CFACC and CAOC Observations and Recommendations from RIMPAC 2014 (RCAF Journal - WINTER 2015 - Volume 4, Issue 1)

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By Colonel David Lowthian, MSM, CD, MSS

Editor’s note: As part of the ongoing education and training in command and control (C2) within the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), much of what we teach is practised, honed and improved upon during exercises. Exercise Rim of the Pacific offers an excellent opportunity to practice joint C2 in key leadership positions. In this latest in a series of RCAF articles on C2, Colonel David Lowthian offers insights into his experience during Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2014 as the Deputy Combined Forces Air Component Commander.

Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) continues to be the premier multinational training exercise. It provides an exceptional training and learning environment through serialized and free-play events that increase in tempo and magnitude as the exercise progresses. Although it is maritime-centric, it offers tremendous benefit to RCAF personnel, greatly enhancing their understanding of tactical capabilities. RIMPAC 2014 included approximately 340 RCAF men and women operating in air-component roles. These roles included four tactical detachments (CP140, CC130T, CC150T and CF188), the air task force (ATF) / air expeditionary wing (AEW), key positions within the combined air operations centre (CAOC), fighter controllers located at the Hawaiian Radar Operations Centre as well as two key leadership positions (the Deputy Combined Forces Air Component Commander [CFACC] and the Deputy Commander Combined Task Force 172 [Maritime Patrol]). Each of the air-component entities provided lessons learned through their respective chains of command. This article reflects on the functions and responsibilities of the CFACC and CAOC and identifies areas where RCAF contributions to future coalition operations and exercises can be improved.

During RIMPAC 2014, the CFACC and Deputy CFACC were non-United States (US) military personnel, demonstrating the efficacy of multinational interoperability, doctrine, education and professional development programmes. This is also reflective of the trust that the US military has in its multinational partners in a region that is becoming of increasing strategic importance. Additionally, numerous senior positions within the components and the CAOC were apportioned to Canada, indicative of the credibility RCAF personnel have gained within the US military.

The CFACC is responsible for planning, coordinating and executing an air campaign, utilizing over 200 aircraft—including over 100 fighters—that fly approximately 4,000 sorties during the three-week exercise. The CFACC has a broad span of control that is heavily dependent upon reliable communications; this is a difficult undertaking, given that many stations operate and communicate on non-compatible networks.[1]

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The CFACC must clearly identify their priorities and communicate them effectively down the chain of command. This was done very effectively during RIMPAC 2014. The CFACC’s priorities were: first, support the Commander Combined Task Force (CCTF); second, maximize training opportunities wherever possible; third, safety is paramount; and fourth, malama ka 'aina—respect the environment. Command is only one of the CFACC’s roles; in RIMPAC 2014, the CFACC was also the airspace control authority (ACA) and the area air defence commander (AADC). This is in accordance with doctrine, which highlights these and additional responsibilities for the CFACC, such as space coordinating authority[2] as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) coordination.

As ACA, the CFACC was responsible for deconfliction with Federal Aviation Administration authorities and for the production, oversight and enforcement of ACA directives: airspace control plan (ACP), airspace control order (ACO) and special instructions (SPINS). Real-world civilian and military aircraft were a safety concern throughout the exercise, particularly as exercise tempo and operational complexity increased. Additionally, environmental considerations related to munitions, ranges and noise had to be taken into consideration by the CFACC.

As AADC, the CFACC was accountable to not only the CCTF, but also to the 22 contributing nations, as air-defence operations must be coordinated with all tactical operations on over both land and sea. This involved the development of an area air defence plan (AADP) and the coordination of activities between the maritime and air components, which began four months prior to the commencement of RIMPAC during the staff exercise (STAFFEX) event. Regional defence agencies must coordinate and deconflict activities, particularly when both sea- and land-based air-defence and air-control capabilities are committed to the operation. This includes clearly communicating and delineating areas of responsibility, defensive-counter-air (DCA) coverage and alert postures, radio procedures, corridor and tanker operations as well as surface-to-air capabilities. Holes in coverage as well as procedural flaws must be identified and rectified; otherwise, there is an increased risk of fratricide and catastrophic losses at the outset of hostilities.

As with any operation or exercise, much of the CFACC’s effort is committed to developing and building relationships within a joint, interagency, multinational and public (JIMP) context. Above all, components must coordinate their efforts as supported and supporting commanders; this requires substantial effort and time, especially within a multinational operating environment. This philosophy must resonate at all levels within the CFACC chain of command. Although air components rely on decentralized efficiency in operations, the commander’s intent must be clearly communicated through instruments of mission command such as: mass air briefings, air operations directives, mission analysis, targeting boards and planning groups.

Delegation of authorities is an important element to mission command. The CFACC, with Judge Advocate General (JAG) assistance, developed a delegation of authorities matrix (Table 1) to account for an array of operational eventualities so that decisions and actions were not interrupted by process. This tool was extremely effective during RIMPAC 2014, especially so during dynamic and time-sensitive targeting events.

