Joint ISR and Air C2

By Lieutenant General (ret.)

By Lt Gen

 Friedrich W.


, GE


Executive Director, Joint Air Power Competence Centre (2007-2010)

 October 2017

Context and Aim

Since 2014, NATO has seen a dramatic change in its security environment. In Warsaw, NATO’s HOSG stated that there is ‘an arc of in­security and instability along NATO’s periphery and beyond. The ­Alliance faces a range of security challenges and threats that originate both from the east and from the south; from state and non-state actors; from military forces and from terrorist, cyber, or hybrid attacks’.1 The Allies in particular were alarmed by ‘Russia’s destabilizing actions and policies [to] include: the ongoing illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea; … the violation of sovereign borders by force; the deliberate destabilization of eastern Ukraine; large-scale snap exercises contrary to the spirit of the Vienna ­Document, and the provocative military activities near NATO ­borders, ­including in the Baltic and the Baltic Sea regions and the Eastern Mediterranean, it’s irresponsible and aggressive nuclear rhetoric, military concept and underlying posture; and its repeated violations of NATO Allied Airspace.’2 NATO has reacted to this changed security environment by ­enhancing its deterrence and defence posture, including by adopting a forward presence in eastern parts of the Alliance, e.g. by deploying ­additional airborne air defence assets as well as NATO Airborne Early ­Warning and Control (NAEW&C) aircraft for enhanced situational awareness and reassurance, and by forward deploying battalion-size, rotating army elements and their equipment.

Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (JISR) is vital for all military operations. While surveillance and reconnaissance can answer the what, when, where, and more often than not, who. The combined elements from various intelligence sources and disciplines provide the answers to how and why.

At the Chicago Summit 2012, NATO launched the ‘JISR initiative’3. JISR is a high value, complex and wide-reaching capability, constantly providing NATO key decision-makers with a permanent system providing ­information and intelligence to key decision-makers, helping them to make well-informed and timely decisions.

The Air C2 process addresses the interaction and the synchronization between the three fundamental phases in joint air operations: assessing / collecting, decision-making and effecting. Looking closer at the core of Air C2, it becomes apparent that (J)ISR is the central process linking and driving the other processes. The following diagram illustrates the processes in air operations planning, showing, schematically, the interaction between the divisions inside an air component and between the air component, sister components, and higher level HQ. The requirement for solid interconnectivity between all elements is clear.

It is widely accepted that all processes should be fully integrated in a Joint Force Air Component (JFAC) structure; it is the guiding principle for Allied Air Command Ramstein’s Air C2 concept. In contrast to the USA Air Force which uses a Standing JFAC and Air Operations Centre (AOC) providing Command and Control (C2) to ongoing operations and which is able to additionally incorporate new missions, the NATO Air C2 Concept employs a ‘Core JFAC’ with a few current operations ­elements as part of the Allied Air Command HQ-Structure to stand up an integrated JFAC in response to a crisis when directed by the North Atlantic Council (NAC).

A small cadre of permanent Allied Air Command personnel are augmented and supplemented from other units to form the JFAC structure needed for the operation. It takes time to generate the personnel and the required communications and information systems architecture to ‘stand up’.

To execute its peacetime task of Air Policing (preserving the integrity of Alliance airspace) Allied Air Command Ramstein relies on two Combined Air Operations Centres (CAOCs) and their Static Air Defence Centres (­SADCs). They perform this mission on behalf of the Commander Allied Air Command who has been delegated this task by SACEUR. The CAOCs’ structures include a ‘Deployable Air Operations Centre (­D-AOC)’ element which will, when called upon, augment Allied Air Command’s JFAC ­Combat Plans and Combat Operations Divisions (CPD, COD) to form the core of the embedded AOC.

The second standing task, Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) to protect NATO populations, territory and forces against the threat posed by the pro­liferation of ballistic missiles emanating from outside the Euro-Atlantic area, is conducted from the BMD Operations Centre at Allied Air Command Ramstein which exercises centralized C2 over assigned units.

Allied Air Command Ramstein thus has to fulfill three basic functions: to produce the advice for the Commander Allied Air Command in his air ­advisory role to SACEUR, to execute and oversee the peacetime standing tasks as described above and to be prepared to stand-up a JFAC-HQ when directed by the NAC.

The new security environment has already tested NATO Command ­Structure (NCS), especially the Air C2 structure and JISR capabilities with regard to responsiveness and comprehensiveness. Shortfalls became ­obvious and require in-depth assessment. The aim of this essay is to ­analyze NATO’s JISR and Air and Space Power C2 Control capability, ­Command, Control, Communications, Computers, ­Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR), against the requirements of the changed security situation. Recommendations are developed suggesting ways to mitigate shortfalls in order to re-establish and maintain the agile and flexible C4ISR capability the Alliance needs.

JISR – Prerequisite for Timely Decisions and the Effective Conduct of Operations


NATO nations provide the Alliance with a variety of Intelligence, ­Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, via maritime, air and space as well as ground systems. JISR is the process comprising the ­collection, processing, exploitation, fusing, and dissemination of data and information. In NATO, the JISR capability gap is well-known and was made obvious as early as in Operation ALLIED FORCE, highlighted again in ­Operation Unified Protector (OUP), and during the crisis in the Ukraine when NATO was surprised by Russian ‘Snap exercises’.

JISR in NATO4 is the synchronization and integration of Operations and Intelligence capabilities and activities, geared to provide timely information to support decision effects. Thus, JISR is a combined Intelligence / Operations function requiring extensive cross-Community of Interest (COI) coordination and interoperability at many levels. JISR integrates NATO and member / partner Nation’s ISR capabilities, policies, procedures and ­systems in order to provide intelligence support to leaders, commanders and decision-makers – from the strategic to the tactical level. The aim of ­NATO’s JISR initiative5 is to improve this critical capability by ­integrating data and information gathered from NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) ­system and / or NAEW&C aircraft as well as a wide variety of national JISR assets from the space, air, land and maritime domains.

