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Research Question

  1. What can be done to enhance the ability of the airfield operations (AO) career fields to respond to the needs created by the DFE concept and the USAF implementation of ACE?

Airfield operations (AO) officer and enlisted career fields provide air traffic control; airfield management; and radar, airfield, and weather systems services for the U.S. Air Force (USAF), in-garrison and deployed, during peacetime and across the competition continuum. The objective of this project is to identify ways to enhance the ability of the AO career fields to respond to the needs created by the Dynamic Force Employment (DFE) concept and the USAF implementation of Agile Combat Employment (ACE).

The research team on this project used three research streams. A review of USAF and joint documents related to the AO career fields provided background for AO doctrine and missions. Interviews, informal discussions, and other interactions with a variety of subject-matter experts and key stakeholders illuminated current challenges for accomplishing AO missions and highlighted the potential impact of new demands on AO that could result from DFE and ACE approaches. Finally, using AO personnel data and current approaches to ACE concepts, R-based tools were developed to estimate and visualize potential AO demands and available supply that were used to evaluate the ability of AO personnel to meet future demands.

Key Findings

Analyzing the supply and demand for AO capabilities is necessary but currently difficult

  • Viewing AO capabilities through supply and demand lenses can help the AO community to organize, train, and equip to satisfy expected mission demand.
  • Even if all AO demands were well understood, there could be challenges in satisfying them. The USAF has four sources of airfield operations expertise—Operational Support Squadrons, contingency response groups, the 53rd Air Traffic Control Squadron, and ten Air National Guard air traffic control squadrons. The relationships among these organizations are not well understood, nor is it clear how their services are requested and provided.
  • AO equipment is outdated and may not be able to meet the requirements for hub-and-spoke operations as envisioned by ACE concepts of operations.

New approaches are required for the management of AO resources

  • New approaches to managing personnel resources are needed.
  • The Air Force Force Generation (AFFORGEN) model may provide an opportunity to posture AO capabilities from all AO sources to satisfy emerging DFE and ACE requirements.


  • Designate a champion to monitor overall demand for AO capability.
  • Develop analytic tools and capability to estimate and visualize potential AO demands and available AO supply.
  • Identify decision authority to determine the priority for filling AO capability needs.
  • Align active-duty AO units with Air National Guard air traffic control units to make more efficient use of existing equipment, and coordinate with the Air Force Flight Standards Agency to procure common equipment across services.
  • Consider establishing active-associate AO units at high-priority locations in the continental United States.
  • Fit the AO community into the AFFORGEN model as a capability.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Headquarters U.S. Air Force (USAF), and conducted within the Workforce, Development, and Health Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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