The JFACC and the CAOC-centric RCAF: Considerations for the employment of air power in joint operations (RCAF Journal - Summer 2014 - Volume 3, Issue 3)

Article #2 in a series on command and control and the Royal Canadian Air Force[1]

By Major Pux Barnes, CD, MA

During the century since the first flight, air power has experienced a startling evolution. Compared with the aircraft, systems and personnel of even 50 years ago, today’s technology and training have developed an impressive array of skills and capabilities, resulting in an air force well-suited to serve citizens at home and abroad. When one considers the potential advantages and impact of air power’s characteristics (such as elevation, precision, reach and speed), the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) offers current policy makers a wide range of options to respond to domestic situations and participate in the international arena in a meaningful way. Every week of the year, the RCAF employs its many capabilities to support domestic operations including search and rescue, humanitarian assistance, evacuation, support to forest-fire fighting and security assistance, to name but a few.

Recent RCAF participation in the crises of Haiti, Libya and Mali illustrate the value of air power in the exercise of Canadian foreign policy. Each of these international operations was fundamentally different: disaster response and humanitarian assistance in Haiti, enforcement of a no-fly zone and subsequent destruction of ground forces in Libya, and provision of airlift to support land forces combating an insurgency in Mali.

Like all military endeavours, air-power operations can be complex and fast moving. Add to this the fact that air power is inherently joint, providing support to both the land and maritime environments (often simultaneously), and operations become increasingly complex. Air power has become not only ubiquitous but also indispensible in modern military operations. While it’s nice to be wanted, the RCAF must ensure it can deliver air-power effects whenever and wherever they are needed. As all air personnel know, air operations “have a lot of moving parts.”

With so many different possibilities for employing air power, how does the RCAF manage to provide forces in an effective and timely way, anywhere on the globe? Clearly, part of the answer lies in the highly trained and capable tactical air force, embodied in our wing and squadron/unit organizations. This part of the RCAF works well, continuing the proud tradition of successfully accomplishing the mission time and again. The other part of the answer lies in effective command and control (C2) at the operational level, a process driven by the joint force air component commander (JFACC) and the combined air operations centre (CAOC), located in Winnipeg.

Critically important to air-power operations today, the JFACC and CAOC represent the best model for the effective centralization of control for the myriad operations in which the RCAF participates. Building on the success of our allies, who developed the air component commander (ACC) and air operations centre (AOC) concept, the RCAF has evolved over the past five years into an air force whose operations are effectively coordinated and centrally controlled. Given the utility of air power and the demands being made on it by the government for employment in both domestic and international venues, the continued success of the JFACC, CAOC and the operational-level C2 structure is an imperative.

The practice by military forces to centralize their key personnel within a formed headquarters (HQ) unit doubtless has its origins in ancient times. Military commanders at all levels have always needed a small core group of senior advisors to assist with decision making and then to take care of the details of planning and executing military operations. Most of the major conflicts in the 20th century involved the militaries of several countries, formed together under an overall “supreme” commander at the strategic level. Generally though, each country retained “national” command over their forces, with each service having a separate command structure. Towards the end of the Second World War, the United States military began to experiment with a joint HQ concept that permitted a single commander to exercise authority over all maritime, army and marine air forces assigned to a given operation. This organization became known as the joint task force (JTF).

The island-hopping campaign in the South Pacific was tailor-made for the JTF architecture, allowing one naval officer to command a complex operation that included United States Navy ships as well as landing craft, carrier-based aircraft and long-range bombers of the United States Army Air Force, all supporting amphibious landings of the United States Marine Corps. It was the JTF commander (JTF comd) who set the goals and priorities for the individual component commanders. Each component of the JTF was led by a different officer—a sailor, airman or marine—who understood how to exploit their service to the maximum extent in order to accomplish the overall aims of the JTF comd. Without the ability to perform centralized planning and coordination, operations of this complexity would likely have been difficult to accomplish.

The 1990–1991 Gulf War represented the first post–Cold War use of the component structure of the JTF. The JTF comd delegated control authority of the maritime, land, air and support “components” to the senior officer of each respective service.[2] The air component was commanded by United States Air Force Lieutenant General Charles “Chuck” Horner, who was responsible for planning and coordinating the activity of the air forces from all contributing countries of the coalition. Horner operated under the working title of JFACC, advertising the fact that he was the single officer responsible for the air campaign. Horner formed a robust CAOC to handle the details of planning and executing the air operation. The role of the JFACC and, indeed, much of the air operations cycle and battle rhythm of the CAOC that we employ today were developed during Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM.[3]

The first JFACC: LtGen “Chuck” Horner briefing the media during

The successful JTF concept came to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1994 as part of redesigning the alliance’s integrated command structure. The United States proposed the idea of establishing several combined joint task force (CJTF) HQs to provide “flexible command arrangements within which allied forces could be organized on a task-specific basis to take on a wide variety of missions beyond the borders of alliance countries.”[4] In this case, the idea of a single JTF comd, exercising command over a multinational HQ, would be fused with individual component commanders, such as a combined joint force air component commander (CJFACC), exercising command over their respective HQs.[5] The CJFACC exercises operational control (OPCON) over the assigned multinational forces of each alliance member in order to task air-power missions. At all times, a Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) officer exercises operational command (OPCOM) of the RCAF elements assigned to NATO operations. This arrangement of national command and alliance control is a hallmark of NATO operations.[6] It is also the model for coalition operations.