Following the concept of ‘need responsibility to share’ rather than ‘need to know’ an integrated JISR network will allow the Alliance to share information uploaded by the linked surveillance assets while at the same time providing assurance and protection of the distributed data and its network. Both surveillance and reconnaissance include visual (from soldiers on the ground) and electronic observation (for example from satellites, unmanned aircraft systems, ground sensors and maritime vessels), which are then analyzed, turning information into intelligence. The Initial ­Operating Capability (IOC) for JISR, declared in February 2016, represents a significant achievement, enabling better connectivity between NATO and Allies’ capabilities. IOC is only the first milestone for the JISR initiative. ­Further work is needed to sustain these achievements, and expand them beyond the scope of the NATO Response Force (NRF). The ability to ­exchange accurate data, machine-to-machine in a timely and secure ­manner, will define the effectiveness of the system. Policy, however, not technology may hinder our ability to do so.


The AGS Core Capability will be funded by 15 nations and owned and operated by NATO. It is expected that it will become operational in the 2017 / 2018 timeframe. The AGS air segment is based on Northrop ­Grumman’s Global Hawk Block 40 airframe equipped with a sophisticated Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) capable of providing Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) or SAR imagery, or Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) at considerable stand-off distances and in any weather. It will enable the Alliance to perform persistent surveillance over wide areas with this high-altitude, long-endurance platform. The collected data will then be exploited at the AGS ground segment and disseminated to members of the NATO intelligence community. The AGS unit will be a subordinate element of NATO Allied Air Command at Ramstein (Operational Control) so Allied Air Command’s personnel establishment will need additional positions in that regard.

AGS provides the Alliance with an organic ISR collection and exploitation capability supporting peacetime collection requirements, especially those associated with Indication and Warning (I&W) and Intelligence ­production. Its strategic mission orientation limits its contribution to the overall intelligence picture because it lacks IMINT / Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) / Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) capabilities. Tight political control by the NATO Council over its employment restricts SACEUR’s flexibility to quickly adapt to changing collection priorities and missions in an ­emerging security situation – another consequence of its strategic ­allocation. Considering the limited tactical capabilities, in particular in the European nations, NATO’s JISR gap has been reduced but continues to be ­significant.


The NAEW&C Force is multinationally financed and a ‘Command Force’ ­operated by NATO. It conducts a wide range of missions, such as air picture augmentation, support to Air Policing, counter-terrorism, evacuation operations, initial entry and crisis response. The force is subordinate to ­SACEUR who delegated Operational Control to NATO’s Allied Air Command at Ramstein.

Therefore, this HQ requires additional posts to manage the force. NATO AWACS was originally not designed as an ISR platform. The mid-term ­modernization programme, however, created a set of capabilities that can contribute to the JISR mission: Its organic sensors such as the long-range air-to-surface surveillance radar, capable of detecting air and maritime targets, and its passive Electronic Support Measures (ESM) sensors complement the Common Operational Picture (COP); its battle management and coordinating capabilities provide direction, management and protection of ISR ­systems.

In its more traditional role, producing early warning information and aRecognized Air Picture (RAP) for large areas from orbits in NATO’s Eastern and Southeastern member states, it contributes to the reassurance of ­Alliance nations in light of the changed security environment. With its non-traditional ISR capability, AWACS played a crucial role in OUP. The ­Bilateral Strategic Command (Bi-SC) operational concept gives SACEUR the authority to flexibly employ AWACS within NATO airspace and adapt orbits as he sees fit, e.g. to close gaps in the radar coverage.

NAEW&C’s complex mission suite demands a significant amount of ­training for the mission crews to reach the required level of expertise. It takes more than one year for a new mission crew member to become fully qualified and ‘combat ready’. Given the standard tour of duty of three years in NATO this long training period reduces crew availability for ­operations to less than two years.

NATO JISR Network – Tasking, Collecting, Processing, ­Exploitation / Fusing, Dissemination

The JISR capability in NATO is based on a network that in the end will link NCS HQ at the Strategic Level (SHAPE), Operational Level (JFCs Brunssum and Naples), and Tactical Level (LANDCOM, Allied Air Command, and ­MARCOM) with the NATO Intelligence Fusion Centre (NIFC, collocated with the USA Joint Intelligence Operations Center Europe – JIOC EUR), the collection units (AGS, NAEW&C, national units) and the ‘consumers in the field’ (NRF units, units employed in operations).

It will permit the coordinated collection, processing, dissemination and sharing of ISR material gathered by AGS, NAEW&C, as well as many extant and emerging national ISR assets. The JISR-process comprises the steps ‘Tasking, Collecting, Exploiting, Disseminating’ intelligence information to best support operations. Examples of supported areas include:

  • Joint Intelligence Preparation of the Environment (JIPOE);
  • Indications and Warning (I&W);
  • Situational Awareness;
  • Support to Targeting;
  • Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD);
  • Force Protection / Base Defence;
  • Personnel Recovery;
  • Theatre Missile Defence (TMD) Conventional Counter Force;
  • Counter Terrorism;
    • – Counter Improvised Explosive Device (C-IED) Defeat the Network;
    • – Counter Piracy.

Allied Air Command Ramstein as parent HQ for the NATO owned and ­operated AGS and NAEW&C will be responsible for their tasking following the direction and guidance of SACEUR (ultimately the NAC) and the ­Collection Managers at the JFC Level. It can be assumed that Allied Air Command will also be the primary ‘tasking authority’ in any crisis inside the European theatre, employing assigned airborne JISR assets according to the requirements and priorities defined by the responsible joint ­operational level command element (JFC / JTF, Joint Collection Management Board (JCMB)). This asks for sufficiently trained and experienced personnel in Allied Air Command’s ISR-division in order to be able to ­properly plan, task, and monitor the execution of the collection missions.

Processing and exploitation of collected data, especially of GMTI / SAR-based imagery, needs a special skill set that only few nations can provide. It develops only with experience, and thus may become the bottle neck in the JISR process because these specialists are not only needed in the AGS Ground Segment but also in NIFC and Allied Air Command as a minimum to support deliberate and dynamic targeting, and especially Time-Sensitive Targeting (TST). TST-Cells will quite often be established and operated at the Air Component on order of the Joint Level.

