Griffin Strike showed the British practice of giving verbal orders, while other nations, such as France, relied on written orders, he said. "The written order is entirely valid but it is important to understand the cultural difference," he said.
"That came out loud and clear on Tuesday afternoon when there a little degree of confusion over exactly who was going to do what," he said. "C2 is absolutely vital."
All nations use secure communications but allies should find it easier to talk to each other.
In the Griffin Strike exercise, an officer in a "C2 land node" talked to a commander in the navy component, Atherton said. That required some six different nodes, four firewalls and three satellites for the land commander to talk to the navy commander, who was just some 75 miles off the coast of Cornwall, southwest Britain.
Those handling procurement "in the capability world" need to factor in the US, French and NATO forces, with whom the British use secure communications, he said. "All too often we miss that right at the outset."
Griffen Strike consists of an April 10-23 exercise in Britain, with 5,500 personnel, of which some 2,000 are from the French Air Force, Army and Navy. Some 20 aircraft and 10 ships are committed, including the French Dixmude helicopter carrier.
The need to slash bureaucracy could be seen in British and French air-to-air refueling, a key "force multiplier," Atherton said.
UK and France both will fly their fleets of Airbus A330 tanker aircraft. The French Air Force will clear Mirage and Rafale fighters to refuel off their tanker jets, but "why can’t they read that across to the UK?" he said.
"That would avoid a test, trials, clearance process that would take weeks if not months," he said. "There has got to be a better way of doing this."
Bureaucracy hits other areas such as RAF arming the F-35 joint strike fighter with the Paveway 4 bomb, he said. That will take six to eight months of a trials process rather than an approval based on clearance for the US F-35.
"We’ve got to get smarter doing this," he said.
On air mobility, there is a general short supply of aircraft to fly loads, he said. There should be a way of using spare capacity, so the RAF could fly a half-full C-17 transport plane, stop in France or Frankfurt, Germany, to pick up a load for French or US forces, he said.
There is a NATO process but "frankly, it doesn’t work," he said.
Atherton said there is a need for a commonality of clearances rather than a specific clearance set by each country, which complicates the mission. It little matters whether it is a British or a US Chinook helicopter in the back of a C-17, he said, "just crack on with it and do it."
Another lack of compatibility lies in medical capability and equipment for airlift and battlefield helicopters, something he observed Iraq and Afghanistan.
"This saves life, this matters," he said. But he emphasized that there is individual testing and trials of equipment.
In force protection, the British could probably learn from French forces deployed to hot spots in sub-Saharan Africa, he said, adding that it's not about critical mass, but how a mission is executed
to do it
He acknowledged that intelligence-sharing is sensitive, as there is the issue of sovereignty. But, he said, the issue should still be addressed at the political level.
"ISR intelligence is everything," he said. "Gathering, processing and dissemination is the future, the real world."
The A400M presents an opportunity as Britain and France bring into service the airlifter, he said.
"There is real opportunity there to learn from each other, to reduce the burden that we are both doing individually," he said. "The politicians would like this as it will reduce the cost and cut the time measurably to reach full operational capability."
Training is also important, he said, and allies should train on a wider scale, not just at high levels.
Gen. André Lanata, the French chief of staff of the Air Force, who opened the conference, recalled the trilateral exercise in December at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in the United States with the F-22 Raptor, British Typhoon and French Rafale.
He said the April 20 ceremony marked the 100th anniversary of the La Fayette squadron, staffed by American pilots before the US entered the First World War.
Heidi Grant, deputy under secretary of the US Air Force for international affairs, said in her opening remarks that cooperation and partnership were more important than ever for the US.
In 2010, the three air forces signed up for the trilateral strategic initiative, with the aim to share information on operations and doctrine.
Griffin Strike was the latest exercise for the combined joint expeditionary force agreed by Britain and France under the 2010 Lancaster House Treaties.