The Air Force is on the cusp of completing a 16-month study that could serve as a blueprint for how the service will operate in the 2030s and seamlessly coordinate between air, cyber and space.

All of the military services are re-organizing to better prepare multi-domain battle, which involves seamless coordination of effects and operations across the five domains of warfare.

Multi-domain command and control, known as MDC2, has been a top priority for Air Force chief of staff Gen. David Goldfein since his confirmation hearing in June 2016. The Air Force for the last 16 months has been working a highly anticipated study on the subject.

In fact, the team has nearly completed the multi-domain command and control (MDC2) study and will brief the Air Force’s senior leaders Nov. 27, Brig. Gen. Chance Saltzman, director of current operations and the lead on the project, said during a breakfast hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies Nov. 17.

Why the change?

Many military leaders have stressed that changes in organization, concepts and doctrine are due to the perceived threat environment of the future. The Air Force’s pursuit of MDC2 is no different.

While the Air Force has been conducting operations in multiple domains for years, the threat picture in 2030 — to include anti-access area denial, anti-satellite weapons, directed energy weapons, computer network attack — is necessitating this change. Moreover, future battlefields will include urban, multi-regional, multi-domain, multi-component, joint, multi-national and will unfold at unprecedented speeds.

One of the primary conclusions of a recent study on Air Superiority 2030 was that the Air Force’s structure in 2030 would struggle against this type of threat unless the service moves to multi-approach to operations, Saltzman said,

To execute capabilities across all of the domains, there must a command and control structure that can seamlessly wield that kind of weaponry, Saltzman said.

What are multi-domain operations?

To define what multi-domain operations, Saltzman said, it’s important to define what they’re not. In short hand, he said, they’re not just operations in space and cyber enhancing the air campaign.

They’re also generating offensive and defensive capabilities from those domains to create complex dilemmas for an adversary at a tempo that they can’t respond to.

One of the best examples for how multi-domain operations can solve current military problems is that of suppression of enemy air defenses. In 2030, Saltzman said, the military will have the ability to conduct that mission using platform in air, space and cyber to independently generate effects form those domains to create a bigger problem form the adversary as forces move in over their territory.

[The Air Force is getting help to define multi-domain command and control]

Lockheed Martin has been conducting wargames to help conceptualize what this might look like for both the Air Force’s and industry’s benefit in procuring solutions to get at these complex problems.

[How industry’s helping the US Air Force with multi-domain command and control]

During a briefing with reporters at the Air Force Association’s annual conference, Lockheed Martin executives displayed capabilities that included:

  • The ability to illustrate to commanders that either a cyber, air, space or a mix of each can be used against a certain target overlaid on a map;
  • Coordinated planning and air-tasking orders to include coordinated and space tasks pushed to tactical C2 nodes;
  • The use of software applications to unburden pilots in single-cockpit aircraft to allow them to focus on their primary tasks;
  • Software that automatically detects jamming or broken links and finds the next best communications path without any input from the pilot, and;
  • The use of machine learning to pick out key targets from a synthetic aperture radar map, which normally would take several minutes for a well-trained operator to find.

How will the AIr Force evolve toward these goals?

Saltzman said this shift to multi-domain operations is going to take longer than two or three years as some problems still need to be thought through.

One critical problem is determining what a command structure under MDC2 will look like. For example, which command would wield space and cyber and air simultaneously and make changes when they’re in contact with the adversary? How does the Air Force synchronize the battle rhythms of three combatant commanders who own these assets; space through U.S. STRATCOM, cyber through U.S. CYBERCOM, air through whatever geographic combatant commander owns the air component, Saltzman said.

“That’s really what we’re trying to organize are our thoughts around how we would do this more effectively and efficiently when we have the ability to provide multi-domain capability,” he said.

The first piece to this puzzle is laying a foundation. Without a foundational level, the best ideas will just crumble the whole architecture. These foundations include;

  • Enabling policy
  • Virtualized data
  • Communication network
  • Multi-domain operations concepts
  • C2 and MDO experts
  • Infrastructure
  • C2 tools

Once these are firmly in place, then they can begin to build in multi-domain C2 and “once we have multi-domain C2, now we’re ready to do multi-domain operations,” Saltzman said.

The Air Force will also begin multi-domain wargaming. The goal is to build a wargame series that thinks outside the box for doing MDC2 using personnel from the Air Command and Staff College and Air War College as participants given they won’t be tied down by their day-to-day jobs enabling them to think more broadly than others pulled away from operational positions.

Next, will be a shadow operations center that will look at agile acquisition and development operations, or DevOps. This area, particularly relevant to IT and software purchasing, will help the service stay on top of rapidly changing tech trends and leveraging commercial best practices. The Air Force is currently building a note at Nellis Air Force base to be a test platform for C2 software development, Saltzman said.

Third, the Air Force will work to build a C2 workforce cadre of officers to engrain the expertise and proficiency at a career level rather than see personnel cycle in and out on short term rotations.

Since the Air Force does not fight in a vacuum, Saltzman said there has been close coordination with the other services and their efforts to define multi-domain battle concepts.

[Air Force looks at how it can support services in multi-domain battle]

“We know we’re going to fight as a joint team and we know we’re going to fight as a coalition,” Saltzman said. “We can’t build a C2 structure that doesn’t account for those capabilities. We want to make sure whatever they’re buying in terms of technology fits perfectly with our technology. That way any sensor collecting any data can be used by all players that need to use the data.”

Following the brief to Air Force leadership, Saltzman said they’ll be going to go back to industry, think tanks and academia to explain exactly what they have in mind, where they need assistance, what they don’t know.

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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