Chapter 1: Defining Command (B-GA-401-000/FP-001, Canadian Forces Aerospace Command Doctrine)

To conquer the command of the air means victory; to be beaten in the air means defeat and acceptance of whatever terms the enemy may be pleased to impose.

- Giulio Douhet


Air forces exist to exercise aerospace power on behalf of the nation. This is accomplished primarily through the exploitation of the air and space environments to achieve assigned objectives. A century of air warfare has demonstrated that all effective air forces, whether they are large or small, are capable of performing a number of specific functions. These functions are influenced by the physical possibilities and limitations imposed by the environments and by each other. One cannot efficiently or effectively work without the other; however, it is the unique capabilities of each function that when integrated with the other functions ensure the proper application of aerospace power. Aligned with Canadian Forces (CF) doctrine,[1] Canadian aerospace doctrine consists of the following six functions[2],[3]:

Figure 1-1 illustrates the interrelationship of the six Royal Canadian Air Force functions: Command; Act, which comprises two subfunctions (Shape and Move); Sense; Shield; Generate; and Sustain. The enabling functions (Shield, Generate and Sustain) are equally spaced on a large outer ring. Within the outer ring, the core functions (Command, Act and Sense) are placed in their own rectangles and form a pyramid. Command is top centre; Act (Move and Shape) is bottom right; and Sense is bottom left. An arrow runs from the bottom of the Act rectangle to a circle labelled “Effects.” From this circle, a second arrow runs to the bottom of the Sense rectangle. The overlap between Sense and Command is labelled “Assess,” and the overlap between Command and Act is labelled “Plan.” Inside the Command rectangle, a downward arrow runs from Command to a small circle labelled “Decide.” An arrow labelled “Current State” runs from “Assess” (overlap of Sense and Command) to “Decide.” A second arrow labelled “Direct” runs from “Decide” to “Plan” (overlap of Command and Act). End Figure 1-1.

Figure 1‑1. The Royal Canadian Air Force Functions

In order to conduct aerospace operations and activities, the core functions of Command, Sense, and Act operate within a continuous cycle of activities. The outputs of the Sense activities are assessed during Command activities to determine the current state. After comparing the current and desired states, Command activities direct and plan actions. Act activities create effects that will achieve the desired state. Sense activities assess the results of these effects, and the cycle is repeated. This cycle of activities will influence, and can be influenced by, the ongoing function activities of Sustain, Shield, and Generate.

The Sustain, Shield, and Generate activities must be performed continuously in order to effectively maintain, protect, and develop CF aerospace forces and capabilities. Without the activities of these functions, the Command, Sense, and Act activities would be greatly affected. Consequently, a weakness in or failure of one function will negatively impact not only the other five functions but also the overall ability of the aerospace force to achieve a desired state.

The CF philosophy of command demands the highest standards of leadership, doctrine, training, effective decision making, and mutual trust between leaders and their subordinates. To be effective, command should normally be decentralized to the greatest degree practicable in order to cope with the uncertainty, the disorder, the complexity, and the confusion that are often present at the tactical level. Aerospace operations, encompassing challenges that differ in many respects from land and maritime environments, require a physical and operational structure that permits command and control to function effectively. It is with this in mind that we turn our attention to command in the aerospace domain.

Principles of Command

Experience has shown that there exist certain fundamental principles in the command of forces that are formally articulated as the principles of command. These principles are outlined in Table 1-1.


Table 1-1. The Principles of Command
Unity of Command

A single, clearly identified commander must be appointed for each operation. The commander has the authority to plan and direct operations and will be held responsible for an operation’s success or failure.

Span of Control

Assigned resources and activities must be such that one person can exercise effective command or control of the formation or unit.

Chain of Command

The structure of the command and control (C2) process is hierarchical and must be respected. Bypassing the chain of command is justified only in the most exceptional circumstances.

Delegation of Authority

Commanders must be clear when delegating all or part of their authority.