The NIFC plays a central role in fusing and disseminating the products running the risk of becoming another bottle neck in the event of a serious crisis inside the European theatre including high intensity kinetic ­operations. NIFC not only provides fused intelligence information but also the precise target information required for kinetic operations through the JIOC EUR gateway (the ‘Combined Targeting Centre – CTC’) to the USA ­intelligence and target data bases. Limiting factors are the processing ­capacity (of both equipment and personnel) as well as the gateway / network bandwidth capacity, especially when extensive imagery is part of the target information, thus putting into question its capability to support demanding kinetic air operations.

I&W are another critical area. They are key to a timely reaction of the ­Alliance. Making intelligence information available for the NRF following the ‘responsibility to share’ principle is a major step forward but the ­principle should be extended to include all operational areas of the ­Alliance, especially the standing peacetime tasks of Air Policing and BMD. It should be considered in this context to give SACEUR the immediate and unrestricted authority to rapidly task available ISR-assets to collect relevant strategic information.


NATO JISR is a key enabling capability to achieve information superiority over potential adversaries. ISR is also a key process in air operations ­planning. However, to accomplish this goal, it is essential that each Alliance nation actively participates, willingly contributes national assets and information and makes available sufficient and experienced personnel for collection, processing, exploitation, and dissemination. Deep-­rooted national caveats against information sharing must be resolved in order to overcome today’s operational challenges. Overcoming the bottle necks in intelligence processing, especially air targets, and the political ­restrictions in AGS collection management are considered urgent.

Air C2


The Air C2 organization in NATO comprises the following elements: Allied Air Command Ramstein and its subordinate units, the CAOCs at Uedem and Torrejon, and the Deployable Air Command and Control Centre (­DACCC) at Poggio Renatico. Unlike the CAOCs, the DACCC consists of a D-AOC, a deployable Control and Reporting Centre (CRC) (DARS) and – in the future – deployable sensors. In executing its peacetime standing task of Air Policing Allied Air Command Ramstein and the CAOCs rely on CRCs in the nations (as part of the NATO Force Structure (NFS) to generate the RAP and to perform aircraft control when alert aircraft are launched to intercept unknown airborne objects.

Air C2 for operations as described in NATO’s Level of Ambition (LoA) is performed by the HQs of the NCS or Air C2 elements provided by nations inside the NFS. The CRCs in the nations contribute to the execution of air operations by fulfilling tactical control / air battle management functions as ordered by the operational level HQ.

Most of the NFS JFACs, however, are not readily available. They consist of a core element only – about 10 to 20 percent of the manpower of a ‘medium size, standard JFAC’ – and, therefore, require massive augmentation and are ready for operations only after a longer lead time. Only the US Air Force maintains standing AOCs with each numbered Air Force (603rd AOC with 3rd Air Force at Ramstein). They can be considered as readily available and fully capable Air C2 capability. NFS JFACs are the NRF Air C2 elements for operations beyond the European theatre, and rotate into higher readiness according to the agreed NRF rotation plan. The NCS Air C2 organization, consequently, is the standard capability that should be readily available for activation in response to a crisis affecting NATO in and around Europe. During the Crimea Crisis in 2014, and in view of the changed security environment, deficits became evident in the following areas: doctrine, responsiveness, capacity (manpower), training and systems interoperability.

Doctrinal Issues


NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS) doctrine describes the standing peacetime tasks of Air Policing, BMD, and C2 main functions. Only in the case of a crisis in the European theatre and when a response plan is activated will a Joint Operation Area be ­established and NATINAMDS migrate from its peacetime function to adopt an Air Defence role. Allied Air Command Ramstein will stand up a JFAC organization supporting the JFC responsible to handle the crisis. There is, however, a mismatch between the readiness requirements for the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) and the reaction time of the Air C2 organization. The discrepancy becomes even worse when the activation of a response plan is not considered in time.

Nations and NATO Commanders will want to see the deployment of the VJTF properly supported by NATO Air Power. It is, therefore, most ­desirable that a VJTF deployment is carried out concurrently, or better still, ­preceded by the deployment of air- and ground-based air defence capabilities. This, in turn, calls for building a C2 capability able to direct air defence operations in a Joint Operations Area (JOA). The SADCs or the D-AOCs at the CAOCs are neither designed for nor capable of managing the task. It is also inadvisable to delegate such an intricate mission to a subordinate element. The JFAC that most closely meets the criteria to respond to a crisis inside the European theatre is currently Allied Air Command ­Ramstein. Its timely response, however, is dependent on a rapid decision by the NAC, which is likely too slow to allow an effective response.


Doctrine for NATO’s BMD mission, executed by Allied Air Command Ramstein, has not yet been fully developed. Theatre Ballistic Missile ­Defence (TBMD) in expeditionary operations beyond NATO territory does not pose a problem from a C2 perspective.
Situations may, however, arise in which BMD operations (for NATO ­European territory, population and forces) and TBMD operations (in a JOA established to handle a crisis in NATO Europe) overlap and will be required to be directed concurrently. C2 solutions have not yet been thoroughly analyzed. C2 relationships and delineation of responsibility between Allied Air Command and the Air Component Command (ACC) acting in the JOA remain unclear. Clarification of doctrine and concept is needed.

Air C2 Capacities

With current personnel ceilings for Air C2 in the NCS, and given the ­manpower requirements for a JFAC organization that runs 24 / 7, it was only possible to design a JFAC that is barely able to execute a ‘Smaller Joint Operation – Air Heavy’. Critical shortages remained in the ISR ­Division and in some other specialty areas, e.g. AAR. The ‘ISR-capability gap’ is also evident in NATO’s Air C2. Positioning most of the Intelligence Processing – Exploitation – Dissemination (PED)-functions at NATO’s AGS Wing at Sigonella appears unhelpful.

