Multidomain command and control will be a critical factor in the way the US Air Force operates in the future, according to service officials. 

The Air Force operates in the air, space and cyber domains, requiring seamless command and control across the three. In one regard, integrating and stringing together in and through each will require operational agility. 

"That's the ability to rapidly generate and shift among multiple solutions for a given challenge," Maj. Gen. Thomas Deale, director of operations at Air Combat Command, said of operational agility, at the Air Force Association's Air, Space and Cyber Conference. 

Click here for our coverage of the 2016 Air Force Association conference.

In many respects, Deale said that kinetics alone won't be able to generate effects in future conflicts. The Air Force will have to employ a combination of kinetic and non-kinetic tools while fusing fifth-generation war fighting to be successful. 

"So to be successful, we've really got to step towards fully integrated, a fused, a fifth-generation level of war fighting that integrates all of our capabilities from all three domains — air, space, cyber — to include joint and ally capabilities to the point of attack," he said. 

Moreover, flexibility and operational agility mean utilizing some space, cyberspace capability, special operations or some additional measure if a particular target such as an integrated air defense system or a surface to air missile cannot be taken out by pure kinetic means. 

"We're going to see a greater ability of the cyber and space domains to start influencing and generating kill effects in what has historically been the air domain's operations," he said. 

While there has been much discussion of cyberwar surrounding recent hacking incidents, Maj. Gen. Christopher Weggeman, commander of 24th  Air Force, or Air Forces Cyber, warned this might not be the way to think of how the service approaches cyber effects in a multidomain construct. 

"It's not cyberwar — it's cyberspace operations and effects in war," he said during the same panel. "We're already doing multidomain integration right now, both as a service cyber-supported commander and in support of Cyber Command," he told C4ISRNET on the sidelines of the conference regarding the Air Forces cyber squadrons. 

He also noted that the Air Force is taking several measures for its cyber forces to enable what have been traditional Air Force military activity. Working with the Air Force chief information officer and other staff on a number of initiatives, he said, the force is trying to put together mission defense teams to help defend programs of record and weapons systems following vulnerabilities assessments. 

In fact, the Defense Department recently shifted assets around to more closely hone in on weapons systems vulnerabilities assessments. A DoD official told C4ISRNET in an email that the agency has "allocated resources within the Department to assess and mitigate, where feasible, cyber vulnerabilities on all weapon platforms to reduce the cyber-attack surface, particularly in our war fighting platforms." 

While declining to talk about specifics as they apply to offensive cyber capabilities, Weggeman offered that "the key for any organic offensive capability is the fact that you have to be able to present that capability to the joint war fighting chain where the authorities exist to be able to use it."

Officials also discussed the evolution of these multidomain concepts in warfare. Lt. Gen. John Raymond, deputy chief of staff for operations for the Air Force, noted how Desert Storm was the first space war in which the military took space capabilities and integrated them into wartime operations. Now, he said, "you could consider [Operation Inherent Resolve] the first war where we are really working to integrate cyber into that fight in a much more holistic manner than what we’ve ever done in the past."

"I would just say that we are working — just like we have done in other domains — working to integrate everything into the fight, and we’re doing that more than what we’ve done in the past," Raymond told C4ISRNET following his panel appearance at the conference. The current effort is "very analogous to space capabilities [because] we worked very hard over the years to integrate space capabilities."

Deale also hit on a similar notion when comparing today’s operational tempo and need for flexibility to the Gulf War efforts. "Now the flexibility that I talk about in real time of air, space, cyber and other capabilities has got to be in response to an emerging adversary," he said. "We’re going to have, from an air sense, aircraft take off with a general area in mind of where they’re going to strike. Their exact target’s location won’t be defined until they’re in the terminal phase of their attack. That’s the type of integration we’re going to need and the type of flexibility that we’re going to need. When we fought in Desert Storm more than 20 years ago we operated on a 72-hour [air tasking order] planning cycle — a three-day planning cycle. That is archaic."

Weggeman described acquisition agility as one of the policies standing in the way of his job. "Acquisition agility for IT and IT refresh looking forward is going to be essential," he explained, because forces do not have the network support needed. "We need to get into the cloud, we need data security, we need analytics to drive operational maneuver."

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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