Freedom of Action

Once the task or mission has been established and the necessary orders have been given, subordinate commanders must be permitted maximum freedom of action to take initiative and exercise their skills and knowledge of the local situation in the planning and conduct of the operation.

Continuity of Command

A clear and well understood succession of command is essential.

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Command and Control Defined

Effective and efficient projection of aerospace power permits an air force to deliver aerospace effects. Fundamental to the success of this process is a well-defined command and control structure. Personnel at all levels must understand the fundamentals behind the terms command, control, and command and control (see Table 1-2.).

  1. Command is “the authority vested in an individual of the armed forces for the direction, coordination, and control of military forces.”[4] All or part of this authority may be delegated.
  2. Control is “the authority exercised by commanders over part of the activities of subordinate organizations, or other organizations not normally under their command, which encompasses the responsibility for implementing orders or directives. All or part of this authority may be transferred or delegated.”[5] Control provides a means of exercising effective command.
  3. Command and control (C2) is “the exercise of authority and direction by a commander over assigned, allocated and attached forces in the accomplishment of a mission.”[6] In practice, the C2 process is performed through an arrangement of personnel, equipment, communications, facilities, and procedures employed by a commander in the planning, directing, coordinating, and controlling of forces and operations in the accomplishment of the mission.

Command is the overarching and driving “function that integrates all the functions into a single comprehensive, strategic, operational, or tactical level concept.”[7] Of the six functions, it is universally recognized that Command is fundamental and of paramount importance to the military art. It provides for the vertical and horizontal integration of forces and activities to complete the mission.


Table 1‑2. Command, control, and C2
constitutes formal authority derives by delegation from command
provides oversight, unifying all action supports command in detail
is focused on establishing common intent is focused upon the details of execution
Together as “C2” the following five activities are performed:

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Command and Control Activities

Effective C2 requires the ongoing coordination of both continuous and executive activities.

  1. Continuous activities are required throughout the execution of aerospace operations and include:
    1. Monitoring: the processes of observing and reporting on the full spectrum of factors within the operational space, in order to provide accurate situational awareness;
    2. Assessing: the process of estimating the capabilities and performance of organizations, individuals, materiel, or systems, in order to advise the commander; and
    3. Planning: the logical process by which command decisions are made.
  2. Executive activities regularly occur during the execution of aerospace operations and include:
    1. Directing: the act of command authority giving specific instructions to subordinates and supporting units. Commanders must provide all required guidance in order to maximize efficiency and effectiveness, and to reduce uncertainty throughout the spectrum of conflict. Directing should also ensure that subordinate commanders are given the opportunity to exercise initiative in order to capitalize on opportunities that present themselves in the tactical environment.
    2. Coordinating: the sharing of information to gain consensus and organize activities. Effective coordination should integrate, synchronize, and deconflict operations between different organizations. Normally, commanders at all levels delegate considerable authority to their staffs to accomplish the coordination of aerospace operations.

Authorities and Relationships

Every air force commander (comd) and commanding officer (CO) is empowered with full command of their formation or unit in order to accomplish day-to-day force generation (FG) activities. Command and control relationships can differ greatly when forces change from FG to force employment (FE) operations. During FE operations, comds and COs are delegated their C2 authorities according to their appointment within the expeditionary chain of command. See Table 1-3.

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Table 1‑3. Command and control relationships

Assign separate
employment of
components of units/

X X      

Assign missions

X X X    
Assign tasks X X X X  
Delegate OPCOM X X       
Delegate TACOM X X   X  
Delegate OPCON X X X    
Delegate TACON X X X X X

Coordinate tactical
positioning and flow,
local movement and
defence at installations

Plan and coordinate X X X X X



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Command can be exercised at three different levels: full, operational, and tactical.

