«5b. GRANT NUMBER Joint Doctrine for Unmanned Aircraft Systems: The Air Force and the Army Hold the Key to Success 5c. PROGRAM ELEMENT NUMBER 6. ...»
The services‟ differences over command and control of unmanned aircraft systems are largely centered on maximizing either effectiveness or efficiency. In counterinsurgency operations, the Air Force model for maximizing efficiency through centralized C2 has not met ground commanders‟ expectations for effectiveness. In this case, doctrinal concerns must yield to operational experience. As Dr. Milan Vego notes, “centralized C2 maximizes efficiency” and allows the commander to “shift the sector of main effort quickly,” whereas decentralized C2 is much more flexible and allows forces at a lower level to take the initiative based on changing conditions.16 Both approaches have merits, but the highlyadaptive and multi-faceted nature of an insurgency requires C2 doctrine that is equally adaptive and multi-faceted. In COIN operations, and especially in the diverse and tribal nature of Afghanistan, there is no “main effort” for centrally controlled air operations to support. Instead, effectiveness depends on ground forces taking the initiative: separating the insurgents from the people, and engaging with the population to establish trust, confidence, and credibility requires time and a personal touch.
With the population as the focus, and an enemy that is flexible, adaptable, and not readily identifiable, counterinsurgency operations are not necessarily efficient. At the lower end of the range of military operations, effectiveness is measured locally and the ISR collected from unmanned aircraft systems is only part of the equation; it must be fused realtime with human intelligence from ground forces. The fact that battalion- and brigade-level forces submitted over 80 percent of UAS collection requests in Operation Iraqi Freedom and almost 100 percent in Operation Enduring Freedom shows that UASs are mainly supporting
16. Milan N. Vego, Joint Operational Warfare: Theory and Practice (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval War College, 2009), 19, 21.
ground commanders.17 This is a different perspective from a conventional conflict where centralization and theater-wide unity of command would be essential to effective and efficient air operations.
The Air Force‟s proposal to assume executive agency for all medium- and highaltitude UASs in March 2007 was an attempt to establish unity of command and increase UAS efficiencies. Then Air Force Chief of Staff General Michael Moseley‟s rationale to streamline acquisition, employment, and overall mission effectiveness did not resonate with the other service chiefs, who agreed that effective COIN operations require a more decentralized approach.18 The Army‟s position, as relayed to the House Armed Services Committee, was that a single-service approach to UAS employment would infringe on the effectiveness of UASs in combat.19 The Air Force‟s centralized approach may result in a more efficient allocation of limited UAS assets, but that efficiency comes at the cost of combat effectiveness. The Army‟s answer to regain effectiveness has been to decentralize command and control for its unmanned aircraft systems. Ground commanders rely on UASs to provide timely, relevant, and useful intelligence without the lengthy processing and dissemination associated with the Air Force‟s centrally controlled, theater-wide assets. The Army‟s Training and Doctrine Command noted that the joint (CAOC) solution to meeting the high demand of these lowdensity assets has been ineffective, arguing against relying on the JFACC for UAS coverage because “when divisions and BCTs [brigade combat teams] do receive joint UAS coverage
17. Downs, “Rethinking the Approach to Counterinsurgency,” 70.
18. AF News, “Officials Discuss Executive Agency for UAVs,” AF News, 15 April 2007, www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123048908 (accessed 24 March 2010).
19. Michael Sirak, “Army, Marine Corps and Navy Voice Opposition to Air Force UAV Proposal,” Defense Daily, 20 April 2007, http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed 24 February 2010).
based on an allocation model, the support is frequently cut short.”20 This complaint is the result of UAS missions that are prioritized and scheduled days in advance under a centrally managed air tasking order, and are at the mercy of shifting priorities within the theater.
