastructure needs to bring back the role of mobility commander. There needs to be one commander of all Air Force forces with a COMATFOR, who reports to the COMAFFOR/JFACC but exercises C2 over air mobility forces. The JFACC may not always be an air mobility expert, and the theater air mobility forces need a commander to command assigned and attached forces, along with supervising strategic forces that transit the theater. Then OPCON/TACON could be transferred directly to the COMATFOR, making the operation more flexible. With command authority at the theater air mobility level, the COMATFOR will have authority to efficiently and effectively execute missions because authority will be matched with responsibili ty. As a commander, the COMATFOR can support the theater CINC or JTF commander to meet any and all assigned tasks and objectives, whether those tasks and objectives include seven concurrent JTFs/TFs or a major air war. The COMATFOR would do this throughout the deployment, employment, sustainment, and redeployment phases of an operation.

To carry out these responsibilities, the COMATFOR needs to be at least a brigadier general in order to place the COMATFOR position on the same level as the AOC director and other flag officers. By using multiple COMATFOR deputies as needed to meet desired objectives and end states, the COMATFOR would provide a centralized command and control for theater, as well as JTF operations, by directing operations from a central location, if required, such as the AOC or other suitable location. The best location is the theater AMOCC because of theater expertise and the capability for centralized planning, tasking, scheduling, coordination, and command and control for air mobility forces. The best person for the COMATFOR job is the AMOCC commander. During peacetime operations, the AMOCC commander manages strategic and theater air mobility assets. When a contingency arises, the AMOCC would continue to operate as normal but would now bring into focus the JFC's air mobility issues. This would also be in line with AFDD 2-6 to "establish standards that enable a smooth transition to contingency operations." [62] Overall centralized command and control of airpower must come from the air component commander, but nothing prevents centralized command and control of rapid global mobility and the air mobility forces in the COMATFOR.

Air Force and air mobility doctrine writers should reassess air mobility doctrine and the responsibilities and role of the DIRMOBFOR. Trying to support multiple small-scale contingencies and JTFs/TFs by coordinating missions may lead to a breakdown in coordination, causing some missions to fail as in the previous U-2 example. If the DIRMOBFOR was designated a COMATFOR, reporting to the JFACC/COMAFFOR and given OPCON/TACON, air mobility efficiencies would be gained, authority would be matched with responsibility, C2 would be streamlined, and OPCON/TACON could be transferred directly to the COMATFOR by USCINCTRANSCOM or the AMC commander. The COMATFOR would serve as a commander responsible for all air mobility operations, able to provide forces in a more efficient and effective manner and execute operations specific to MOOTW and the small-scale contingencies anticipated by the national security strategy, national military strategy, and joint publications.

Major Carter is the C-17 Mobility Forces Programmer, Plans and Programs, Headquarters United States Air Force. At the time of writing this article, he was a student at the Air Command and Staff College.


(1.) Maj Gregory M. Chase, Wings for Lift: A Guide to Theater Airlift Control, Research Report No. M-U 43122 C487w, Maxwell AFB, Alabama; Air University Press, Apr 85, 11.

(2.) AFDD 2, Organization and Employment of Aerospace Power, 28 Sep 98, 58.

(3.) Brig Gen Robert D. Bishop, Jr, 437th Airlift Wing Commander, interviewed by author, 9 Feb 00.

(4.) Betty R. Kennedy, Air Mobility En Route Structure: The Historical Perspective, 1941-1991, Scott AFB, Illinois, Headquarters Air Mobility Command Office of History, Sep 93, 1.

(5.) Herman S. Wolk, The Struggle for Air Force Independence, 1943-1947, Washington, DC, Air Force History and Museums Program, 1997, 320-321.

(6.) Kennedy, 3.

(7.) Ibid.

(8.) Anything, Anywhere, Anytime: An Illustrated History of the Military Airlift Command, 1941-1991, Scott AFB, Illinois, Headquarters Air Mobility Command Office of History, May 91, 21.

(9.) Kennedy, 5.

(10.) Kennedy, 3-6.

