The Air Force is creating a new operations center that focuses on information warfare, a move designed to synchronize the operations of 178 units worldwide.
Since the Air Force created its first information warfare organization last fall and combined a series of information-related capabilities under a single commander, the organization has been working to properly fuse these new abilities.
The new 616th Operations Center combined the 624th and 625th Operations Centers and "will provide better outcomes, better options and capability for war fighters across the globe,” Col. James Weaver, commander of the 616th Operations Center, told C4ISRNET in an interview. “The problem is, our organizational structure wasn’t ideal for providing options and generating outcomes for the war-fighting commanders forward. By putting all those capabilities under [Lt.] Gen. [Timothy] Haugh, what the Air Force has done is now given a focal point to pull all those capabilities together.”
These capabilities include cyber, electronic warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and weather.
Haugh, 16th Air Force’s commander, refers to the operations center as the “glue” that pulls all the capabilities within the organization together.
Essentially, Weaver said, the center will provide a cleaner process for operational planning by taking in information from a variety of units and organizations, and it will provide better options for commanders.
However, as the operations center continues to be built, Weaver explained, the Air Force will have to be flexible to adjust to a dynamic environment. One of the major challenges will be tracking units with unique capabilities and providing solutions to problems while avoiding duplicate services.
“That’s part of the operational art we’ll have to develop. Many of the ISR groups have close relationships with the components and, ultimately, the joint force commanders,” Weaver said. “As we work problems that cross combatant commands, or whether it be Russia or even China in some cases where it crosses combatant commands, we will have a role in deconfliction.”
Right now, the center will take in data from entities such as 16th Air Force’s Information Warfare Cell; Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber Air Force — which plans and conducts cyber operations on behalf of Cyber Command for European Command; and various air operations centers around the globe. Weaver said the operations center has “direct tentacles” into those air operations centers with daily interaction into their battle rhythms.
What is the Information Warfare Cell?
The Information Warfare Cell sits at 16th Air Force headquarters and helps in operational planning of information warfare capabilities.
Col. David Stone, the IW cell director, explained that the impetus for creating the cell was to act as a catalyst in applying the capabilities of previously separate organizations.
“As a new entity we can start thinking differently right away,” he told C4ISRNET. “We’re relying on the operations center to help expose some of the capabilities that can be applied and so we’ll use the formal command-and-control mechanisms that the [operations center] pulls to maintain an awareness of operations that are occurring and how those represent opportunities for us without so much tasking, because the IW cell will not task.”
However, as 16th Air Force and its subordinate units mature, there will be questions regarding how entities change, evolve and work together.
"One of the questions that we’ll wrestle with as we look at that fully operational capability of the [16th Air Force] is how to distinguish a continuing role of an Information Warfare Cell versus a role of a fully matured 616th Operations Center,” Stone said.
Weaver said the IW cell is "a key player in the operational planning group and they help develop the way ahead, which will become task orders issued by the OC. As they mature and as the OC stand up moves forward, the IW cell and the OPG — the ops planning group — will propose those outcomes and conduct planning and then we go back to the glue … the glue will be the 616 OC that kind of operationalized convergence for the” information warfare numbered Air Force.
While many of the capabilities and units will exist and conduct operations at the tactical level, Stone said the IW cell will solve strategic problems, such as countering disinformation, to address foreign interference and malign influence.
“The problem sets and concerns are more strategic and the solutions for execution or recommended executions are more tactical,” he said.
The need for flexibility
Given the dynamic space of the information domain, the operations center will have to be flexible to adjust to changing circumstances.
“As we work through the convergence model, I think there will be an organizational realignment for the OC. We’re very tied to the AOC structure right now and I’m not sure as we mature and get closer to [full operational capability] that that will be the model that we take down the road,” Weaver said. “I think we’ll develop some kind of problem-centric approach, cross-functional teams, I’m not sure at this point.”
He added the Air Force expects to be fully operationally capable by spring 2021.
“We definitely will have to have some wiggle room or some flexibility to work problems as they arise,” he said.
Weaver explained that there will also need to be some operational art in terms of helping the Air Force and 16th Air Force project power in the information space.
“By working those multidomain operations and converging on problems identified by air components on behalf of combatant commanders, and/or both, we think that we will be able to provide capabilities, options and even maybe expose malign actors influence across the globe as we work,” he said.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.