Chapter 6: Command and Control of Aerospace Power (B-GA-400-000/FP-000, Canadian Forces Aerospace Doctrine)

Aerospace Doctrine

Order or disorder depends upon organization.

- Sun Tzu

Command, Control, and Command and Control

Canada’s Air Force, like the Army and the Navy, is a vital instrument of national power with inherent responsibilities to protect Canada, Canadians, and the nation’s interests and values at home and abroad. The Air Force fulfills its obligations through the effective and efficient projection of aerospace power. Fundamental to these activities is a command and control framework that is flexible and responsive and allows resources drawn from different organizations to operate together toward a common goal.[1] In keeping with this principle, the terms and definitions used in this chapter, unless otherwise noted, are drawn from Canadian Forces (CF) joint doctrine.


Command is the foundation of all military organizations. It is defined as “the authority vested in an individual of the armed forces for the direction, coordination, and control of military forces.”[2] However, command is more than an expression of authority; “[c]ommand is the act of creatively expressing will to accomplish the mission.”[3] This definition includes two factors: creativity and will. The commander requires creativity to address and resolve any unanticipated situations that would impede mission accomplishment. Will is also paramount to the commander as it is the decisive factor required to arrive at a decision and to have the determination to act upon it in spite of opposition.


Control provides a means of exercising effective command. Control is that authority exercised by a commander over part of the activities of subordinate organizations, or other organizations not normally under their command. Control is effected by structures and processes devised by commanders to enable command and to manage risk.[4] Aerospace forces make extensive use of control measures in this sense, for example, an airspace control order, or the readiness states on which aircraft are placed.

Command and Control

Command and control is “the exercise of authority and direction by a commander over assigned, allocated, and attached forces in the accomplishment of a mission.”[5] Effective command and control (C2) is fundamental to the efficient employment of aerospace power. C2 activities include the analysis of information, the development of plans, the preparation of orders, the organization and deployment of forces in preparation for conflict, and once operations begin, the coordination and adjustment of the plan’s execution. How forces and entities are grouped—who reports to whom—will directly affect how information flows and command decisions are made. On the one hand, “flatter” organizations will tend to respond more quickly to external events, but be more difficult to direct centrally. On the other hand, separate intermediate headquarters for every activity will allow greater expertise in each area, thereby reducing the span of control of any one headquarters, but creating a more cumbersome, less responsive command system. Such factors need to be weighed carefully when establishing command arrangements. While not the only consideration, the command and control implications are a key factor when determining the organization of an aerospace force or headquarters. 

Principles of Command

Experience has revealed that there exist certain fundamental principles in the C2 of forces which are formally articulated as the principles of command:

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Table 6-1. 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

Every person has a limited capacity and therefore the 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 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 Relationships

C2 can be exercised at three different levels: full, operational, and tactical.

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 applies to all levels from the [Chief of Defence Staff] CDS down to the unit commander.”[6] It is applicable only within national services; therefore, alliance or coalition commanders cannot have full command over forces of other nations.

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. It does not include responsibility for administration.

A commander assigned OPCOM may delegate that authority. 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.

Tactical Command (TACOM) is the authority delegated to a commander to assign tasks to forces under their command for the accomplishment of the mission assigned by higher authority. It is narrower in scope than OPCOM but includes the authority to delegate or retain TACON.

Operational Control (OPCON) is the authority delegated to a commander to direct allocated forces to accomplish specific missions or tasks, which are usually limited by function, time, or location, and to deploy units concerned, and to retain or assign TACON of those units. It does not include authority to assign separate employment of components of the units concerned. Units are placed under commanders’ OPCON so that commanders may benefit from the immediate employment of these units in their support, without further reference to a senior authority.

Tactical Control (TACON) is detailed and usually restricted to local direction and control of movements or manoeuvres necessary to accomplish missions or tasks assigned. In general, TACON is delegated only when two or more units not under the same OPCON are combined to form a cohesive tactical unit.

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Table 6-2. Command and Control Relationships




X X      

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Command in the Canadian Forces

The Governor General is the Commander-in-Chief of the CF and provides the link from the Crown to the armed forces. The Government of Canada provides direction to the CF through the Minister of National Defence. The CDS is responsible to the Minister for the conduct of military operations. By virtue of appointment, the CDS commands the CF and provides strategic direction. The CDS issues orders and instructions through the chain of command, delegates command authority, and assigns missions and tasks to subordinate commanders.