  1. Full command is “the military authority and responsibility of a commander to issue orders to subordinates. It covers every aspect of military operations and administration and exists only within national services.”[8] It applies to all levels from the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) down to the unit commander. Since it is applicable to national service only, alliance or coalition commanders cannot have full command over forces of other nations.
  2. Operational command (OPCOM) is “the authority granted to a commander to assign missions or tasks to subordinate commanders, to deploy units, to reallocate forces, and to retain or delegate operational control [(OPCON), tactical command (TACOM)], and/or tactical control [TACON] as necessary.”[9] It does not include responsibility for administration. While OPCOM allows a commander to assign separate employment to components of assigned units, it cannot be used to disrupt the basic organization of a unit to the extent that the unit cannot readily be given a new task or be redeployed. A commander will normally exercise OPCOM through commanders of subordinate components of a task force (TF).
  3. Tactical command (TACOM) is “the authority delegated to commanders to assign tasks to forces under their command for the accomplishment of missions assigned by higher authority.”[10] TACOM is narrower in scope than OPCOM but includes the authority to delegate or retain TACOM/TACON.

Control can be exercised at the operational, tactical, or administrative levels.

  1. Operational control (OPCON) is “the authority delegated to a commander to direct allocated forces to accomplish specific missions or tasks that are usually limited by function, time, or location, to deploy units concerned, and to retain or delegate tactical control of those units.”[11] Commanders may further delegate OPCON and TACON of assigned forces. OPCON permits commanders to benefit from the immediate employment of assigned forces without further reference to a senior authority.
  2. Tactical control (TACON) permits effective “local direction and control of movements or manoeuvres necessary to accomplish missions or tasks assigned.”[12] In general, TACON is delegated when two or more units not under the same OPCON are combined to form a cohesive tactical unit for a specified period of time.
  3. Administrative control (ADCON) is defined as the “direction or exercise of authority over subordinate or other organizations in respect to administrative matters such as personnel management, supply, services, and other matters not included in the operational missions of the subordinate or other organizations.”[13]

Planning authority is the authority where there is a potential for a command relationship in the future. Planning authority gives units/ formations the authority to liaise directly for planning purposes but does not constitute a change in either command or control of units/formations.

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Supporting and Supported Commanders

Support is defined as “the action of a force, or portion thereof, which aids, protects, complements, or sustains any other force.”[14] There are four categories of support: general, direct, mutual, and close.

  1. General support is the action that is “given to the supported force as a whole rather than to any particular subdivision of it.”[15]
  2. Direct support is “the support provided by a unit not attached to or under the command of the supported unit or formation, but required to give priority to the support required by that unit or formation.”[16]
  3. Mutual support is the action that “units render each other against an enemy, because of their assigned tasks, their position relative to each other and to the enemy, and their inherent capabilities.”[17]
  4. Close support is the “action of the supporting force against targets or objectives which are sufficiently near the supported force as to require detailed integration or coordination of the supporting action with fire, movement, or other actions of the supported force.”[18]

Support relationships: A support relationship is established by a commander between subordinate commanders when one organization should aid, protect, complement, or sustain another force. The designation of supporting relationships is important as it conveys priorities to commanders and staffs that are planning or executing operations. The resulting command relationship is, by design, an unstructured but flexible arrangement. Supported/supporting commanders and their commands are defined as:

  1. Supported command is “a command that receives forces or other support from another command and has primary responsibility for all aspects of an assigned task.”[19]
  2. Supported commander is the commander who has the primary responsibility for all aspects of a task assigned by either the strategic or the operational level command.[20]
  3. Supporting command is “a command that provides forces or other support to another command.”[21] Note: subordinate commands/ commanders are not considered to be supporting the commands/ commanders they are subordinate to.
  4. Supporting commander provides forces or capabilities to a supported commander.[22] The supporting commander can perform this function regardless of rank in relation to the supported commander. Example: the joint force air component commander (JFACC) major-general (MGen) may be supporting a joint force commander (JFC) who may be of a lower rank.