The Warsaw Summit tasked NATO Military Authorities (NMAs) to ­undertake a functional assessment of the NCS7. In this context, work is underway to identify ways to overcome the capacity gap in Air C2 to meet the demands of a ‘Major Joint Operation – MJO +’ or concurrent operations in two different JOAs inside NATO Europe, commanded by two JFCs. Without increasing the personnel establishment in the NCS the shortfalls can only be resolved by formally combining Allied Air Command Ramstein and a standing JFAC of a nation. The only viable solution appears to be to revitalize the relationship between Allied Air Command Ramstein and the USAFE / 3rd Air Force AOC collocated on the airbase. They could form a JFAC capable of managing a ‘MJO’. The US 3rd Air Force AOC is, however, not earmarked or otherwise available for NATO operations. This is an opportunity to establish a formal relationship and fix it in doctrine.

C2 at the Tactical Level: Capabilities and Capacities

A holistic view of NATO’s Air C2 capabilities must include the elements below the Allied Air Command / CAOC level, i.e. the CRCs and the capabilities of NAEW&C which are exercising tactical control of assigned forces. After the end of the Cold War, NATO nations reduced the number of CRCs in conjunction with the reduction of their aircraft fleets to a minimum level compatible with the requirements of safeguarding the integrity of the airspace (the Air Policing mission) and the training of their remaining national air forces.

This was made possible and supported by technical advancements in C2 systems including the ability to network a multitude of radar sensors and radios. However, there were negative consequences: the loss of capability to deal with a major crisis in Europe and to support a larger number of combat aircraft with control services, and a reduction in training – to the bare minimum – of the remaining operators to safely handle more ­complex air battle situations, as is often shown in larger live air exercises. In nations with smaller or no air forces, aircraft controllers receive barely the minimum live training to maintain the skills required for the air policing mission. Although simulators have become more powerful and have gained importance, simulation alone cannot match everything learned during live training.

Concurrent to restructuring focused primarily on the air policing mission, the drastic reduction and withdrawal of Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) units from the IADS including the Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) Allocator positions in the parent CRCs contributed to the CRCs losing their capa­bility to execute tactical control functions and manage the integrated air battle – as was standard during the Cold War. Master Controllers who used to be the ‘Air Battle Managers’ at the CRC level became more or less the ‘supervisors’ of aircraft control and RAP production. In some nations they even do not study the principles of ‘SAM Control’ during their training.

The NAEW&C Component underwent a similar experience: On the one hand, mission crews receive barely enough in NATO European Airspace to maintain their capability status, and, on the other hand, they are strained to the limits by ongoing operations. The complexity of the NAEW&C ­aircraft’s mission necessitates a greater amount of training for the mission crews. The reduction of the fleet and mission crews have exacerbated the situation and have put NAEW&C’s capability to meet NATO’s LoA at risk.

Training and Exercises – at JFAC Level

A three-level training concept was developed to generate the required qualified personnel: All operations personnel in NATO’s Air C2 structure receive their initial functional training at the DACCC in Poggio Renatico. They then conduct training as a team in their home organizations, i.e. in the D-AOCs of the CAOCs / DACCC and at Allied Air Command. Training culminates with exercises in a fully developed JFAC-structure at Ramstein which validates the entire training process and system. In every rotation cycle, a new training and reinforcement relationship has to be established with the nationally provided JFACs in order to get access to a wider pool of personnel able to fill specialists’ billets, and certainly for sustainability. Currently, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom offer national JFACs for Air C2 in the NRF unit roster (the Combined Joint Statement of Requirement (CJSOR)). Spain and Turkey intend to offer similar capabilities to NATO in the near future. To transform the JFAC into a JTF-Air HQ and to fill the joint functions during an ‘SJO-Air Heavy’ liaison with other command structure HQs and securing their cooperation is an obvious precondition.

NATO’s training and exercise schedules and priorities, have started to ­reflect the variety of challenges which are unique for the single service commands in the new NCS, but still are not commensurate with the new security environment. NATO’s exercise scenarios also lack the degree ­kinetic activities a JFAC has to have to hone the skills in all its divisions to the wartime level. For several years stabilization missions had been the focus of Alliance exercises.

As revealed with the lessons learned from OUP, those exercises neither tested nor measured the required capabilities of the NCs. Although a new scenario was developed to better reflect an Art. 5 contingency, it is still not giving Allied Air Command the required kinetic challenge, though exercise fidelity has steadily improved since the end of OUP. A major effort is needed to include the elements necessary to fully train Allied Air ­Command’s JFAC Structure in a challenging kinetic scenario, including the ISR division, the joint targeting process, and complex A2AD. Live ­training events that include a greater number of aircraft to exercise planning and execution of larger live air operations from the AOC level down to the tactical level of the CRCs and NAEW have become a rarity. ­Opportunities offered by national training events like JAWTEX / Tiger Meets etc. should be investigated and exploited.

Training at the Tactical Level

Training and exercises at the tactical level concentrate on the peacetime standing task of executing the air policing mission and supporting live air exercises. They are mainly CRC centric. Only occasionally do CRCs have the opportunity to support training and exercise activities of SBAD units. Most of the time these units use their own scenario simulation to prepare for a specific mission, e.g. the augmentation of TUR air defence.

Exercises that integrate airborne and GBAD in region or system wide training events are scarce, and are seldom met with the required enthusiasm because the simulated scenarios appear boring. Sometimes they are even considered to be in conflict with policy (GRC – TUR differences about the Aegean airspace), or are perceived unrealistic not matching the current security environment.

Individual and functional training for positions in a CRC are a responsibility of the nations. Only aircraft controllers receive some standardization with regard to control of Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) aircraft as is proven by ­SACEUR’s / Allied Air Command’s evaluation programme. Training for ­master controllers and other key positions, however, is not equally ­standardized and therefore shows great differences. Opportunities to standardize individual training by sending operators to multinational C&R training facilities are not exploited.

