​The Air Command & Control Process

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… begins with strategic planning at the Air Command (AirCom) for the static NATO Command Structure (NCS) or at the Joint Force Air Component Command (JFACC) for an operations theatre, and considers political guidance and NATO's level of ambition as well as strategic goals and air assets availability. The result is collated in the Air Operations Directive (AOD) which contains a prioritized target list and is communicated to the Combined Air Operations Centres (CAOC).

At the CAOC, the target list may be complemented by air support requests from land force commanders. Air operations resources for offensive, defensive and air support operations are allocated to the tasks on hand.  The airspace is arranged by airspace control measures, for example to accommodate air-to-air refuelling or specific air operations volumes.  Aerial missions are planned and de-conflicted in space and time and arranged in an Air Tasking Order (ATO) and an Airspace Coordination Order (ACO) as the operations foundation for the subordinate execution level.

While flying wings and squadrons prepare and execute their missions, static and / or deployable Air Control Centres (ACC) and Control & Reporting Centres (CRC) execute permanent surveillance of the airspace, control missions in flight, and react to deviations from the normal or planned. CRCs perform these tasks on a 24/7 basis in peacetime under the subject Air Policing and they are allocated interceptors and ground-to-air weapon systems to for aerial investigations and effect.

The process is accommodated by several automated systems tailored for the needs. While the current systems are mostly outdated or proprietary national systems, the future will employ uniform systems throughout most of NATO Europe.  Interim systems are bridging the development of these and may continue to be used in specific contexts.

For the strategic level, the Air Command & Control Information System (AirC2IS) is the air functional system of the Bi-Strategic Commands Automated Information System (Bi-SC AIS) which delivers most functional services for command and control of NATO operations. AirC2IS is being developed under the auspices of the AirC2 PO&S.

At the tactical level, ACCS will soon provide the backbone of air command and control.  ACCS was originally defined in the late 1980, however, consolidation of requirements had to follow the global changes in the 1990s.  Since 1994, ACCS is one of the largest armaments projects of NATO with respect to both, cost and scope, but also in terms of technical challenge and software magnitude. 

ACCS Concept 

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ACCS is the fully integrated automated C2 system to support the planning, tasking and execution of all tactical air operations from fixed sites as well as in a scaled deployed environment.  It implements six major operational functionalities: management of forces, airspace and C2 resources, air surveillance, and the control of air missions and air traffic. The ACCS backbone is sized to fulfil day-to-day peacetime requirements and to deal with early stages of crisis.  The capacity to handle intensified crisis in any region of NATO is created by augmenting the backbone with deployable sustainable components which can also be used for out-of-area peacekeeping operations and to support combined joint task force operations as tasked by the North Atlantic Council.

The ACCS open system architecture, based on existing and emerging standards provides for interoperability with existing national systems.  An integrated ACCS will ensure that Allied Command Europe (ACO) is able to continue to fulfil his air defence mission and adequately direct and control other air missions for a wide range of peacetime and crisis operations.  

Principle Capabilities  

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ACCS Entities

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AirC2 is categorized in several ways: at strategic and tactical echelon; in real-time and non-real-time C2; by its functionalities force, airspace and C2-recsource management, air surveillance, and mission and air-traffic control; or by its system entities which partially match and partially overlap any of these categories:

Air Control Centre 

The Aircraft Control Centre (ACC) performs air mission control for all types of manned air missions and SAM weapons within a designated geographical area. It also provides SAM weapon preparation. The coordination of all air missions enables unity of control and airspace utilisation management. Enhanced offensive Air Mission Control and Support Air Mission Control capabilities are integrated together with Defensive Air Mission Control.  An ACC may be static or deployable.

Recognized Air Picture Production Centre

The Recognized Air Picture (RAP) Production Centre (RPC) produces RAP data within its assigned Area of Responsibility, and manages its subordinate surveillance assets.  An Area Air Picture (AAP) is established by correlating Local Air Pictures (LAP) from sensor fusion with tracks and surveillance data received from sources external to ACCS.  Identification is assigned to each track in the AAP, and the resulting RAP data is made available for dissemination by the ACCS.  The RPC also receives land and maritime surface and sub-surface tracks from external links and disseminates them to ACCS users, and coordinates with other surveillance assets.

The RPC also manages allocated ACCS surveillance assets in accordance with orders and priorities received from the CAOC and in response to requests from RAP users for additional or improved RAP data.  An RPC may be static or deployable.

Sensor Fusion Post 

The Sensor Fusion Post (SFP) develops a LAP through the fusion of data from both active and passive sensors.  It also reports on the status and performance of subordinate sensors, controls sensor detection and responds to Anti-Radiation Missile (ARM) threats and ECM activity.

The ARS as a NATO ACCS functional unit co-locates ACC, RPC and SFP functionality in one single facility; with this implementation, global site resources will be shared by all entities whereas entity specific resources will remain independent and separable.

The Deployable ARS (DARS) will be strategically deployable and capable of tactical mobility either complete or as quick reaction package, but will not operate on the move. It has the functional capability of an ARS and is designed to be used to augment or reinforce elements of the in-place (static) ACCS structure and it may be employed in roles separate from the in-place ACCS structure as determined by the North Atlantic Council.  The DARS will be self-contained and be capable of operating from unprepared sites.  The DARS will be housed in standard shelters, which will constitute its basic building blocks.

CAOC

The ACCS CAOC is the non-real-time component at the upper tactical echelon. In its final implementation of the new NATO command structure, NATO will have two fixed CAOCs in Europe; one in Uedem DEU and one in Torrejon ESP.  At the CAOC, planning is executed following air operations directives from higher echelon and de-conflicted tasking for air operations units is generated.  The conduct of air missions is directly monitored and tasking can be amended if required. 

AirC2 IS

At the strategic echelon with functionalities reaching into the CAOC, the AirC2 Information System as the air functional system of the BiSC AIS provides the functionalities needed to formulate the level of ambition, commander's intent and guidance, identify and prioritize targets and communicate results to lower echelon.