BUZZ: ‘Halt! Who goes there?!’
The other toys are peeking over the edge of the bed.
REX: ‘Don’t shoot! It’s okay! Friends!’
BUZZ (to Woody): ‘Do you know these life forms?’
WOODY: ‘Yes. They’re Andy’s toys.’
BUZZ: ‘Alright, everyone. You’re clear to come up.’
Buzz Light-year, Sheriff Woody and Dinosaur Rex. Toy Story (1995), Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar
A set of dissimilar toys sharing common battlespaces can successfully accomplish a task by selecting, for each given tactical situation, the best cluster of players. But only if they can talk.
There is a doctrinal pre-condition for cooperative success. This is well illustrated in the Old Testament story of the tower of Babel: any coalition has to share both a communication code and the means to exchange it, in order to avoid the tower’s mission failure.
Time and space variables, often presented as constraints and restraints in military planning, are now a key transformation factor in Air and Space Power. The existence of solid new communications protocols linking a vast collection of platforms federated through their mission computers is a key enabler for further NATO success.
Communication is ultimately important. Through communication, we agree and disagree. Strategically, communication helps us resolve conflicts and synchronize in time, space and action with our allies. This paper, however, is not about STRATCOM. Instead, it addresses forms of tactical communication that will contribute to the organization and synchronization of complex warfare activities at platform level through future automated correlation which is controlled or supervised by a battle manager.
Communication, Air Power Activities and Spatial Structure
As distances can be the main constraint for an operation involving linked Air and Space assets, this article will reflect the importance of local interaction among platforms sharing a specific network (‘net’), that is to say, with certain degree of proximity. This will allow us to build a concept based on ‘bottom-up’ interaction, using the Core Air and Space Power activities as a constant, as almost any Command and Control (C2) structure will grow from their orchestrated execution within certain spatial area.
Regarding the structural approach to communication in a networked environment and Air and Space operations, AJP 3.31 (A) (NU) is the scaffolding which categorizes the aforementioned Core Air and Space Power Activities. There is a certain correspondence between these Activities and the air and space, ground, maritime and cyber domains, where cooperative patterns of interaction may be formed through future options of data exchange.
Moving one doctrinal step down from the Joint to the Tactical level: the concrete morphology of Air Power actions can be found in the Bi-Air Command Regional Manual 80-06 (NR). This manual describes the various contexts of Air and Space Power Activities by establishing common ground for the tactical employment of Air Power in terms of standards, coordination, and now communication.
Manual 80-06 (NR) includes about 20 structure-related definitions related to the ‘zone’ concept, structures that integrate and define what Matthew Flintham poetically calls ‘martial heavens’. The most common ones are the Fighter Area of Responsibility (FAOR), the Fighter or Missile Engagement Zones (FEZ-MEZ), the Desired Engagement Zone (DEZ) and the Restricted Operations Zone (ROZ). It also includes detailed descriptions of ground position reference systems, which correlate entities executing Air Power Contribution to Surface Operations (one of the five Core Air Power Activities comprised in AJP 3.3) with ground-based entities.
In addition to the aforementioned standard zones, a variety of back-up spaces, such as sanctuaries or safety corridors, will apply when certain systems degrade. Some zones will be system dependent, related to weapons or sensors employment. Other zones will be defined by the C2 in a specific Airspace Control Order (ACO) for transit, de-confliction, coordination, backup or weapons status. Other zones will be conceived regarding the opponent’s systems and targets taxonomy. All those zones and the activities within their borders need to be known and exploited at the maximum level of synergy by the C2 structure without limits for the different occupants of each space and for their managers in the C2 operations centre. That may be done through a solid data exchange protocol.
Composite Air Operations (COMAO)
COMAO missions are the classic approach to space and time compression in modern Air Power activities. The COMAO consists of a number of dissimilar aircraft (a subset of Air Power elements or a cluster of platforms / sensors / weapons) fulfilling a common task by means of complementing each other’s tactical role while executing cooperative tactical management functions, which include C2 as well as certain decision and delegation schemas.
Traditionally, COMAO components shared a limited and de-conflicted airspace and a detailed (and pre-planned) supporting – supported tactical structure throughout a single mission. However, communications (voice and basic data) were limited to a basic architecture and platforms sensors were not federated for threat detection and reaction. Spaces (areas or zones) were tied to a specific voice-communication pattern and information exchanges (and, thus, potential tactical support) among the various portions of airspace were few or none, as the assets could neither see their neighbour’s radar tracks nor monitor their frequencies from their visual bubbles, boxes, corridors and cylinders.
MIDS Killed the Radio Star
From classic schemas of COMAO execution to highly dynamic operations like Time Sensitive Targeting (TST), the introduction of the Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS) in some platforms federated certain sensors among some of the users of each net. Information about targets, threats and task changes began to flow to and from on-board displays, reducing action and reaction times in the tactical environment.
These features marked the beginning of the end of an Air Power era that relied on hand signals and radio calls. As a consequence of this data exchange, based mainly in symbols and icons for better situational awareness, the TACOM2, the executive brain in the C2 system, has increased agility (through his battle managers) and can solve the main aspects of the Babel challenge through an agreement called LINK, which is a specific military tactical data exchange network.
The Joint Employment Zone (JEZ+) Concept
JEZ stands for ‘Joint Engagement Zone’, however, ‘engagement’ is only one management function. Therefore the broader term of ‘Employment’ and the acronym JEZ+ will be proposed as shown in the title of this article.