(11.) Kennedy, 9.

(12.) Kennedy, 11-15.

(13.) Kennedy, 16-17

(14.) Kennedy, 19-20

(15.) Kennedy, 20-21

(16.) Lt Col Richard T. Devereaux, Theater Airlift Management and Control--Should We Turn Back the Clock to Be Ready for Tomorrow? Maxwell AFB, Alabama, Air University Press, School of Advanced Airpower Studies, Thesis, Sep 94, 7.

(17.) Devereaux, 8-9.

(18.) Kennedy, 24.

(19.) Ibid.

(20.) Maj David C. Underwood, The Airlift Lessons of Vietnam--Did We Really Learn Them? Research Report No. M-U 43122 U56a, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, Air University Press, May 81, 7.

(21.) Devereaux, 26-27.

(22.) Robert Debs Heine, Jr. Dictionary of Military and Naval Quotations, Annapolis, Maryland: United States Naval Institute, 1966, 355.

(23.) AFDD 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, Sep 97, 83.

(24.) US Department of Defense, "Joint Statement on the Kosovo After Action Review," DefenseLINK, 14 Oct 99, np. [Online] Available: 8 Mar 00, b10141999_bt478-99.html.

(25.) National Security Strategy for a New Century, White House, 1999, 18.

(26.) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Military Strategy of the United States of America, Shape, Respond, Prepare Now: A Military Strategy for a New Era, 1997, 2-3.

(27.) AFDD 2-3, v.

(28.) AFDD 2, v.

(29.) AFDD 2-6, Air Mobility Operations, 25 Jun 99, vii.

(30.) AFDD 2-6, 20.

(31.) Lt Gen Edwin E. Tenoso, Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems, interviewed by author, 25 Feb 00.

(32.) Bishop, interview.

(33.) Maj Peter Hirneise, 437th Airlift Wing Executive Officer, interviewed by author, 4 Feb 00.

(34.) Lt Gen Hal Hornburg, "The Roles/Relationships of The JFACC & COMAFFOR," Lecture, Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, 14 Feb 00.

(35.) AFDD 2, 20-21.

(36.) Tenoso.

(37.) Tenoso.

(38.) AFDD 1, 54.

(39.) Director of Mobility Forces "DIRMOBFOR" Handbook, Fort Dix, New Jersey, Air Mobility Command, Air Mobility Warfare Center, 9th Ed, Sep 98, 25.

(40.) Maj Gregory M. Chase, Wings for Lift: A Guide to Theater Airlift Control, Research Report No. M-U 43122 C487w, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, Air University Press, Apr 85, 15; Maj John C. Millander, Improving C2 of Strategic Airlift Forces in Contingencies, Research Report No. M-U 41662 M645I, Newport, Rhode Island, Naval War College, 13 Jun 97, 4.

(41.) Director of Mobility Forces, 25.

(42.) AFDD 2-6, 20.

(43.) Chase, 11.

(44.) Hirnese.

(45.) Bishop interview.

(46.) Developed by Brig Gen Bishop's DIRMOBFORB action officers.

(47.) AFM 2-50, Multi-Service Doctrine for Air Movement Operations, Apr 92, 2:6.

(48.) Devereaux, 38.

(49.) AFDD 2, 33.

(50.) Bishop interview.

(51.) Maj John P. Burns, Air Command and Staff College student, interviewed by author, 8 Feb 00.

(52.) Millander, 10.

(53.) Tenoso.

(54.) Hirneise.

(55.) Tenoso.

(56.) Brig Gen Rod Bishop, Director of Mobility Forces (DIRMOBFOR) for EUCOM Lessons Learned, JTF (Joint Task Force) Noble Anvil, 23 Mar 99-7 Jul 99, 437th Airlift Wing Commander, Charleston AFB, South Carolina.

(57.) Ibid.

(58.) Ibid.

(59.) AFDD 2-6, 17.

(60.) Ibid.

(61.) Bishop.

(62.) AFDD 2-6, 15.
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Publication:Air Force Journal of Logistics
Date:Sep 22, 2000
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