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Research Questions

  1. What demands will future conflicts place on expeditionary wings?
  2. What alternative wing C2 constructs are feasible for expeditionary MAF forces, some potentially disaggregated, in forward areas under threat of missile attack?
  3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of these alternative constructs?

The future command and control (C2) structure of the United States Air Force (USAF) forces must be designed to withstand and cope with attacks on U.S. capabilities and to effectively adapt to a rapidly changing battle space. A future conflict with Russia or China is likely to involve precision missile attacks on airfields, attacks on command nodes, cyberattacks, and degradations to communications systems. The implications are far reaching. They threaten the long-standing USAF principle and practice of highly centralized C2. Determining how to adapt effectively to major disruptions in communications and chains of command is, thus, a crucial consideration for the USAF going forward.

To help the USAF envision how forces should be organized to prepare for such conditions, the authors identify the demands that the USAF's emerging agility concepts will place on expeditionary wings; develop alternative wing C2 constructs for expeditionary Mobility Air Force (MAF) forces — some potentially disaggregated — in forward areas under threat of missile attack; and provide a qualitative assessment of the alternative constructs.

Key Findings

  • USAF forces operating in forward areas will have to develop C2 capabilities designed to withstand attacks and to effectively adapt to a rapidly changing battlespace.
  • The physical and cyber vulnerabilities of command nodes and networks will need to be accounted for.
  • USAF forces must be designed to retain effective C2 in view of disruptions to communications and dispersals of forces.
  • A modular approach for MAF C2 force elements provides the most flexibility, given the wide scope of the global operations that MAF forces must perform.
  • New operating procedures for adaptive operations need to be standardized USAF-wide in order to maximize both force survivability and mission effectiveness.

Recommendations

  • For future high-end fights, the MAF should develop a wing-level capability for C2 of independent MAF forces operating from multiple locations.
  • MAF C2 force elements should be prepared to temporarily assume limited operational planning functions of higher headquarters.
  • MAF C2 forces should be organized, trained, and equipped to reflect new demands in areas such as operational planning, logistics, operational deception, and recovery.
  • The MAF should determine whether the communications capabilities of the command element are suited to future operating environments.
  • The MAF should develop a modular approach to C2 force elements.
  • The USAF should consider mechanisms to ensure integration of agility concepts and training across all major commands.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Air Mobility Command (AMC) and conducted within the Force Modernization and Employment Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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