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Research Questions

  1. What should the decision process be for ground maneuver, and where should command authority lie?
  2. What should the process be for intra-theater movement of combat support?
  3. What organizational changes might be needed to facilitate effective maneuver?
  4. What is the minimal information needed for situational awareness of the ground to support maneuver?
  5. Where would that information be stored, how would it be disseminated, and to whom?
  6. In times of degraded communications, how should information be prioritized, and by what process?

Faced with a renewed emphasis on a near-peer fight, and after decades of post–Cold War military operations that barely threatened combat support, the United States is refocusing its attention on the stresses presented by a high-end fight, specifically moving the location of the ground support for air operations to a secure positional advantage against an adversary, referred to in this report as maneuver, and operations while under persistent multi-domain attack.

In this report, the authors propose robust and resilient concepts for combat support command and control under this situation. The main challenges they address are the U.S. Air Force's ability to maneuver its ground posture in response to adversary threats and ability to maintain an acceptable level of combat support when communications capabilities are degraded or denied.

The discussion and recommendations in this report encompass an enterprisewide scope (not catered to specific geographic combatant commands) but are sensitive to the unique circumstances of each theater. Within the range of combat support, the authors concentrate on issues of fueling and arming aircraft, and maintenance and civil engineering support. Solutions focus on the near-term time horizon for supporting the current force structure, not potential next-generation weapon systems or novel concepts of operations. This near-term focus does not preclude prudently rethinking maintenance and civil engineering requirements for future combat systems and supporting equipment where appropriate.

Key Findings

The authors report four key findings related to decisionmaking

  • Combat support has no unified command and control mechanisms at the operational level.
  • The need for the coordinated actions of many actors hinders the speed of combat support for maneuver.
  • When issuing joint orders for maneuver of forces, the U.S. Air Force is hampered by its reliance on the air tasking order for issuing orders.
  • The ability to adjust command and control of logistics when under persistent multi-domain attack is impeded by the lack of doctrine, policy, planning, and procedures for distributed command and control and push logistics.

The authors report two key findings related to situational awareness

  • The U.S. Air Force has not clearly defined the minimal information needed to maintain situational awareness for maneuver.
  • The U.S. Air Force lacks a common operating picture for combat support.

The authors report three key findings related to coordination between operations and combat support

  • The reliance on staff rather than operational units to control logistics hinders execution.
  • The combat support teams in Air Operations Centers are understaffed.
  • The classification of some war plans impedes planning by the logistics community.

The authors report four key findings related to the robustness and resiliency of systems and processes

  • Functional fragmentation provides some robustness and resiliency to combat support operations.
  • The U.S. Air Force has limited deployable communications capabilities and capacity.
  • The reliance on enterprise coordination makes operations fragile in a communications-degraded environment.
  • The U.S. Air Force lacks policy for the prioritization of combat support information in a degraded data rate environment.


  • Establish processes and support with appropriate organizational changes within the theater to issue a fragmentary order (FRAGORD) for logistics. To do this, consider either (1) establishing, within the Air Operations Center, two directorates—an Air Operations Directorate, which would replicate the AOC as it is currently constituted, and an Airfield Operations Directorate, whose mission would be to create a logistics FRAGORD and direct maneuver—or (2) establishing (under the commander, U.S. Air Force forces) a commander under whom a logistics FRAGORD would be issued.
  • Define doctrinal means by which command and control can devolve to the base level.
  • Define minimal essential information for locations, both occupied and not occupied by the U.S. Air Force, for situational awareness to support decisionmaking for maneuver.
  • Ensure that airmen have access to the war planning information that they need to perform the logistics planning.
  • Ensure multiple enterprisewide robust communications pathways for logistics and exercise their use.
  • Define and follow procedures for backing up critical logistics data locally.
  • Develop and exercise procedures for the command and control of push logistics.
  • Establish the ability to provide a 24-hour, seven-days per week operational support cell within the U.S. Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center to support the warfighter during wartime.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Air Force and conducted within the Resource Management Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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