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Table 1. RIMPAC 2014 delegation of authorities matrix
 DivisionSub-DivisionCombat PlanCCOCAOC DirD/CFACCCFACCCCTF
TargetingTarget EngagementPre-Hostilities       X X  
Combat Operations   X X X X  
Dynamic TargetingWet – CFMCC       X X  
Dry – Overland   X X X X  
Collateral DamageLevel 1–3   X X X X  
Level 4*       X X  
Level 5*           X
Targeting Board ApprovalsHVTL/HPTL       X X  
TST           X
JPTL           X
PRPersonnel RecoveryLow Risk   X X X X  
Medium–High Risk       X X  


Change to Alert StatusPre-Hostilities       X X  
Combat Operations   X X X X  
Re-Roll TaskingNo Loss in Capability   X X X X  
Gap in Capability       X X  
OPPDeliberate OperationsSupported       X X  
Supporting   X X X X  
ORMHazard Risk Index (HRI)<9 High–Extreme       X X  
10–17 Medium     X X X  
18–20 Low X X X X X  
Comms   Internal C2 System Shut Down        X  X  
 Comms Lockdown      X  X  X  
External – Media Exercise Event    X  X  X  X  
 National      X  X  X  
 Real Life Event        X  X  
ProductsACO, ACP, AADP, CAOP, MAAP        X X  
Battle Rhythm Deliverables  X  X  X      
ResourcesResource Movement Outside of Area of Operations Aircraft Real Life Event        X  X  
 Personnel Real Life Event        X  X  
 Exercise Event            X

* Collateral damage levels 4 & 5 are included for training and reference purposes only and will not be exercised during RIMPAC 14

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RIMPAC provided an excellent opportunity to refine the ATF/AEW construct. This article focuses on the coalition operational level, specifically the CFACC and CAOC. In preparing for the RIMPAC deployment, all Canadian Forces Taskings, Plans and Operations (CFTPO) candidates were assessed according to their background and training at the operational level and at an air operations centre (AOC). There was a balance between senior and junior personnel, some with previous RIMPAC (tactical) experience. Approximately 50 per cent had taken the Tactical Command and Control Course (TCCC) or the Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre’s (CFAWC’s) Operations Command and Control Course (OCCC). This training, combined with real-life operational experience, permitted rapid transition to CAOC operations and instant credibility among the CAOC director, division chiefs as well as senior watch and combat officers.

Looking forward to RIMPAC 2016, it is important to highlight where the RCAF should concentrate when lobbying for additional positions and where RCAF courses can modify and update their content. RIMPAC 2014 conducted planning conferences through 2013 and in early 2014; the schedule included a planning conference and commander’s conference in February 2014 as well as a final planning conference and STAFFEX event in April 2014. These events enabled the development of a concept of operations (CONOPS) for all components and provided table-top exercise serials so that exercise plans and documentation could be finalized prior to the exercise. They also initiated the relationship-building and networking processes.

Several observations were drawn from these activities and were confirmed/validated during the exercise. First, during the planning conference in February 2014, it was identified by CF188 planners that access to F-22 debriefs at the Hawaiian Air National Guard unit would have been of great training value. This was raised to Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) leadership appointed to RIMPAC, and a concerted effort commenced to enable access. Initial correspondence showed positive results; however, security-clearance issues and operations-security (OPSEC) concerns were raised by US agencies. They had determined that there was insufficient time to screen and grant clearances within operational risk tolerances. Should access to F-22 debriefs be determined to be of value for RIMPAC 2016, it is recommended that access and clearance requirements be communicated and pursued in collaboration with exercise planners at the earliest opportunity. Planning for RIMPAC 2016 commenced in the Fall of 2014.

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CAF Photo

Colonel Lowthian, second from the left, discussing an operational issue with his counterparts at the RIMPAC 2014 CAOC

The importance of area air defence, especially given the responsibilities and accountabilities designated to the CFACC as AADC, cannot be understated. RCAF personnel preparing for AOC duties on operations and/or exercises should have a better awareness and understanding of this capability, especially so in a multinational setting. Training in area air defence and airspace control should be provided during the CFAWC’s OCCC and the TCCC.

RIMPAC is a maritime-centric exercise and, as such, the Combined Forces Maritime Component Commander was normally the supported commander during the exercise. That said, the CFACC was always the supported commander for personnel recovery events; this is consistent with published AOC doctrine. Whether an individual falls overboard on a ship, is lost in the jungle or ejects from an aircraft, the CFACC is the supported commander. The recovery is coordinated and controlled by the personnel recovery coordination centre (PRCC) within the CAOC. This is the case for opposed and unopposed recoveries (i.e., combat search and rescue [CSAR] and search and rescue [SAR]). Although the RCAF does not conduct CSAR, RCAF personnel will likely work within a CAOC where this function is assigned to the CFACC. RCAF personnel should have some understanding of the capability and coordination requirements. An introduction to joint personnel recovery and its doctrine should be provided to RCAF personnel during the CFAWC OCCC.