Cyber and Space

Even if they are not a primary subject of this essay, they need to be ­addressed because they are key elements in any joint air operation. As OUP has demonstrated, both Cyber and Space need to be integrated into the planning as well as into all operations and missions. NATO has ­acknowledged its importance by developing a coherent cyber policy. The Cyber Defence Pledge8 calls upon the nations to foster the resilience of their national networks and critical infrastructure. Close bilateral and ­multinational cyber defence cooperation including information sharing, situational awareness, education, training and exercises play a key role. NATO’s operational cyber expertise is concentrated at the strategic level in the CIS Group at SHAPE.

In contrast to the cyber focus the Alliance still has no coherent space ­policy even though it operates its own space assets. Space is a critical ­supporting domain as air operations rely heavily on extensive and complex communication networks to ensure mission success. Allied Air ­Command, however, lacks expertise and does not have direct access to a dedicated cyber nor space awareness capability. Currently, voluntary ­national contributions help to include cyber and space aspects into the planning and conduct of joint air operations.


The drastic reduction in NATO Air C2-entities eliminated all redundancy, making the structure vulnerable to technical outages, other failures, or conventional or cyber-attack. A longer outage of a CAOC, e.g. due to ­technical reasons or a fire, can only be mitigated by the Allied Air Command HQ itself. A similar outage at Allied Air Command cannot be covered from inside ­NATO’s Air C2-structure. At CRC-level structural ­robustness was lost because of their drastic reduction, making it difficult to organize back-up solutions.

Connectivity / C2-Systems

Last, but not least, the shortfalls in the C2-systems area must be addressed: ACCS and Air Command Control and Information Services (AirC2IS) are considered to be the CIS backbone for Air C2 both below Allied Air ­Command level (ACCS) and above (AirC2IS). Both systems, however, are still not operational. Therefore, Air C2 in NATO is conducted with a multitude of C2-systems, making C2 very complicated for both operators and CIS-specialists who maintain the systems. The complex situation is ­exacerbated by the variety of national systems, which are not entirely ­interoperable with NATO systems and do not meet required security ­standards, although they are more often than not the key source of vital information. Information, data exchange and collaboration is hindered or further complicated by National disclosure policies.


NATO’s current Air C2 structure appears adequate for its benchmark ­mission, the SJO-Air Heavy, although it still lacks capability in some critical specialist fields, especially ISR. A sophisticated training, augmentation and reinforcement scheme supports standing up the JFAC. It is, however, not as responsive as might be required. An early political decision is needed to timely permit standing up the JFAC; a small standing core-JFAC does not exist. There are currently no capability reserves with regard to concurrent operations or a MJO / MJO +. NATO’s Air C2 doctrine does not resolve the overlap of peacetime BMD and Air Policing in one part of NATO Europe, and collective defence operations including TBMD in a neighboring JOA.

Air C2 at the tactical level of the CRCs lost robustness and the capability to control the integrated air battle as a consequence of focusing primarily on the air policing mission. All levels of Air C2 in NATO need training in ­challenging live and simulated exercises presenting the full spectrum of air activities, including Art. 5 and A2AD. This is not sufficiently supported by NATO’s current exercise programme. Space and Cyber are doctrinally and operationally not addressed as needed. Reduction in numbers of C2-entities led to a loss in redundancy and robustness, hardened infrastructure is no longer used. The introduction of a common and integrated Air C2 ­system is long overdue, interoperability with national systems is a must, and national disclosure policies should not impede operations.

Overcoming Shortfalls – Considerations and Proposals


Main issues relate to ISR capabilities, capacities, manpower and national disclosure policies.


In order to close the critical gap in JISR capabilities NATO commanders rely on the nations to provide assets to provide assets for all intelligence ­collection disciplines as required. As assets only exist in small numbers and require a relatively large logistical effort to operate them nations should consider collaborating and establishing a multinational JISR unit9 to ­exploit mutual capabilities and to achieve synergy.

This multinational unit should be made available for NATO and earmarked for NRF operations in the defence of NATO Europe.


  • Establish a multinational JISR-unit from existing assets.

Manpower / Capacity

The capacity issues in JISR mainly relate to the availability of sufficiently experienced and trained personnel at critical nodes like the NIFC and NCS entities, among them Allied Air Command. Among these, of special ­importance is the production capability of target information for air attack operations. The following proposals should be explored:

  • Increase the number of posts to exercise C2 of AGS / NAEW&C at Allied Air Command in the context of building up the AGS force and restructuring NAEW&C.
  • Nations should consider making specialists available for deployment periods longer than the standard 3 year tour of duty in NATO.
    Partner with nations to establish a greater pool of ISR specialists to ­supplement / augment in case of a crises requiring more resources.
  • Consider establishing an ‘Air Targeting Centre’.

Disclosure Policies / Responsiveness

Nations need to review their disclosure policies in order to make available the intelligence information that NATO’s operational commanders need – to generate I&W, build up a solid picture of the operational environment and properly task operational forces to achieve the effects needed.


  • Widen the scope of the ‘responsibility to share’ and recognize a ‘need-to-know’ beyond the direct operational need of the NRF.
  • NCS elements in the operational chain of command should have the same direct access to imagery, information and other data as the NIFC.
  • Give SACEUR more authority to rapidly task assigned strategic JISR capabilities (AGS).

Air C2

Doctrinal Issues


Solutions to achieve a higher degree of responsiveness lie in the ­availability of a standing lean tailored JFAC / AOC capability at Allied Air Command Ramstein. During normal operations it will handle the peacetime tasking of AGS and NAEW&C, control BMD of NATO territory, will oversee the execution of the Air Policing mission by the CAOCs, and monitor other NATO operations in which Allied Air Command is not ­directly involved. To avoid changing the overall Peacetime Establishment (PE) tables for Air C2 in NATO the ­required posts could be taken from the ­D-AOC elements of the CAOCs / DACCC. Posts for the peacetime tasking of AGS / NAEW&C could be generated from the former NAEW&C Force Command or the AGS core respectively. Additionally, when a Graduated Response Plan (GRP) is activated and the VJTF is deployed this capability can grow to the capacity needed, exercise C2 of air operations in the JOA, and support the responsible Air Defence Commander (ADC) / Airspace Control Authority (ACA). Because the ­peacetime Air Policing Rules might not match in such a ­security ­situation a set of Rules of Engagement (RoE) which are better suiting should be ­considered.


