C2-Forward concept enhances combat capability

by Lt. Col. Keith Mueller
1st Combat Communications Squadron

U.S. Air Forces in Europe will showcase a new concept designed to enhance the Joint Force Commander’s combat capability as part of the Combat Air Forces/Mobility Air Forces conference Monday and Tuesday on Ramstein.

The concept stemmed from the 2009 Joint Forces Exercise AUSTERE CHALLENGE, when 3rd Air Force was tasked to rapidly deploy the Joint Force Air Component commander to a forward location co-located with the Joint Force commander using the smallest footprint possible.

Airmen from the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing and 603rd Air Operations Center partnered to find a solution ― an all-weather deployable system, known as Command and Control-Forward, or C2-Forward, capable of supporting 24-hour operations, seven days a week, from anywhere in the world.

“Our solution primarily relies on existing Air Force programs of record rather than requiring a complete new investment,” said Col. John Shapland, 435th AGOW commander.  “In today’s constrained fiscal environment, anytime you can build upon an existing capability to meet new requirements you’re already ahead of the power curve.”

Colonel Shapland said the goal of locating the JFACC side-by-side with the JFC was to ensure air, space and cyberspace power are fully and properly employed across the spectrum of joint operations. 

The challenge was providing sufficient communications capabilities to reach back to the 603rd AOC for the majority of planning and operations execution using the smaller footprint.

“Our biggest challenge was designing the right facilities to house the JFACC’s operation in any environment,” said 1st Lt. Jeffrey Pierdomenico, 1st Combat Communications Squadron site lead for the C2-Forward. “Combat Comm already possessed the right command and control gear, but our only command tent and audio-visual options were too large and not tactical enough to meet the C2-Forward mission. The solution we developed allows us to rapidly deploy in multiple configurations to support operations from two to 150 personnel.”

During an operational readiness exercise in 2010, the 435th AGOW and 603rd AOC deployed the first version of C2-Forward made from existing resources, proving the concept was possible. 

This first effort was followed later that year by a weeklong C2-Forward exercise. During this exercise, the 3rd AF commander and his AOC staff executed an operational scenario from the deployed site, further proving and refining the C2-Forward concept. From these exercise and follow-on tests, the team incorporated lessons learned, which resulted in a tailorable, scalable system capable of deploying within 72 hours of notification. 

“The C2-Forward now allows the JFAC commander or JTF commander a host of options to include operating from a down-range location without the high costs or lead times required to deploy a complete AOC, while retaining the full range of AOC capabilities through reliable C2 reach back,” said Col. Pete Davey, 603rd AOC commander. 

If adapted by the Air Force leadership, the next step would be to formalize and standardize C2-Forward across the Air Force.