HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Former commanders of both the Electronic Systems Division and Electronic Systems Center here addressed the growth and importance of command and control during a virtual panel March 17.
Part of the 2021 New Horizons capstone event, “Leading in Times of Great Change” also addressed the pace of technology, and innovation and speed in acquisition during the former leaders’ tenures.
Retired Lt. Gen. Gordon Fornell, former ESD commander, said in the past it seemed like communication was an afterthought, not thought of as a weapon in overall planning for war execution.
“We were at the very front end of what I considered a breakthrough on the understanding and appreciation of communication and C2 as a warfighting element,” he said. “As the run-up for Desert Shield was occurring, it brought a real focus to the importance of communications, command and control.”
He mentioned some of the key programs Hanscom personnel worked on at the time, from Joint STARS and AWACS to radar and communication systems.
During retired Lt. Gen. Charles Franklin’s tenure, he believed there was a lack of understanding of the importance of Command and Control, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, or C2ISR, by both the operational and acquisition commands. He recalled creating the FORT, later called Fort Franklin, and now the Hanscom Collaboration and Innovation Center.
“The tactile sensation was missing, so we created a battle lab to show senior leaders how they’d do with degraded C2ISR or improved C2ISR.”
As the U.S. began prepping for a second war with Iraq, retired Gen. William Looney, a three-star at the time, took the helm. He said the Air Force had continued its journey with C2 but hadn’t made as much progress as expected. When Gen. John Jumper became Air Force Chief of Staff, his top priority was command and control, especially with regard to how to connect and command forces.
“When we were getting ready for combat, the operational aspect, General Jumper wanted to see how to bring C2 into that environment and significantly enhance the manner in which we presented and commanded and controlled our forces in actual combat.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Charles Johnson took over during the second Iraq war and said “it was incredible that C2 had been taken for granted for so long,” noting that “now it was up front and center.”
Talking about the Joint STARS platform, Johnson mentioned a famous picture of Iraqi trucks being shot at by A-10s as they headed north and said that set the stage for the future of C2.
“The warfighting commanders now wanted to be able to see the battlefield in real-time, command and control it in real-time.”
The pace of technology and speed of acquisition were addressed by retired Lt. Gen. Ted Bowlds.
“Just the nature of the business of what Hanscom does, that technology changes constantly,” he said. “The military used to be at the forefront of technology; now we tend to follow.”
Bowlds said the acquisition community has always been under the gun to try to figure out how to do business quicker and better, including incorporating new ways of doing business to acquire capabilities faster, and the appetite for that continues today.
He mentioned two examples from his tenure where rapid acquisition took place, with the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node, or BACN, program and standing up a new AOC in Al Udeid.
Talking about the new initiatives such as where DOD and the Air Force are going with air battle management and JADC2, retired Lt. Gen. Charles Davis noted Hanscom played a role.
“I think they took a lot of the lessons learned at Hanscom to be able to try and do command and control as it needs to be done in the future.”
As the New Horizons event overall focused on the new CSAF’s vision of ‘Accelerate Change or Lose,’ some of the generals said they believe that is the right tack as the U.S. moves back to near-peer competition.
“We’re always in a state of change, always adapting and innovating in order to make the Air Force successful,” said Fornell.