Multi-Domain Command and Control: The Air Force Perspective with Brigadier General B. Chance Saltzman (Part 2 of 2)

This is the second of a two part interview with BGen Saltzman. The first installment can be found here.


OTH: Some have expressed concern about services working towards stovepipe capabilities within the service that doesn’t necessarily bear fruit for the joint fight. Do you envision these working groups and the interagency construct beginning to break this down or do you foresee remaining concern we’ll have to work through regardless of the MDO effort.

GS: I appreciate the concern, and I think it’s always a good question to ask so we never get complacent in trying to pay attention to those things because if we are not careful, we will be the Air Force folks doing Air Force things forgetting about the joint aspects of it. So I think it’s a good reminder to continuously ask those questions. But here is what I’ll explain also, from working in detail on this. This is complicated business and where the joint warfighter really gains value is when services bring capability that’s ready to go and is powerful. Services are designed to do the organizing, training and equipping functions, so I’m particularly primed to think about MDC2 from the those three perspectives. How do we need to organize as an Air Force to provide multi-domain capabilities? Second, how do we train our forces so they can provide multi-domain capability? Finally, how are we equipping our forces so they can do it? That’s a service responsibility and we have to be true to that responsibility rather than saying “everything’s about joint, so let’s start at joint and work backwards”. That slows down the process.

Nevertheless, when you build Air Force capability you know it’s going to be in a joint war fight so you have to do this integration, you have to work it out at the design phase so you are building in those hooks so that it can seamlessly come together. But if you just say I’m going to run a joint program by the Joint Staff, with one big command and control system for everybody, it doesn’t get the most out of what each individual service brings to bear with their expertise in their domain. That way, you get a substandard product because it has too many compromises and not enough specialization relative to those domains. It’s a balancing act to make sure you get it properly integrated.

I’m pretty comfortable attacking this from a service standpoint and then putting the hooks in so I don’t miss anything from a joint perspective. And that’s what I feel like I’ve tried to build from a structural standpoint. But this can’t be really designed, in my personal opinion, as a joint project because you get too many compromises that water it down and make it less effective in your own domain. We are not a unified defense service for good reason. There are good reasons to have air experts, naval experts, and ground experts. Separate services build culture and competency in their domain, then organize their thoughts and capabilities, and then bring that to the joint fight. There is goodness in that. We can’t do that in a vacuum, but we also don’t just want to over-aggregate everything into one big joint force, because you will lose some of those capabilities when you start to abandon the service culture.

OTH: The next question may be a bit pre-mature since the ECCT just stood up, but in your view what would be the 3 top systems or programs that would be a necessity to enable MDO or enable MDC2 constructs?

GS: It is definitely premature to speak to specific systems, but what I can do is give you more general answers on types of technology that we think are going to be key enablers. The first one is some sort of cloud-based data structure. Separating data out from the sensors that collect it, from the algorithms that process it, from the software and hardware that manage it, is essential. Data should be data and it should live somewhere where any number of relevant people have access to it in real time. The idea of cloud computing opens that up. Once you put your data in one available cloud now you can start applying big data analytics, you can apply machine-to-machine processing so you can start to accelerate your situational awareness and operational decision making. So I think one general category of technology we’ll pursue is putting that data into a cloud-based structure for storage and processing. Other government agencies have started this and found some real advantages to it.

The second broad technology is what I call software applications that help decision makers to make faster decisions. So if you want to call that decision support software, ok. We’ll have so much access to data, how will the decision makers know what is relevant versus what’s not relevant. How is it going to be identified to the decision maker in a timely way? How will they know the menu of options or what the 2nd and 3rd order effects will be? Those are all the things that slow down decision making, and if we can leverage technology, machine-to-machine interfaces, artificial intelligence, better visualization tools, and similar things that have seen in the commercial sector that can queue up choices and decision support to the right decision makers. These capabilities will be very helpful to us as we try to compress that OODA loop. It’s also important to not just think of this as the operational commander that makes decisions. The guy at the CAOC that needs to build the tanker support plan, they are a decision maker. Guys building the Airspace Control Plan also. There are folks doing AFFOR business, battle managers in the back of an E-3, or space guys making Space Situational Awareness tasking decisions. There are a myriad of decisions to be made in a MDC2, it’s not just about helping the 3-star making rapid decisions. Everyone in the cycle needs to be making rapid decisions, so that decision support software is an important technology.