The CAF adopted a version of the JTF model during the late 1990s in an attempt to organize forces for domestic operations. The resulting regional joint task force (RJTF) model provided a single commander with an HQ but no specifically named maritime, land or air component commanders. It was assumed that Air Command would provide forces as required to support each RJTF comd and would also ensure C2 was coordinated at the operational and tactical levels. In practice, there was no “air force” C2 process; rather, it was the commander of each group that provided support and the necessary C2 to accomplish the mission.[7] Each group had its own operations centre and planners to accomplish the required coordination. In the end, the RJTF/JTF (see Figure 1) has become a flexible structure that permits commanders to coordinate domestic military operations.

Figure 1. The Canadian Armed Forces RJTF/JTF

It was not until the establishment of 1 Canadian Air Division (1 Cdn Air Div) in 1997 that one operational-level HQ began to develop within Air Command. Initially meant to serve as the Canadian North American Aerospace Defence Command Region (CANR) HQ, the 1 Cdn Air Div AOC functioned only during North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) exercises and operations. After 9/11, the AOC began to take on the role of AOC for all Air Force operations, expanding slowly from being a situational-awareness tool of the 1 Cdn Air Div / CANR Commander, to the more fully functioning CAOC. The CAOC was formally stood up in June 2008, and the title of JFACC was officially adopted following Operation PODIUM, which provided support to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

In order to better understand the RCAF’s operational-level C2 process, it is important to see the 1 Cdn Air Div staff and CAOC personnel as part of a team, led by the Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC) staff, that provides a continuous plan-to-task effort, translating a concept of operations into specifically defined and articulated orders for wings and squadrons/units to execute. The staff formulate plans and assess what courses of action (COA) could be taken to meet the intent of the JFACC, while the CAOC translates the chosen COA into directives, such as an air tasking order (ATO), used by the tactical level of the Air Force.[8]

The JFACC is the CAF’s only air component commander and, as such, can be considered the “standing ACC” for the CAF. The JFACC integrates air effects into joint, combined operations and fulfills three important roles (shown in Figure 2), including:

a. Role 1: JFACC to the Comd CJOC. The Comd RCAF has designated the JFACC, on a day-to-day basis, as the commander responsible for making recommendations to the Comd CJOC on the proper employment and C2 of all assigned, attached and made-available air forces. The JFACC advises on domestic, global and expeditionary operations. To accomplish these responsibilities, the JFACC employs the CAOC and a JFACC liaison officer (LO), located permanently at CJOC HQ, to facilitate operational-level coordination and planning. Depending on the existing span of control, the JFACC will recommend to the Comd CJOC that either the JFACC or an independent ACC be assigned to an operation. The Comd CJOC normally delegates OPCOM of assigned air power to the JFACC in operations that support CJOC’s domestic and global operations.

b. Role 2: JFACC to an RJTF/JTF Comd. When assigned to a domestic or continental[9] operation, the JFACC assumes all responsibilities to provide air-power support to an RJTF/JTF comd. The JFACC is responsible for all aspects of conducting the air campaign, including (for both joint and component) planning, tasking, executing and overseeing operations as well as assessing the effectiveness of air effects. The JFACC normally exercises OPCOM of assigned air power.[10] To accomplish these responsibilities, the JFACC employs the CAOC and an ACCE at each RJTF/JTF HQ.

c. Role 3: CANR Comd. The JFACC is also the CANR Comd and is accountable to the Commander North American Aerospace Defence Command for exercising C2 of all air forces assigned, attached and made-available to the NORAD mission in CANR. To accomplish these responsibilities, the JFACC employs the CAOC, the Canadian Air Defence Sector (CADS) and assigned forces at various operating locations.

Figure 2. The JFACC’s three roles

The JFACC’s continuing roles. The CAF will likely continue to perform operations that vary considerably in terms of scope, complexity and geographic location. Given that air power is a vital part of virtually all military endeavours, the RCAF can expect to participate regularly, supporting either the Comd CJOC or Comd Canadian Special Operations Forces Command for domestic or expeditionary operations. Given the history of success with the ACC concept, the continuing need to have one airman/airwoman as the focal point for planning and executing air-power operations in a joint/combined operation cannot be understated. The JFACC will, therefore, continue to be the key leader performing the three critical roles. JTF comds will continue to rely upon the “air expertise” that the JFACC brings to the table, in the same way that they rely upon senior Navy, Army, special operations and sustainment officers to perform the key roles of maritime component commander (MCC), land component commander (LCC), special operations component commander (SOCC) and support component commander (SCC). The role of JFACC will endure.