Command in the Air Force

The Commander of Air Command (Comd AIRCOM), who also fills the position of the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), commands and provides strategic direction for the Air Force. As the senior Air Force officer in the Canadian military, the Comd AIRCOM is directly responsible to the CDS and acts as an advisor on strategic Air Force issues. The Comd AIRCOM is also responsible for generating and sustaining a combat capable, multi-purpose air force to meet Canada’s defence objectives. Two commanders report to the Comd AIRCOM, namely, Commander 1 Canadian Air Division (Comd 1 Cdn Air Div) and Commander 2 Canadian Air Division (Comd 2 Cdn Air Div) / Div Air Force Doctrine and Training Division (AFDT Div).

Comd 1 Cdn Air Div is accountable to Comd AIRCOM and exercises C2 over a multitude of Air Force formations and units. Comd 1 Cdn Air Div acts as the operational airworthiness authority for all CF aerospace assets and provides advice on the C2 construct for aerospace operations to the joint force commander (JFC). Comd 1 Cdn Air Div is also the Canadian joint forces air component commander (JFACC) for CF operations. The JFACC is accountable to the designated supported JFC for force employment of aerospace assets. The JFACC provides advice on the C2 construct for aerospace operations to the JFC. Comd 1 Cdn Air Div is also Commander Canadian North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) region (CANR) and is accountable to Commander NORAD to exercise operational control over all forces allocated or made available for air defence in the region.

Comd 2 Cdn Air Div / AFDT Div is accountable to Comd AIRCOM and has oversight of Air Force individual education and training, to include ab initio training for most Air Force occupations, core Air Force developmental coursing and related support. The 2 Cdn Air Div Headquarters (HQ) and Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre (CFAWC) support overall Air Force training management and doctrinal development by deriving lessons learned out of collective training, exercises and operations. The generation of forces for immediate operational employment, including operational training unit/flight oversight and collective training, remains the purview of Comd 1 Cdn Air Div.[7]

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Air Force Command and Control

Centralized control and decentralized execution is the fundamental tenet of aerospace power as it relates to C2. Aerospace forces need to be organized based on sound command and control principles with the purpose of achieving operational effectiveness across the spectrum of conflict. Centralized control is required to ensure the most efficient use of limited aerospace assets. To best accomplish overall objectives, therefore, aerospace forces are coordinated and directed at the operational level by a single air commander.

Centralized control also allows aerospace action to be refocused quickly to exploit fleeting opportunities, to respond to the changing demands of the operational situation, and to be concentrated at the critical place and time to achieve decisive results. Decentralized execution fosters initiative and situational responsiveness, and provides subordinate commanders with the authority to apply their expertise and understanding of local conditions to accomplish the mission within the guidelines and overall intent of the commander. When integrating aerospace power into joint or combined operations, the JFACC will advise the JFC,[8] the combined force commander, the joint task force commander, or the combined joint task force commander as to the appropriate air C2 structure.

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1. Canada, Department of National Defence, B-GJ-005-300/FP-000, Canadian Forces Operations (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, 2005), 2-1.  (return)

2. Canada, Department of National Defence, B-GJ-005-300/FP-001, CFJP 3.0 Operations (Ottawa: Department of National Defence, 2009), 3-1. (return)

3. Ross Pigeau and Carol McCann, “Re-Conceptualizing Command and Control,” Canadian Military Journal 3, no. 1 (Spring 2002), 56. (return)

4. Ross Pigeau and Carol McCann, “Re-Conceptualizing Command and Control,” Canadian Military Journal 3, no. 1 (Spring 2002), 54. (return)

5. Defence Terminology Bank, record 5950. (return)

6. CFJP 3.0 Operations, 3-2. (return)

7. In the current context, force generation and how it relates to the Air Force is understood, but it is difficult to cleanly define. Presently, force generation is most easily defined as a continuum, (which it is), with 2 Cdn Air Div / AFDT Div having clear responsibilities for ab initio / core training, and the generation of forces for immediateoperational employment as being the responsibility of 1 Cdn Air Div. (return)

8. JFCs, such as Comd Canada Command (Canada COM) and Comd Canadian Expeditionary Force Command (CEFCOM), organize forces to accomplish the mission based on their vision and concept of operations, and provide direction and guidance on command relationships. (return)

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