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Command in Air War: Centralized vs. Decentralized Control of Combat Airpower

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Doctoral thesis

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What impact has the Information Age had on the Air Forces doctrinal tenet of centralized control and decentralized execution This thesis traces the evolution of command and control of air power through operations Desert Storm, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom and compares its practice with classic theories established by Huntington, Cohen, Van Creveld, and Air Force doctrine. In the absence of a peer superpower in the 1990s, U.S. decision makers often resorted to the use of detailed constraints to gain direct influence on military operations. The more detailed the constraints from the strategic level, the closer the theater military commander held authority for planning air strikes, and the less proactive the air component was in coordinating with other components. The Air Force developed the Air Operations Center AOC to put together battlespace information. It is not yet possible to do this at lower levels, so the AOC has become dominant in controlling air operations. Initially resistant to get involved in ongoing missions, commanders found the AOC was needed to accomplish time-sensitive targeting missions. But the insertion of the AOC into ongoing operations also led to a change in the distribution of tasks. Whereas before the aircrew performed the whole kill chain sequence, now it often performed only the end-game tasks. This redistribution increases the potential for system accidents because people tend to drift from procedures during slack times and are more likely to be unprepared when the system becomes tightly coupled. Information, telecommunications, sensor, and weapons technologies have altered the way these humans perform their jobs, and the jobs themselves, but commanders still need to cultivate a learning organization. Uncertainty and the coupling of diverse organizations still require that they balance empowerment with accountability by developing depth in the command relationships among their subordinates.

Subject Categories:

  • Administration and Management
  • Humanities and History
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics
  • Command, Control and Communications Systems

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