  • Establish a small standing tailored JFAC at Allied Air Command Ramstein (e.g. by reducing D-AOC PEs at the CAOCs / DACCC by a few positions and moving them to Allied Air Command).
  • Move positions of former AGS staff at SHAPE and former NAEW&C Force Command to Allied Air Command.
  • Adapt Air C2 Concept of Operations (CONOPS) accordingly.

Mission Command

It has been argued that a standard JFAC organization is too large, the ­processes are manpower intensive and that the highly qualified indi­viduals in the subordinate units are not recognized, mainly because of ­adherence to the principle of Centralized C2 and Decentralized Execution. The argument is that modern Air C2 should also permit the application of the principle of Mission Command. Responsibility could be delegated to subordinate Commanders because most of current conflicts focus on air support in stabilization operations. Therefore, the intellect and experience commanders at wing and squadron levels could be exploited, rather than having them simply marshalling their forces in accordance with the Air Tasking Order (ATO).

Mission Command is a Prussian idea from the 19th century, ‘invented’ by von Moltke to overcome the ‘Fog of War’. If subordinate commanders knew and understood the Commander’s intent, they could, within certain limits, continue to operate in absence of further orders as long as what they did was in accordance with the Commander’s intent. If Network ­Enabling can lead to Shared SA – where subordinate commanders have the same ‘big picture’ as the JFACC – then the benefits of Mission ­Command could be realized in the 21st century. In an ‘Effects Based ­Approach to ­Operations’, subordinate commanders would become ‘effects champions’, responsible to the JFAC (and ultimately the JFC) for effects within their own sphere of influence and expertise.

Mission Command may indeed be a solution for some stabilization ­operations and reduce manpower requirements at the JFAC level, e.g. in Africa where coordination and prioritization can be exercised at lower ­levels. We also apply it today when assigning a Mission Commander in some complex air attack missions for the detailed execution planning. But, even in stabilization operations like those executed in Afghanistan, Mission Command quickly reaches its limits because of the dimensions of the theatre and the complex coordination requirements of scarce air resources, enablers, Electronic Warfare (EW) and Air-to-Ground capa­bilities.

Furthermore, Joint Air Power’s capability to deliver strategic and operational effects through tactical action calls for an integrated approach, as was shown in OUP. There remains the requirement for a single focal point for the effective employment of Air C2 across the full spectrum of Air and Space Power Operations. That single point is, and can only ever be, the ACC. Finally, a fully functioning NATO Network Enabled Capability has not yet been achieved.

Mission Command and the JTF-Concept

The JTF-Concept was developed to solve the mismatch between NCS ­capabilities and NATO’s LoA at the joint level. The idea is to use Graduated Response Force (GRF) HQs (Land) as JTF HQs for low-intensity, follow-on stabilization operations, thus freeing up a JFC. It has, however, not been definitely agreed upon how to organize Air C2, such as whether it should be integrated, performed by the Air Operations Coordination Centre (AOCC) (although it has a different mission) or by a dedicated, small Air Component. If the air contribution in such follow-on operations, e.g. the to provide assets for all intelligence collection disciplines as required NATO to provide assets for all intelligence collection disciplines as required (KFOR), consists mainly of rotary wing and fixed wing air transport, some non-­organic ISR and probably a few dedicated air attack capabilities for support in extremis, a small Air Component applying the ‘Mission Command’ ­principle under the auspices of Allied Air Command could be a solution.


  • Consider introducing the ‘Mission Command’ structure i.a.w. the development of the JTF concept and NATO’s Network Enabled Capability, and the requirements of the specific air operation.

The BMD / TBMD Issue

In case of a crisis in Europe and the establishment of a JOA, including TBMD ops, it is suggested that Allied Air Command always assumes the JFAC mission because it is best suited (capabilities, connectivity, experience) and in order to ease the coordination between BMD and TBMD in the JOA (the Ballistic Missile Defence Operations Centre (BMDOC) and the in-house JFAC-AOC). The NFS JFAC on standby could serve as Allied Air Command’s liaison to the JFC-level and to augment the Allied Air Command JFAC. A doctrinal solution should be found earlier rather than later.


  • Develop appropriate guidelines (NATINAMDS Concept / the Air C2 ­CONOPS) to address: Role of Allied Air Command Ramstein in Art. 5 ­related crises, the issue of BMD / TBMD C2 in concurrent overlapping ­operations (A principle could be that the Ramstein BMDOC always ­retains the ‘upper layer coordination responsibility’ and the JFAC-AOC only commands the ‘lower layer’ engagement capabilities).


Solving the manpower issue continues to be the first priority. The Allied Air Command training concept correctly addresses this challenge. Sustaining an operational JFAC-structure over a longer period or building up a JFAC capable to C2 air operations in a MJO, however, requires a considerable number of trained Air C2 specialists readily available. Without massively increasing the personnel establishment in NCS Air C2 the only solution lies in maintaining personnel that fulfill the training requirements and having nations agree to make those people available. Therefore, it is paramount that national JFAC personnel are trained to the same standards as the NCS personnel. A further solution to overcome the capacity gap in Air C2 for a MJO / MJO+ could be to partner with the US 3rd Air Force AOC located on Ramstein Airbase.


  • Maintain databases of available and qualified Air C2 personnel, including at NFS JFACs.
  • Nations should agree to make their Air C2 specialists available.
  • Standardize training and evaluation of Air C2 operators.
  • Make the US 603rd AOC available for partnering with the Allied Air ­Command JFAC for MJO / MJO+.