Support responsibilities. The common superior commander is responsible for ensuring that both the supported and supporting commanders understand the degree of authority that the supported commander is granted. The commander can establish supporting/supported command relationships during any phase of an operation to direct units to work together without having to transfer command authority or formally assign another command relationship. This relationship is further defined as follows:

  1. Supported commander. The supported commander should ensure that the supporting commanders understand the assistance required. It is the supported commander’s responsibility to ensure that intent and requirements are clearly articulated to supporting commanders and that they are consulted to help shape the plan. This will ensure a clearly defined plan that has the greatest likelihood of mission accomplishment.
  2. Supporting commander. The supporting commander determines the forces, tactics, methods, procedures, and communications required to provide this support, which is based on the consultation process with the supported commander and other supporting commanders. The supporting commander will advise and coordinate with the supported commander on matters concerning the employment and limitations (e.g., logistics) of such support, assist in planning for the integration of such support into the supported commander’s effort as a whole, and ensure that support requirements are appropriately communicated within the supporting commander’s organization. A supporting relationship does not imply subordination to the supported commander. When a supporting commander cannot fulfill the needs of the supported commander, the superior commander will be notified by either the supported commander or a supporting commander. The superior commander is responsible for determining a solution.

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Mission and Task

Mission. In its simplest form, a mission is any activity assigned to an individual, unit, formation, or force. In aerospace operations, a mission is normally assigned by an authority with full command, OPCOM, or OPCON. Missions can be assigned via an air tasking order (ATO)[23] or by a similar order to ensure that the mission has been planned and developed through a recognized process and is coordinated with other missions during a given time frame and geographical location.

Task. A task is defined as any “activity which contributes to the achievement of a mission.”[24] In aerospace operations, a task can be assigned by commanders at any level and can be directed or implied.


It is critically important to understand the principles, definitions, and relationships associated with the command and control of aerospace forces. Once commanders and staffs at all levels appreciate the concepts of command, control, and support, they can effectively exercise their roles and responsibilities within the organizational structure of the RCAF and CF, leading to success in the employment of aerospace power in the joint operational environment.  

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1. See B-GJ-005-000/FP-001, Canadian Forces Joint Doctrine (CFJP-01), Canadian Military Doctrine, April 2009, 1. (accessed February 9, 2012).  (return)

2. The Act Function comprises the two sub-functions of Shape and Move. (return)

3. Refer to the keystone aerospace operational doctrine handbooks for a detailed discussion of the other RCAF functions or sub-functions. (return)

4. DTB record 27866. (return)

5. DTB record 375. (return)

6. DTB record 5950. (return)

7. DTB record 26166. (return)

8. DTB record 4340. See also B-GJ-005-300/FP-001, Canadian Forces Joint Publication, CFJP 3.0, Operations. (return)

9. DTB record 19477. (return)

10. DTB record 5491. (return)

11. DTB record 1056. (return)

12. DTB record 5493. (return)

13. DTB record 3289. (return)

14. DTB record 1362. (return)

15. DTB record 657. (return)

16. DTB record 483. (return)

17. DTB record 4835. (return)

18. DTB record 406. Also, see United States Marine Corps (USMC), Aviation Operations (MCWP 3-2),

(accessed February 9, 2012). (return)

19. DTB record 32319. (return)

20. See DTB record 37280. (return)

21. DTB record 32320. (return)

22. See DTB record 37281. (return)

23. The ATO embodies command decisions that must be centrally controlled, but decentralized for the operators to execute effectively. It enables the aerospace commander to control theatre-wide aerospace forces in support of the JFC’s intent. The ATO ensures the integration of aerospace operations theatre-wide to bring forces to bear at the time and location of the commander’s choosing. The ATO is centrally planned and developed at the operational level, but its execution is decentralized to subordinate command and control nodes, and tactical level units. (return)

24. DTB record 20312. (return)