The CAOC as critical C2 nexus. If there is no “going back” from the established roles of the JFACC, there must be a similarly understood tenet that the CAOC will remain the nexus for air-power operations in the future. The JFACC relies upon the CAOC to perform the principal role of being the centre from which air operations are directed, monitored, controlled and coordinated with the other components. The CAOC is, by design, structured to operate as a fully integrated facility and includes the personnel and equipment necessary to accomplish the planning, directing, controlling and coordinating of theatre-wide air operations. The CAOC provides the JFACC with the critically important situational awareness required to execute successful air-power operations. The role the CAOC plays in the effective exploitation of limited air-power resources for employment across Canada and around the world is the key to its growing success. The RCAF today is arguably better organized and better coordinated because of the CAOC-centric operations that have developed over the past decade.

Challenges and solutions. The current CAOC is hampered somewhat, however, by its size. With approximately 100 personnel assigned to it,[11] the CAOC will find it increasingly difficult to meet the growing demands upon air power by JTF commanders. Often the difficulty in supporting an operation lies not in the available people, aircraft or radars, it lies in the ability of the CAOC to effectively plan, execute and monitor multiple, protracted operations across the country and around the globe, all in different time zones. In order to meet this growing demand, the CAOC will require more personnel who are experienced in both tactical- and operational-level air-power activities. These personnel are hard to come by and must be given training in the air operations plan-to-task cycle in order for the RCAF to capitalize on their experience. In order to do this effectively, the RCAF must fast-track the growth of its operational-level professional-development programme to provide both leadership and battle-staff training. Already, gains are being made with the Air Force Officer Development (AFOD) Program, Block 5 course and the Operations Command and Control Course, but more has to be done to ensure a CAOC-centric culture is fully understood by the RCAF’s current and future generations of the RCAF.

It is important to keep in perspective the fact that while the JFACC and CAOC concepts are relatively new to the RCAF, they have been evolving among our allies for over half a century. The JTF model, placing the responsibility to deliver air power in the hands of an air force officer in the role of ACC, has been successful in major operations since the end of the Cold War and is the norm for NATO and the United States. It is the responsibility of RCAF leadership at all levels to ensure the message of effective C2 of air power in joint/combined operations is best served by the ACC/AOC concept. In short, the JFACC and CAOC-centric air force are here to stay.

1 Cdn Air Div―1 Canadian Air Division

ACC―air component commander

ACCE―air component coordination element

AOC―air operations centre

C2―command and control

CAF―Canadian Armed Forces

CANR―Canadian North American Aerospace Defence Command Region

CAOC―combined air operations centre

CDS―Chief of Defence Staff

CJFACC―combined joint force air component commander

CJOC―Canadian Joint Operations Command

CJTF―combined joint task force

COA―course of action



JFACC―joint force air component commander

JTF―joint task force

NATO―North Atlantic Treaty Organization

NORAD―North American Aerospace Defence Command

OPCOM―operational command

RCAF―Royal Canadian Air Force

RJTF―regional joint task force

[1]. This is the second in a series of short articles on the subject of command and control in the RCAF. For more detailed information, consult B-GA-401-000/FP-001, Canadian Forces Aerospace Command Doctrine, found on the Internet at and the Defence Wide Area Network at, both sites accessed October 30, 2013. (return)

[2]. These positions were: joint force air component commander (JFACC); joint force maritime component commander (JFMCC); joint force land component commander (JFLCC); joint force special operations component commander (JFSOCC); and joint force support component commander (JFSCC). (return)

[3]. Tom Clancy and Chuck Horner, Every Man a Tiger: The Gulf War Air Campaign (New York: Putnam Books, 1999). (return)

[4]. Stanley Sloan, Permanent Alliance? NATO and the Transatlantic Bargain from Truman to Obama (New York: Continuum Publishing, 2010) 150–51. (return)

[5]. Normally, an ACC (or JFACC or CJFACC) only commands the air component, comprised of the necessary staff and AOC personnel, assigned to the air component HQ of a given operation. (return)

[6]. During allied/coalition operations, a Canadian JTF provides forces to be employed in concert with those of other participant countries within the CJTF. All CAF personnel and equipment remain under the command of a single officer called the Canadian national commander (CNC). The CNC also performs the role of Canadian JTF comd for all assigned Canadian forces in the event of a national tasking which is separate from the allied/coalition operation. (return)

[7]. From the Second World War until the mid 1990s, the operational-level HQ, known as the group, ensured that staffs worked theatre-level issues for different flying communities across the country. For decades, group commanders supported by senior staff officers ensured that institutional continuity endured for the squadrons and units that comprised Air Transport Group, Fighter Group, Maritime Air Group, 10 Tactical Air Group and 14 Training Group. (return)

[8]. A detailed description of the CAOC and its various processes will be discussed in the next article in this series. (return)

[9]. “Continental” operations include those relatively close to Canada such as Haiti (Operation HESTIA), Iceland (Operation IGNITION) and Jamaica (Operation JAGUAR). (return)

[10]. As established by the CDS Directive on Canadian Armed Forces Command and Control and the Delegation of Authority for Force Employment, 28 April 2013. (return)

[11]. The CAOC establishment is approximately 100 personnel located at 1 Cdn Air Div / CANR HQ in Winnipeg. In addition, approximately 30 personnel are located at CJOC HQ and RJTF HQs in various ACCE detachments. (return)

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