Alliance nations invest highly specialized personnel in multinational staffs and HQs deal with peacetime Air issues, e.g. the European Air Group (EAG), which was founded to assist in the re-integration of the French Air Force into NATO. In any case, nations should consider earmarking these people as available for Air C2 and train them for JFAC-functions. An example is the DEU / NLD Competence Centre for Surface Based Air and Missile Defence (SBAMD) (CC SBAMD) at Ramstein.


  • Earmark personnel of multinational staffs (e.g. EAG, JAPCC, CC SBAMD) for augmentation / supplementation and keep them trained.

Because of the importance of ISR as a key enabler and driver, the nations who have considerable expertise in this field should agree to partner with Allied Air Command and to train and maintain a pool of ISR specialists available for Air C2. Furthermore, for ISR specialists as well as for NAEW&C personnel and some other highly specialized operators, the standard tour of duty should be extended to at least four years. Similarly, space and ­cyber expertise should be made available.


  • Extend standard tour of duty in selected specialist areas to at least four years.

Training at the JFAC Level

Considerations in this area concentrate on realistic, challenging simulated and live exercises which allow the training of the whole system: the JISR-network as well the Air C2 network.


  • Nations should consider making their national / multinational exercises available for NATO.
  • Develop challenging exercise scenarios for the training of the JISR and Air C2 system.

Tactical Level Considerations

The competency and capability deficit in the CRCs is a shortfall that should be addressed as a matter of priority. Nations who are responsible for the training of their personnel should make every effort to better qualify key personnel (Master Controllers / Air Battle Managers / Fighter Controllers / SAM Allocators) and try to use multinational training opportunities offered by C&R training facilities. Allied Air Command should develop standards for key positions against which they are to be evaluated, and finally, ­maintain a robust evaluation scheme for Air C2.


  • Allied Air Command should develop standards for key CRC positions.
  • Develop exercise scenarios that integrate airborne and ground-based air defence in regional or system-wide events.
  • Use the multinational training opportunities that are offered.

Cyber and Space

Because of their importance, NATO should consider developing a Space Policy in addition to its Cyber Strategy; the latter should not be limited to defensive operations. If the Air Commander has the responsibility for Air and Space he must also have the expertise and tools to achieve Space Awareness in his organization to be able to fill the role as Air (and Space) Power Advisor for SACEUR / JFC.

He should also know about the impact Cyber activities can have on his operation, whether his C2 systems are compromised and where Air and Space Power capabilities can contribute to the joint fight. A cyber monitoring / awareness capability could provide him with early warning in case of system attacks. The Cyber domain also offers new opportunities to achieve both kinetic and non-kinetic effects of strategic importance. ­Examples are: the full spectrum of EW, denying access to communication systems, injection of false signals into communication systems, information operations using airborne platforms etc. Relevant NATO doctrine should be analyzed and adapted where necessary to reflect the contri­bution of these domains.


  • Develop a NATO space policy.
  • Consider building up a Space Awareness Capability.
  • Build up a Cyber Monitoring / Awareness Capability at Allied Air Command.
  • Install PE positions at Allied Air Command for space / cyber advisors.

Interoperability of C2 Systems

First of all, ACCS and AirC2IS should be brought into Full Operational ­Capability (FOC) as soon as possible. Furthermore, all C2-systems must be interoperable and present all information available to decision-makers and planners as required. National JFACs should consider using ACCS / AirC2IS as their standard equipment to advance operator interoperability, reducing the need to get accustomed to a new Human Machine Interface (HMI) when augmenting a NATO JFAC. Technically, interoperability should no longer be an issue, when existing agreed upon standards, are adhered to. NATO’s Federated Mission Networks (FMN) is the right approach. The ­political will of nations to share information (Cross Domain Solutions) should be a design feature in all NATO and national systems. The same is true for Interoperability, it is a key design requirement.


  • Speed up the ACCS and AirC2IS projects to bring them to FOC as soon as possible.
  • Maintain / establish interoperability between all NATO and national ­systems.
  • Adopt ‘need to share’ as a design principle for C2 systems.

Foster Resilience

Due consideration should also be given to using hardened facilities no longer occupied, but still available. They also present a basic requirement for meeting NATO’s nuclear deterrence mission.

Because of its limitations in infrastructure, workstations and personnel, NATO / Allied Air Command should seek to partner with the US standing 3rd Air Force (603rd) AOC on Ramstein Air Base. An Alliance AOC formed by Allied Air Command Ramstein and the 603rd AOC would give Allied Air Command better resilience in case of outages or failures, something which was lost as a result of the last NCS Reform.

This construct should be tested and assessed during one of the future US’s AUSTERE CHALLENGE Exercises.

Due to the reduction in the number of CRCs and the peacetime Cross Border Constraints it is difficult to organize lateral transfer of control in case of outages. Lifting border constraints would also render NATO’s Air Policing and Air Defence more effective and efficient.

At all levels, resilience against cyber-attacks should be fostered by maintaining the highest cyber security standards and preparing mitigation / back-up measures in case of system outages. A cyber awareness / monitoring capability at Allied Air Command level could contribute to better ­cyber defence and faster and more effective reactions in case of cyber-­attacks. It is, anyhow, needed to monitor the Link 16 networks.


  • Consider use of existing hardened facilities.
  • Partner with US 603rd AOC for resilience and to more rapidly build up an MJO JFAC capability.
  • Encourage nations to agree on cross border operations in Air Policing / Air Defence.
  • Install a cyber awareness / monitoring capability at Allied Air Command.

Analysis of Impact versus Costs / Priorities – Key Recommendation Areas

Cost / Impact / Prioritization Matrix

Impact: low, medium and high. Low means a low effect on the improvement of the capabilities and increasing knowledge and skills. Medium implies a significant effect. High means a great effect on the capabilities and increasing knowledge and skills.

Cost: Low: < 1M €. Medium: < 10M €. High: > 10M €. In the context of this paper, low and medium costs are defined as affordable. Medium cost ­assumes a high impact relationship. Besides impact and cost, the JISR / AirC2 proposals must meet the following priority criteria: First, they must have strategic implication, derived from their high or medium impact improving capabilities, knowledge, and skills. Second, the proposals should be joint / combined in nature. Third, the proposals should be ­actionable.