According to US Joint Publication 3-52, JEZ (Joint Engagement Zones) Operations involve ‘multiple Air Defence weapons systems of one or more Service components simultaneously and in concert, engaging enemy Air Power in the same airspace.’3 Further, this publication warns against the limitations extracted from the lack of maturity (in accordance with Alberts et al. 4 about C2 Maturity) of the C2 system, especially regarding lack of awareness in terms of the players’ identity: ‘However, successful JEZ OPS depend on correctly identifying friendly, neutral and enemy aircraft (…) and without effective C2, is extremely difficult to implement.’5
In the past, the concept of Clear Avenue of Fire (CAF) together with interrogation and labelling of unknown or ambiguous tracks have been the main obstacles for a safe ‘Collaborative C2’ schema of engagement, requiring a de-conflicted C2 solution. Traditionally, these solutions were space and time based, and Non-Cooperative Target Recognition Systems (NCTR) (Identification Friend and Foe / Selective Identification Feature (IFF / SIF) and Electro-optical systems) were not robust enough to provide the JEZ option at an acceptable level of safety. Until now, controllers, pilots, tactical planners and GBAD operators have lived with spatial boundaries (coordination lines, BENO [‘do not be there’] lines or segregated areas) within their private engagement zones, where the topology of MEZ, ROZ and FAOR did not coincide.
JEZ+ becomes possible when the position, ID and future intention messages flow among the blue forces across the battlefield in seconds or less once a track has been positively identified, labelled and declared according to decision rights allocation within the Management Functions distribution in that particular C2 context. Current platforms are equipped with MIDS / LINK, interrogators and Electro-Optical Identification (EOID) pods, among other capabilities. Connectivity through MIDS or an equivalent system (even portable) will be a must for all future operations, not only for those in JEZ+ environments.
The Future: Pros and Cons
Swarm technologies currently aim for the design of mathematical models that provide the necessary algorithm for an efficient cooperative profile of entities evolving in the same airspace. Hardware and software solutions may move from improving the Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) towards a future confliction avoidance C2-integrated net or towards the design of autonomous entities equipped with proximity sensors6 to avoid collision and interference with other robots within the model of choice: swarm, flock or even school.7
All these associative forms of life or technology need a continuous space, like the sea for the fish or the air for the bees, where individuals generate the space they need for their different states or functions through local interactions while maintaining common goals with their colony. Civilian air traffic de-confliction is beginning to be based in ‘quickly reactive for change (…) floating airspace baselines’8 mainly through a tri-dimensional iterative process based in mathematical models, simulations, software development and operations.
In the military environment, however, these concepts may bring new software applications to current platforms for increased force / system/weapon effectiveness as well as for traffic or tactical flow de-confliction.
Situational awareness (SA) displays may incorporate new features based on a dynamic airspace model which would generate graphics consisting of danger-close bubbles defined by certain trajectory and fuze values sent by the shooter to other nearby platforms.
These dynamic features would generate a de-conflicted 3D battlefield updated in real time. SA could be maintained through simple software upgrades, including the associated blast and debris diagrams around the air or ground targets for awareness. Friendly aircraft, manned or not, would adapt their tactical patterns to that immediate and dynamic spatial segregation through steering indications on their Head-Up Displays (HUD) or even through auto-pilot commands to the Flight Control Computers given by the Blue Force Tracker brain to de-conflict weapons launches.
5th Generation aircraft or ground stations will relay / filter / prioritize / declutter and / or convert the format of these LINK signals and pass them to the different players of the cluster initially through user-friendly apps in compatible systems, either fixed or portable. Once full integration is accomplished, LINK data may be directly passed to their different Mission Computers for geo-location based situational awareness displays as well as for spatial de-confliction and effective weapons management. As the kill chain is compressed, the battle can be accelerated and won.
Whatever the process, the resultant force delivering air power within the spatial limits of a JEZ+ should approach the demands of the last degree in maturity that Alberts et al. (2010) propose: the ‘Edge’ level, where self-synchronization would reflect the immediate confluence of mission and circumstances. This would resolve time gaps in decision making and solve CAF conflicts among entities. It would also help to supress double-targeting or untargeted adversaries in the way that a swarm adapts the formation and the manoeuvre as a derivative of the tactical situation within its JEZ+ space. Nevertheless, a strong backup option (today’s primary) must always be emphasized in training.
JEZ+ training would measure how efficient the task becomes under such connected environment. Compatible software developments and criteria would also be necessary. But the most challenging part is the grasping of this new battlefield concept, which is similar to the Marines’ practices in amphibious operations in which all systems play together. From an aviator’s point of view, it may be difficult to accept a Patriot missile as a wingman, a Reaper as a Sandy in a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) mission or a frigate as a Sweeper in Air Sea battles. However, time and technology will see the development of the best axioms for a joint force in shared airspace.
The core activities of air power, current technologies and tactical doctrine options may all need to be re-visited in the search for patterns of combination among entities (multi-labelled in capabilities, systems, platforms, and weapons) in order to achieve maximum efficiency. Training JEZ+ with dissimilar platforms and compatible software modelling may enhance tactical options in new challenging scenarios. Exercise designs should include new C2 features which test the advantages and backup options that fighting JEZ+ brings to the Operational and Tactical arenas … where the talking toys play.