WASHINGTON — While the Air Force’s new information warfare command has reached its full operational capability less than a year after it was created, leaders still have work to do to fully integrate its combined capabilities in a mature fashion.
That assessment comes from Brig. Gen. Bradley Pyburn, deputy commander of 16th Air Force, who on Tuesday laid out a three-pronged criteria — deconfliction, synchronization and integration — for assessing the command’s maturity during a virtual event hosted by AFCEA’s Alamo chapter.
The command combines what was previously known as 24th and 25th Air Force, placing cyber, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic warfare and weather capabilities under a single commander.
The first category Pyburn coined is deconfliction, which essentially means “do no harm.” Pyburn described the need to have situational awareness of the battlespace and understand what friendly and enemy forces are where, what authorities exist, what targets forces are looking at and what capabilities they have.
The second phase of maturity is synchronization, which involves aligning all the capabilities and actions in the battlespace. Pyburn said if the command adds activity A to activity B and C, it will end up with a greater result, because it can change the timing and tempo of how the effects are delivered for maximum impact.
Lastly, Pyburn described integration as the most mature aspect of where 16th Air Force currently is. This involves baking in planning, assessment, command and control, all the disparate effects and operations from the beginning. This is where the command really begins to break down all the stovepipes that previously existed with all these capabilities, a key reason for integrating and creating the new organization.
“From a maturity perspective, where do I think 16th Air Force is? We’re probably somewhere between deconfliction and synchronization. We’ve got some examples of where we approach integration but I think it’s healthy we understand where we’re at today and where we want to go forward in the future,” Pyburn explained.
The command has created what Pyburn called a J9 to help with assessing maturity. The J9 would be plugged into real world events and exercises to help with those self assessments.
In a generic example, Pyburn outlined what full maturity integration would look like. A mission partner requests support, which could be in the form of air domain awareness, finding particular targets or threats or ISR assistance. 16th Air Force, in turn, would be able to link that request with other needs, either in the same geographic area or in other areas of operations, pioneering what its top officials describe as a “problem-centric approach,” which aims to look at the specific problems the commands they support are looking to solve and starting from there.
“[In] our problem centric approach, as we look to generate insights across all of our 16th Air Force capabilities, what we may find is that particular problem set is linked to other problem sets and we’re able to focus on the root cause of the problem,” Pyburn said.
Based on a raft of authorities from cyberspace to intelligence collection as well as the relationships built through other communities and organizations, 16th Air Force can look at the root cause of a problem and build from there.
“We can build a community of interest, we can start to put mission partners together into [an] operational planning team and we can not only generate better insights against that root cause, we can start to look at how we can layer in effects at speed and at scale across all domains of warfare and give the options to the combatant commander and the mission partner as the authorities to go after that adversary,” Pyburn said.
Pyburn also offered insight into the command structure of 16th Air Force, which has his deputy commander job along with a vice commander role. That latter job, held by Brig. Gen. David Gaedecke — who previously served as the lead for the Air Force’s year long electronic warfare study — does more of the traditional operational, test and evaluation functions.
In the deputy commander role, Pyburn said his job is similar to the director of operations. He comes up with the requirements in support of combatant commanders.
“Part of it is, I may think I know what I want, but if I don’t see what the art of the possible is, it’s really hard to know what I want, if that makes sense. It’s a little bit of a chicken and egg,” he said.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.