One key element to the success of RIMPAC is the unclassified (UNCLAS) nature of the exercise. This permits participation by numerous countries and also allows lessons learned and best practices to be documented, openly released and shared. During UNCLAS exercises, the US military routinely employs rules of engagement (ROE) drawn from the San Remo ROE open-source document. The San Remo ROE were employed during the STAFFEX in April and were discussed in detail by designated commanders and legal advisors during the build-up to RIMPAC. Although the ROE are generic, they serve as an excellent tool to commence the conversation and relationship between commanders and their legal advisors; they also serve as a basis for initial planning and CONOPS development. It is recommend San Remo ROE be incorporated into RCAF and CAF operational-level courses. The manual is an invaluable resource for establishing early lessons and discussions on ROE and the Law of Armed Conflict.

As stated, the CFACC and the CAOC serve as supporting elements to the maritime campaign during RIMPAC; therefore, the Combat Operations and Plans divisions are the focus of the CAOC. Other divisions within the CAOC, such as ISR, Air Mobility and Strategy Plans are given less significance and are represented by a relatively small number of personnel. It is anticipated that the ISR, Air Mobility and Strategy Plans divisions may grow in future RIMPAC exercises, given the increased play they received and the manner in which they were relied upon during RIMPAC 2014. The Strategy Planning Division and the Targeting Effects Team represent two excellent opportunities where the RCAF can cultivate expertise in operational-design and targeting-cycle practices. The RCAF had one officer in the Strategy Planning Division and no personnel on the Targeting Effects Team. Both sections provide outstanding opportunities for developing the skills and thought processes where grand strategy and operational intent are translated into tactical effects. The RCAF should campaign for more positions within the Strategy Planning Division and the Targeting Effects Team for RIMPAC 2016. Targeting working groups and boards should be included in the CFAWC OCCC, as these processes apply to both coalition and national interests.

RIMPAC 2014 once again demonstrated the trust and credibility that Canada has earned within multinational circles. The Deputy CFACC position was of exceptional value and should be alternated with the CFACC position. Additionally, the RCAF provided a while-so-employed (WSE) colonel for one of the CAOC director positions; this worked very well and was ultimately necessary. All three CAOC directors and their deputies were ranked at colonel or naval captain. Had the RCAF sent a lieutenant-colonel instead of a WSE colonel, it would have impacted the individual’s ability to perform credibly in the multinational setting. The RCAF should actively pursue the CFACC position for RIMPAC 2016; if this is not possible, the Deputy CFACC position should be secured again. Senior positions within the multinational CAOC should be filled according to the rank specified; if this is not possible, a WSE promotion for the duration of the exercise should be supported.

RIMPAC provided an excellent opportunity to refine the ATF/AEW construct and to exercise C2 in accordance with doctrine. As the RCAF continues to build upon this process (through humanitarian operations, deliberate operations and working groups), exercises such as RIMPAC are central to our ability to validate operational doctrine in a multinational, multidisciplinary environment. RCAF lead planners for all exercises should clearly understand the importance of command-level emphasis on the requirement to evolve and mature RCAF C2 doctrine during their respective exercises; this should be highlighted when they receive 1 Canadian Air Division planning guidance.

Our matured contribution to RIMPAC has given the RCAF instant credibility and has allowed our leaders and planners to work seamlessly in a combined environment. As we look toward the future, we should focus on our training by integrating our tactical- and operational-level courses in order to maximize our lessons learned and best practices.

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CAF Photo

Canadians who worked within the CAOC and filled staff positions during RIMPAC 2014


Colonel David Lothian is a transport pilot with time on the CC130 Hercules and CC177 Globemaster.  He is currently serving as the Wing Commander, 8 Wing. 

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AADC―area air defence commander

AADP―area air defence plan

ACA―airspace control authority

ACO―airspace control order

ACP―airspace control plan

AEW―air expeditionary wing

AOC―air operations centre

ATF―air task force

ATO―air tasking order

C2―command and control

CAF―Canadian Armed Forces

CAOC―combined air operations centre

CAOP―combined air operations plan

CCO―chief of combat operations

CCTF―commander combined task force

CFACC―combined force air component commander

CFAWC―Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre

CFMCC―combined force maritime component commander


CONOPS―concept of operations

CSAR―combat search and rescue


HPTL―high pay-off target list

HVTL―high-value target list

ISR―intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance

JPTL―joint prioritized target list

MAAP―master air attack plan

OCCC―Operations Command and Control Course

OPP―operational planning process

ORM―operational risk management

PR―personnel recovery

RCAF―Royal Canadian Air Force

RIMPAC―rim of the Pacific

ROE―rules of engagement

SITREP―situation report

SPINS―special instructions

STAFFEX―staff exercise

TCCC―Tactical Command and Control Course

TST―time-sensitive targeting


US―United States

WSE―while so employed

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[1]. Note that technical connectivity between services (such as the US Navy and Marine Corps) as well as coalition partners was initially a challenge. These difficulties were overcome during the Force Integration Phase.  (return)

[2]. These responsibilities and our understanding of them cannot be overlooked, even if we do not practice some of them within RCAF doctrine or mission sets. We have to at least have some basic knowledge of military space so that RCAF personnel selected to these positions can act and decide in a credible fashion.  (return)

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