The third basic technology we know we have to pursue is force direction, so we’ll need situational awareness from big data analytics, we’ll have to make rapid operational decisions, using machines to help us in a decision support role and then we’ll have to direct forces. Our adversaries are going to attempt to deny us that capability, and so we’ll need assured communications in a denied environment. That’s everything from protected datalinks, to satellite communications, to broadcasts to point-to-point communications. It is all the RF signatures that take place. Those communications need to be assured, we’ll have to come up with new waveforms, new security standards to protect the data, low probability of intercept. All of that is going to have to be brought to bear, and that will take some new technologies and new innovations so we can be sure we can do that in a highly contested environment. Those are the 3 broad areas we are focusing on.

OTH: What realignments, or other explicit actions does the Air Force need to take to further an MDO or MDC2 from concept to reality. Would a Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) still work? Or would you need a multi-domain CAOC that has not just an air component but also perhaps portions of Space and Cyber components. Will we need an evolution or revolution in our frameworks?

GS: Good question, but again I won’t have a definite answer – yet – but, I can provide a peek under the tent to see what direction we are going. We’ll at least start the debate on what the decision space may be; we are still defined in an industrial age model in terms of our facilities, our processes, and our structures. It’s very linear, it’s centered on the commander, and it’s very nodal-based with fixed battle rhythms. There needs to be a far more networked capability, and that goes back to big data and being able to communicate as transparent as possible between the nodes. More specific to your point, the Air Force needs to decide at what point we integrate our MDO capabilities.

If we have the luxury to only worry about one domain, let’s say the navy in the maritime domain, and you’ll use surface, subsurface and aviation assets all packaged in the Carrier Strike Group to provide a force to a JFC for the purpose of Maritime Domain Control. If you think of the way the Air Force does it, we send an air component to the Joint Force Commander (JFC) then we send our space and cyber guys to US Strategic Command. Then the assumption is once they are in the joint force, the supporting/supported relationship will be written so that those forces are integrated. So we defer integration to the combatant commanders. Is that how we want to do it? Do we want to integrate air, space, cyber units into task forces? The task force can train together, integrate together, and develop concepts and equipment as a team. We can then present that Task Force to a JFC, call it generically “airpower,” or do we like the construct we have? The airmen on either side of the command structure are given the tools so they can develop collaborative planning. There isn’t a clear answer at this point, we’ll have to debate it, and do table top exercises to weigh the pros and cons of any one of those kinds of structures. That’s the purpose of organizing our thoughts, so those higher up in the pay scale can make those decisions.

OTH: Follow-up question: what’s your gut feeling; do you think the MAJCOM or Functional Combatant Commander levels are receptive to radical departures of the current construct?

GS: No one is ever receptive to radical departures. That’s the nature of human beings. Also, they have good reason not to be. We are currently in a war. We can’t afford to add risk in current operations. The overriding concern will not be over turfs, honestly. I engage with these 4 star commanders pretty routinely, and I’m always impressed. Service or command parochialism is not present. It’s risk to the ongoing mission that’s the overriding consideration. I’ve been very pleased at that level of discourse.

If there is a way to smartly organize for future combat operations without inducing risk in current ops, our senior leadership wants to hear it, because they know warfare 15 years from now will not look like today. If we don’t adapt, we won’t be ready for it. I think everyone out there should be proud that the current senior leadership is far more concerned with smart ways to adapt while minimizing risk to the ongoing fight than they are about turf battles. It just doesn’t come up. I’m hopeful that as we lay out options and find ways to adapt and progress to the future mission without creating risk in current ops, that the leadership will support it and make decision and move on.

OTH: Thank you. We appreciate your time today as we look deeper into how the services see this Multi-Domain concept advancing.

GS: Absolutely, thank you.

Brigadier General B. Chance “Salty” Saltzman serves as the Director of Future Operations, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Headquarters U.S Air Force, Washington, D.C. The directorate provides senior Air Force leaders and Air Force major commands vision, expertise and staff support to fully integrate and synchronize air, space and cyberspace capabilities across the spectrum of conflict.

This interview was conducted by Brandon Davenport, Senior Editor, and Sean Atkins, Editor-in-Chief of Over the Horizon, on March 10th, 2016.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

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