Expeditionary Airborne Battlespace Command and Control

By Dolson, Paul | Joint Force Quarterly, July 2005 | Go to article overview

Expeditionary Airborne Battlespace Command and Control


Dolson, Paul, Joint Force Quarterly


The value of information exists in time since information most often describes fleeting conditions. Most information grows stale with time, valuable one moment but irrelevant or even misleading the next.--Marine Corps Doctrine Publication 6

Throughout history, combatants have sought an advantage over their adversaries in large part by achieving some degree of information superiority. They have sought greater knowledge of enemy troop dispositions, preparedness, intentions, and weapons, all the while concealing similar information about themselves. Always, the advantage such knowledge afforded was ephemeral; commanders had to act rapidly, while the information was still relevant and the advantage still existed. Always, speed of command and action has been critical to a military's ability to seize and maintain the advantage. And always, exploiting such an advantage has required a force capable of moving with enough speed, agility, surprise, and lethality to create a rapidly deteriorating situation with which an adversary could not cope--the essence of maneuver warfare.

Today, the U.S. military enjoys a tremendous advantage in terms of rapid and reliable communications technology as well as in advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. Yet unlike many of the technological developments exploited in past wars, developed largely by or for the military, today's advances are predominantly the result of commercial enterprise and are available to virtually anyone with the resources to purchase them and the wherewithal to use them. As a result, the advantage afforded U.S. forces by information superiority will become even more fleeting. That fact, particularly in light of the quicker, lighter, more mobile, and more lethal forces envisioned by Joint Vision 2020 and the vision of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for joint operational concepts, leaves little doubt that speed of command will become increasingly important in future conflicts.

This article suggests that within its command and control ([C.sup.2]) doctrinal precepts and architecture, both current and proposed, the Air Force will find it difficult to integrate seamlessly within and become an indigenous part of a transformed future dominant maneuver force. Furthermore, it suggests that forward air control--commanding from the front rather than the rear--is an enduring principle of airpower. The airborne battlefield command and control center (ABCCC) was more than a flying radio relay platform or a long loiter forward air controller (FAC); it was a forward air command element engaging in maneuver warfare.

Background

As they get further and further away from a war they have taken part in, all men have a tendency to make it more as they wish it had been rather than how it really was.

--Ernest Hemingway

The ABCCC was originally developed in the 1960s during the Southeast Asia conflict. The requirement for such a capability resulted from the unique characteristics of the counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare operations encountered in Southeast Asia. According to one declassified report, "Control of ground areas fluctuated; clear-cut battle lines were usually nonexistent; [and] air operations were not conducted solely in South Vietnam." Flexibility and the ability to make quick command decisions to respond to rapidly changing tactical situations were key elements of the ABCCC concept of operations. Continued the report, "The heart and soul of the air effort in Laos and the reason for any success achieved was largely attributable to the forward air control team consisting of an ABCCC and FAC." The Vietnam experience demonstrated the value added by the ABCCC's ability to provide more responsive and reliable close air support (CAS) to ground forces. More importantly, it also demonstrated how greater speed of command can contribute to the efficacy of airpower by identifying and exploiting fleeting opportunities when they appear on the battlefield. …

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