AFCENT command and control operations weather the storm

  • Published
  • By Capt. Mark Graff
  • U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs
As a violent force approached, the Airmen dug in to repel the force. It was just like an attack, but this one came from nature.

Hundreds of miles wide, the force posed a devastating threat. Undeterred, the Airmen assessed the situation, developed and refined their plan and prepared to continue operations. 

The force smashed into their northern and western flank, but still, the Airmen stayed focused on the U.S. Central Command mission, a fight thousands of miles away. The opposing force was no enemy, however. These Airmen of the 609th Air Operations Center, Detachment 1, Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, faced Hurricane Florence. 

Airmen of the 609th AOC Det. 1 support real-world command and control operations everyday with AFCENT’s forward headquarters at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. Whether it’s ensuring the Combined Air Operations Center maintains resiliency in the face of any attack or situation, or planning hundreds of daily air mobility missions, this partnership between the Airmen in Qatar and the U.S. is essential to a new model of command and control operations.

Last week, these AFCENT Airmen balanced the priorities of continuing to support airpower operations in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, all while preparing Shaw AFB military headquarters and their homes for Florence’s onslaught. 

Florence slammed into North and South Carolina devastating multiple communities and families. The Air Force evacuated aircraft from multiple installations to avoid damage. 

Yet continuing operations in the face of Florence’s extraordinary attack was vital to AFCENT continuing daily operations in support of CENTCOM military objectives. AFCENT Airmen and joint forces worked together daily to offset Iran’s significant destabilizing force all while leading a diverse coalition that delivers airpower in Afghanistan, as well as Iraq and Syria, as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Operation Inherent Resolve, respectively. 

“The National Defense Strategy inspires us to develop cutting-edge [command, control, communications, computers and intelligence] operations that foster U.S. deterrence credibility into the future of advanced high-end warfare,” said Col. Paul Maykish, 609th AOC commander. “Hurricane Florence helped us do our part of the strategy by proving our [command and control] concepts faster. Florence enhanced our convictions that we can operate from anywhere.” 

AFCENT has adopted a distributed model of command and control operations, meaning that multiple organizations at a handful of locations combine to shoulder the operational level of war. 

“We’re experimenting with distributed command and control operations, putting the Air Force on the leading edge for how we can operate in the future. Florence compelled us to re-distribute these real-world [command and control] operations in the U.S. to three different locations. We were ready,” said Lt. Col. Marlon Strickland 609th AOC Det. 1 commander.

Distribution of forces is a timeless military tactic making it difficult for any enemy or attack to defeat a force or, raising the stakes of doing so. AFCENT’s model of distributing operational-level warfare however, is cutting edge resilience.

“Just as flexibility is key to airpower, resiliency is a key to command and control,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, Combined Forces Air Component commander for U.S. Central Command. “As our adversaries observe us providing credible airpower across CENTCOM, over 1,000 aviation events per day, they will also see that the [command and control] of these operations is resilient and not dependent on one location or mission system.”