The nature of today‟s fight, and the flexibility UASs provide directly to ground forces, make it necessary to rethink command and control doctrine for UASs. Current practices seem to make unity of command synonymous with centralized C2, which does not have to be the case. Air Force guidance suggests combined air operations centers be manned primarily by airmen, but encourages liaison officers from other services during exercises and contingency operations. This guidance also indicates that ATO coordinators should have “extensive bomber or fighter experience.”21 This is not to say the CAOC is manned exclusively by Air Force personnel, however, the CAOC‟s primary decision-making elements have an Air Force perspective that may not adequately reflect the needs of forces on the ground. Incorporating more recent ideas for effective COIN operations would drive changes to this guidance, such as giving Army division-level commanders a greater voice in the CAOC decision-making process.
Joint UAS doctrine should include both services‟ perspectives. The Army understands that success in counterinsurgency operations depends on operational activity at the division-level or below. Similarly, the Air Force has the ability and expertise to command and control UASs theater-wide. Integrating both perspectives at the theater-level would require a greater degree of jointness within the CAOC, a better understanding of ground forces‟ needs and priorities, and a significant decrease in service parochialism. The Army would have to give up local autonomy and embrace joint interdependence, which,
20. Kappenman, “Army Unmanned Aircraft Systems,” 20.
21. U.S. Air Force, Operational Procedures – Air and Space Operations Center, AFI 13-1AOC Volume 3 (Washington, DC: Department of the Air Force, 1 August 2005), 9, 11.
according to Army Field Manual 1, “allows each Service to divest itself of redundant functions... achieves greater efficiency in all areas of expertise... [and] allows the other Services to achieve greater efficiencies in their respective domains.”22 The Air Force would also have to seek greater interdependence and embrace its role as a supporting function for the Army‟s division-level ISR requirements.
Service doctrine is founded on historic examples and lessons. Advocates of the centralized command and control approach to airpower, which includes UASs, use the Battle at Kasserine Pass during World War II as an example of why decentralized command and control does not work. In this battle, decentralized command and control of air assets meant ground commanders could not summon more air support than they had been assigned. As a result, some Allied aircraft were unable to join the fight when and where they were needed most—against German aircraft—which dealt a major blow to Allied forces. In the end, British Air Marshall Arthur Coningham noted “control must be centralized... and...
exercised through Air Force channels... and not dispersed in penny packets.”23 This doctrinal concept was reflected in a 1943 War Department Field Manual which stated, “The inherent flexibility of airpower is its greatest asset... [and] control must be exercised through the air force commander... to deliver a decisive blow.”24 This historic example builds a powerful case by analogy for centralized C2 for UASs, but misses one important distinction: the context of the objective. In the Battle at Kasserine Pass, the objective was to gain air superiority and destroy large, massed armies. This objective was perfectly suited to centralized C2 and unity of command over air forces.
22. U.S. Army, The Army, FM 1 (Washington, DC: Headquarters Department of the Army, June 2005), 3-11.
23. Rebecca Grant, “Up from Kasserine Pass,” Air Force Magazine, September 2007, 76.
24. U.S. War Department, Command and Employment of Air Power, War Department Field Manual 100-20 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 21 July 1943), 4.
However, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the analogy is less valid because coalition forces enjoy air superiority and the nature of the mission and targets are completely different. General McChrystal‟s emphasis on securing the population has highlighted the critical role of UASs and ISR, and has placed a greater burden on ground forces to have a “clear, nuanced, empathetic appreciation of the... nature of the conflict.”25 In a COIN environment, ground forces also have the best perspective and understanding of ISR requirements. Unfortunately, highly centralized UAS command and control processes do not meet the ground forces‟ needs.
Unmanned aircraft have driven few changes to the Air Force‟s centralized command and control doctrine, but have revolutionized employment considerations for high-demand, low-density assets. In 2003 the Air Force introduced the concept of remote split operations (RSO), which allows pilots to fly UASs from stateside locations while smaller in-theater teams control takeoffs and landings. Remote split operations allows over 85 percent of Air Force UAS operators to provide daily, direct support to the war, rather than focusing on training, maintaining currency, or preparing for deployments.26 Likewise, approximately 85 percent of Air Force UASs remain in theater supporting the GWOT, with the remainder stateside for training.27 This concept, coupled with sensor technologies that provide multiple video streams to multiple ground units, delivers increased capability and capacity to troops on the ground.
