Cover: Running the Joint

Running the Joint

Air Force Efforts to Build a Joint Task Force Headquarters

Published Jul 13, 2021

by Caitlin Lee, Stephen Webber, Alice Shih, Michael Spirtas


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Research Questions

  1. What inroads had 9 AF made toward being prepared to carry out a JTF HQ mission before it was integrated into 15 AF?
  2. Is the 15 AF presently in a position to carry out a JTF HQ mission if called on to do so?
  3. What would the USAF need to do to better prepare its forces in general, and the 15 AF in particular, to carry out a JTF HQ mission?

In 2016 Gen David Goldfein, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, called on the 9th Air Force (9 AF) to develop the capability to serve as a Joint Task Force Headquarters (JTF HQ), with the expectation that other numbered air forces would eventually develop similar capability. In August 2020, the 9 AF and 12th Air Force direct-reporting units and wings were integrated to form the 15th Air Force (15 AF), which now continues to carry out the mandate to develop a JTF HQ capability.

In this report, the authors examine the U.S. Air Force's (USAF's) efforts to develop a joint task force capability that maximizes airpower's contribution to joint warfighting—one that has the organization, training, and equipment required to effectively carry out a JTF HQ mission when called on to do so.

The authors conducted literature reviews, engaged in discussions with subject-matter experts, attended staff exercises, and generated case studies of operations. They also examined a data set of 88 JTF HQs activated between 1990 and 2017 to gain insight into the causes and conditions that typically result in JTF HQ formation and to understand the factors that shape JTF HQ mission sets, selection processes, and their duration.

The authors' findings and recommendations reflect research conducted prior to 9 AF's integration into the new 15 AF, but they remain relevant to 15 AF personnel and others interested in understanding the challenges and opportunities associated with USAF efforts to stand up a JTF HQ.

Key Findings

  • The USAF's JTF HQ mission scope is not well defined.
  • The plurality of USAF Joint Task Forces (JTFs) between 1990 and 2017 involved humanitarian relief/noncombatant evacuation operations missions, which often require JTF HQs and draw on USAF strengths.
  • Units selected to serve as a JTF core are most often aligned with a combatant command.
  • Joint integration and collaboration are critical to JTF HQ success.
  • There is tension between the USAF's JTF HQ construct and its emerging force presentation model.
  • The USAF contributes to the joint command and control (C2) at the component level and is attempting to play a larger role.
  • USAF resourcing decisions constrain the JTF HQ initiative.


  • Achieve formal agreement on the JTF HQ mission and function.
  • Focus on humanitarian relief/noncombatant evacuation operations mission sets before considering mission set expansion.
  • Affiliate the JTF HQ with a geographic combatant command.
  • Reconsider whether worldwide deployability is an appropriate goal.
  • Increase training opportunities in collaboration with military and civilian partners.
  • Acknowledge and reconcile the JTF HQ's relative C2 priorities.
  • Increase JTF HQ staff over 9 AF staffing levels.
  • Choose a transparent force generation cycle that balances USAF JTF HQ limitations with the needs of the joint force.
  • Clarify Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve funding and authorities to meet the JTF HQ mission.
  • Engage in long-range planning to align Guard and Reserve mobilization with JTF HQ force presentation needs.
  • Make a unique contribution to joint command.
  • If leading JTF HQs is critical, promote such leadership in USAF culture.
  • Ensure that 15 AF is an attractive assignment to airmen and staff.
  • Prioritize funding for the JTF HQ effort.
  • Follow Chief of Staff of the Air Force guidance to establish a program of record for the JTF HQ capability.
  • Enhance advocacy for JTF HQ funding.

Research conducted by

This research was funded by the U.S. Air Force and conducted within the Force Modernization and Employment Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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