Key Recommendation Areas

From the matrix above the following key strategic recommendation ­areas can be derived:


  • Create a multinational JISR-unit to complement the AGS-based capabilities.
  • Increase the availability of sufficiently trained and experienced personnel for all JISR related elements in the NCS / JISR network.
  • All NATO nations should truly commit to the principle of ‘need to share’.

Air C2

  • Nations should make available the required number of sufficiently trained and experienced personnel in all specializations and for all JFAC divisions, including ISR, AAR, Cyber & Space.
  • Resolve doctrinal issues by adapting the NATINAMDS Concept / Air C2 CONOPS.
  • Develop challenging training and exercises for all Air C2 levels.
  • Invest in the rapid completion of the conversion to modern C2 systems (ACCS, AirC2IS) and provide a Cyber Awareness Capability at Allied Air Command.


NATO JISR, a prerequisite for any successful operation, has made some headway from its formerly purely national focus. Building up NATO’s first operated JISR capability, the AGS unit at Sigonella, clearly was the turning point. Together with NAEW&C, after its thorough modernization, NATO now disposes of permanently assigned key JISR capabilities. These, however, must be complemented by additional tactical ELINT / SIGINT / ­COMINT / Electro-Optical (EO) and IMINT-capabilities from the nations. Forming a multinational JISR unit could be a solution to narrow the JISR gap. Last but not least, the JISR network, as well as Air C2, is dependent on sufficiently ex­perienced and qualified personnel, currently only available in a few n­ations.

Modern Air and Space Power, with its capability to deliver kinetic and non-kinetic effects across the operational spectrum, needs responsive, agile and adaptable C2. Following the lessons from OUP, NATO partially ­corrected the drastic reduction in Air C2 manpower. Thus, Allied Air Command was at least marginally capable to meet the challenges of a Smaller Joint Operation – Air Heavy. Nevertheless, a huge training effort is ­necessary, and gaps in specialist areas (especially in ISR) need to be filled. If they cannot be filled, NATO’s Air C2 structure will continue to be critically dependent on US contributions. A firm commitment of nations and further training are required to generate the manpower pool for Allied Air Command for a MJO or concurrent operations. Partnering with the 603rd AOC on Ramstein Airbase could be an interim solution. The availability of sufficiently skilled and trained personnel remains the key. NATO’s training and exercise scenarios, as well as its priorities, should reflect this.

Space and Cyber should both be covered by proper NATO policy and ­included in doctrine and operational planning. Early warning, if possible, of Cyber events is especially important for Air C2; and a Cyber Situational Awareness / Monitoring Capability is needed. Interoperability issues could be overcome by the next generation of C2 systems, which should, therefore, be introduced quickly. National disclosure policies must enable the exchange of vital information in operations.

The loss of capacity and redundancy can only be mitigated by partnering with nationally-provided capabilities. Intensified cross border cooperation in Air Policing and Air Defence should be made possible wherever ­politically feasible.

Even though shortfalls exist in NATO’s JISR and Air C2 capabilities, we are confident that the airmen in the Air C2 structure will do their best to achieve success in operations and master any challenge ahead if the ­Alliance, through the nations, provides the resources. It is the respon­sibility of Commanders at all levels to provide their personnel with a solid ­foundation through proper training. Finally, the personal engagement of the Air Commander with his JFAC staff and his subordinate commanders in ­preparing his organization as well as during operations make the ­difference!

Warsaw Summit Communiqué, 9 Jul. 2016, para 5.
Ibid., para 10.
Initial Operational Capability in support of the NATO Response Force was declared 26 Feb. 2016.
See MC 0582 / 1 – NATO JISR Concept, May 2013.
Warsaw Summit Communiqué, paras 75–77.
A thorough assessment of the issues is included in the paper ‘Missile Defence’ as part of the project.
Warsaw Summit Communiqué, para 46.
Warsaw Summit Communiqué, para. 71.
The JAPCC explored the feasibility of a multinational JISR unit in a study published in Oct. 2015. See:
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Lieutenant General (ret.)
 Friedrich W.
Executive Director, Joint Air Power Competence Centre (2007-2010)

Lieutenant General (ret.) Friedrich Wilhelm Ploeger was born on 25 March 1949 in Emmerich / Germany. He joined the German Air Force in October 1967 and started his career as an Air Weapons Controller / Fighter Controller in the German Air Force. He retired from active service on 30 June 2013 as Deputy ­Com­mander and Acting Commander of NATO ­AIRCOM, Ramstein, Germany.

His military career includes key staff and high ranking NATO and national positions – among them four joint positions – in the fields of operations, force planning and military policy, i. a. as Director Military Policy and Arms Control and Disarmament in MoD Berlin. He also held command positions at all levels, from squadron to corps / force level.

Lieutenant General Ploeger has been lecturing and holding speeches at a number of conferences on the subjects of Space, Cyberspace, Ballistic Missile Defence, and Air Policing in European NATO countries and in the USA. Since retirement, he is still active as a Senior Mentor and Consultant for the ‘Führungsakademie der Bundeswehr’, for NATO as well as for the German Air Force. He is Speaker of the ‘Senior Advisory Board of the ­Führungsakademie der Bundeswehr’ and the ‘Community of former ­CIS-Officers’ of the German Air Force.

He also contributed to books and journals on the subjects of security ­policy, conceptual and operational issues.

Information provided is current as of October 2017

Other Chapters in this Book

Executive Summary and Key Recommendations


The Role of NATO Joint Air Power in Deterrence and Collective Defence

Deterrence and ­Collective Defence

Missile Defence in NATO

Towards a Coherent and Effective Surface Based Air and Missile Defence (SBAMD) as a Key Pillar of NATO ­Integrated Air and Missile Defence System

Hybrid Conflict, Hybrid Warfare and Resilience

Urgent Joint Air Power Priorities

Alliance and Partnership Cooperation

Bridging Mutual Joint Air Power Interests

Industrial and ­Technology Cooperation

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