25. Eliot Cohen et al., "Principles, Imperatives, and Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency," Military Review 86, no. 2 (March-April 2006): 50.
26. Megan Orton, "General Underscores Commitment to Fielding Unmanned Aerial Systems," American Forces Press Service, 14 January 2009, http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=52673 (accessed 24 March 2010).
27. Air Force Association, “Air Force vs. Army Concepts for UAV Employment,” Air Force Association, http://www.afa.org/grl/UAV_CONOPS.pdf (accessed 4 April 2010).
The Army‟s concept for employing its UASs follows the decentralized C2 approach.
Deployed units have “organic” UASs that they command, control, and operate locally, which supports the Army‟s perspective of UASs as force multipliers. Assigning UASs organically results in approximately one-third of the Army‟s unmanned aircraft systems deployed at a time, with the remaining two-thirds of available assets out of the fight as they train, return from, or prepare for deployment.28 The justification for this organic concept is that irregular warfare requires a degree of unit cohesion and situational awareness not possible with remote support. However, there are significant tradeoffs for this concept, and in light of the current demand for UAS capability, allocating UASs to units in this way is becoming an increasingly unsustainable practice.
Remote split operations are more effective than organic operations. The concept offers flexibility and adaptability not possible with either in-theater, organic UAS operations or manned aircraft. Flying UASs from beyond line-of-sight provides the flexibility to adjust operations as the enemy or environment changes. For example, cancelling UAS missions in Iraq because of sandstorms, weather, or other local concerns would not leave UAS crews idle if they were operating with remote split operations. Instead, those crews could surge to support missions in Afghanistan or other parts of Iraq.29 Another benefit of RSO is the potential for synergy within an area of operations. The Army‟s restricted operating zones are effective at cordoning off maneuver space, but result in decreased coverage for the unit‟s organic UASs. Because the JFACC lacks positive control within the restricted operating
28. Institute of Land Warfare, U.S. Army Aviation: Balancing Current and Future Demands, Torchbearer National Security Report (Arlington, VA: Association of the United States Army, January 2008), 5.
29. Sandra Erwin, “Air Force to Army: There Are Better Ways to Deploy Surveillance Aircraft,” National Defense Magazine, January 2010, http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/ (accessed 4 April 2010).
zones, other UASs are restricted from entering the airspace, and assigned UASs are restricted from leaving to assist elsewhere.30 New sensor technologies also improve unmanned aircraft systems‟ effectiveness, especially when combined with remote operations. The latest advances in “wide area airborne surveillance” allow one UAS to collect up to ten video transmissions, sending them to ten different users on the ground. Future iterations of this technology, dubbed Gorgon Stare, will increase to as many as 65 video streams per UAS by 2014.31 Being able to send multiple views of an area to multiple ground units could negate the need for each unit to have its own ISR source. These advanced technologies on theater-level UASs will provide more coverage to more users than individual units with organic UAS assets. These technologies also have the benefit of sharing sensor feeds with units and intelligence cells outside the theater or area of operations, thus creating a more comprehensive intelligence picture.
Remote split operations are also more efficient than organic operations. The Air Force is able to put over 85 percent of its operators and aircraft to work for ground commanders. Even with 85 percent utilization rates, the Air Force‟s remote split operations minimizes the in-theater footprint relative to the Army model. The Air Force‟s launch and recovery element and routine maintenance are in-theater, while primary operations are conducted stateside. The Army, on the other hand, uses only one-third of its operators and aircraft at a time in direct support of the GWOT and must deploy that units‟ entire UAS control and support function each time. Inefficiencies in employing UASs and operators exacerbate the theater-wide shortages associated with high-demand, low-density UASs.
30. Burdine, “The Army's „Organic‟ Unmanned Aircraft Systems,” 95.
31. Lolita C. Baldor, “US to Expand Eyes in the Sky Over Afghanistan,” Associated Press Worldstream, 17 December 2009, http://www.lexisnexis.com/ (accessed 2 April 2010).