Chapter 3: Elements of Command and Control (B-GA-401-000/FP-001, Canadian Forces Aerospace Command Doctrine)

If our air forces are never used, they have achieved their finest goal.

- General Nathan F. Twinning

Command and Control Systems

Effective command and control (C2) requires a range of capabilities, both technical and—even more importantly—human. The C2 systems are made up of the following three constituent elements:

  1. People. As C2 is a process practiced by people, they become the most important component in the C2 system. In particular, properly trained and qualified personnel are critical to handling the complex tasks involved in the operation of the C2 system itself. 
  2. Infrastructure. Equipment, in particular in information technology, is the most obvious element of a C2 system. Infrastructure requirements also include the lodgings and necessary utilities for headquarters and operations centres.
  3. Processes. Many specific processes have been developed to enable effective C2. These are intended to facilitate the flow of information and to support command decision making. The operational planning process (OPP) is one example of a C2 process.

Aerospace Operations Centre

Aerospace operations centre. An aerospace operations centre (AOC) is the entity upon which theair component commander (ACC) relies to provide situational awareness, control of aerospace forces, and the planning process to execute successful operations. An AOC cannot simply be an ad hoc grouping of personnel and communications systems, but should be treated as a synergistic whole, and

  1. equipping, manning, and training the AOC should be standardized;
  2. operational procedures should be formally controlled;
  3. a deliberate approach to equipping and supporting the AOC should be pursued; and
  4. the ACC must approve of changes and improvements pertaining to the AOC and its processes.

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Information Management

Information flow is a critical component of an effective C2 process. Examples include information about the situation acquired via the Sense function, and the processing of that information within a headquarters to produce understanding, decisions, and ultimately, plans, and the dissemination of those plans. Indeed, plans themselves take the form of information that constitutes direction and coordination. Because information is so central to C2, and because modern information processing capabilities can produce a large volume of information, people can easily become overwhelmed with data, causing them to potentially miss critical items. Management of this mass of information is critical to effective C2. Information during aerospace operations is managed through the establishment of a battle rhythm. The battle rhythm fixes a standard flow of information and products on a cycle, defined by the commander. This rhythm permits all participants to synchronize their efforts with that of the commander. In order to better manage the large volume of information present in C2 systems, it is important to distinguish between two fundamentally different purposes for which information can be utilized:

  1. Direction. The most important use to which information can be put is to direct and coordinate actions in the execution of the decision.
  2. Understanding. Comprehending the situation is the basis for sound and timely decision making.

The first purpose (direction) is executive. The second purpose (understanding) is a continuous background activity to maintain situational awareness. The basic category into which any piece of information falls will heavily influence how it is managed, and in many cases how it is processed, transmitted, and stored by information systems. For instance, much information for understanding will be generated and used by staff and is rarely seen by a commander. Directive information, on the other hand, requires command authority, and in most cases must be appropriately highlighted and preserved for the record.

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Communication Systems

The following three principles apply to the design and operation of communication systems for C2:

  1. Interoperable. In contemporary operations, which are almost always undertaken in a coalition and feature a comprehensive approach, interoperability with other entities is critical. Communication systems must be capable of accommodating this challenging requirement while maintaining protection.
  2. Agile. Agility is a fundamental principle of aerospace mission support in general, and applies especially to communication systems, which must be responsive and flexible to meet operational requirements.
  3. Trusted. Commanders, staffs, and other users must be able to rely on communication systems both to protect the information they contain and to continue effective operations even under austere conditions and stress.

Effective C2 requires protecting information and information systems from destruction, disruption, and corruption, as well as safeguarding from intrusion and exploitation. All users must ensure that they adequately protect their information and information systems, or operational security may be compromised. Inevitably, this will involve trade-offs between ease of use of the system and security. Such trade-offs should be made as thoughtful command decisions, which are then articulated as an information protection plan and enforced across the system.

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Headquarters and Staff Systems

Because a commander as an individual could not possibly cope with the myriad of details and technicalities attending aerospace operations, headquarters are established to provide the machinery for effective C2 at all levels above the very lowest. Headquarters can take various forms, from the headquarters of a small detachment with very few people (who are possibly employed only part-time in the headquarters function) using little more equipment than a telephone, radio, or laptop, to large organizations with complex operations centres at the higher formation level. Regardless, the role of a headquarters is to provide the machinery for effective C2 by the commander in question.

In general, headquarters will consist of a staff and a dedicated operations centre or command post. At the operational level, the staff is organized under the continental system as an A-staff, and the operations centre is constituted as an AOC. The AOCs are the dedicated organizations with the C2 systems necessary to control the execution of aerospace operations in detail. At lower tactical levels, small operations centres (or command posts) are often established at squadron and wing level. Regardless of the level of command or their size and complexity, operations centres are sufficiently unique and important that they should be treated as a distinct entity from the staff within a headquarters. Greater detail on headquarters, command, and staff systems, and AOCs will be provided within B-GA-401-002/ FP‑001, Canadian Forces Aerospace Command and Control Processes.

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Line and Staff Distinction

There is a fundamental distinction between line and staff personnel and their functions. The term “line officer” is used to refer to “an officer with command authority.”[1] In practical terms, this means a line officer is engaged in or directly supervising the actual conduct of aerospace operations. Staff officers, regardless of rank, have no inherent authority over the staffs of subordinate headquarters or the line officers of squadrons and units. Executive orders should always be issued down the chain of command, not by staff officers. Although many (or even most) routine matters may be mediated by staffs, commanders always have the right of direct access to their immediately superior commander. Subordinate commanders may utilize this privileged command relationship to challenge the work of higher headquarters staffs with their commander.

Administrative or logistic responsibilities may follow a different channel from the chain of command, in particular, the administrative control relationships. It should be noted that when administrative relationships do not follow the operational chain of command, the operational chain of command retains primacy.

Many technical networks have their own independent reporting chains. For example, many air maintenance issues are dealt with between air maintenance staffs at different levels, and there is useful routine coordination by staff parallelism; such as staffs coordinating with their opposite numbers at higher and lower levels Joint Staff Operations (J3) to Air Staff Operations (A3). Technical chains are particularly prominent in aerospace operations for issues such as airworthiness and flight safety. These relationships are indispensable for coordination of the myriad technical issues involved in aerospace operations, but it must be understood that they do not have executive authority and shall never supersede the operational chain of command. Commanders may delegate authority for controls to be exercised through a technical chain, but should never delegate command authority to a technical chain. (Note: because J3s/A3s are staff officers and not commanders or deputy commanders, the J3/A3 chain is a staff chain, and should not be confused with the operational chain of command.)

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Decisions and Planning Procedures

Various procedures have been developed to assist commanders and staff in their work to produce an air operations plan by providing logical, comprehensive, step-by-step approaches to command and staff work. The OPP is such a procedure and is primarily applicable at the operational level, although it can be used at all levels (strategic, operational, and tactical) in order to integrate the results of individual commanders and their respective staff estimates. It concerns the internal activities of a headquarters to generate a plan that takes into account the resources and functions required to meet the operational objectives. Authoritative Canadian Forces (CF) doctrine for OPP may be found in the Canadian Forces Joint Publication (CFJP) 5.0, which is fully applicable in the air and space environment. Higher headquarters such as 1 Canadian Air Division (1 Cdn Air Div) utilize the OPP.[2] The purpose of this section is to introduce the concept of the OPP, but as mentioned above, the CFJP 5.0 provides the details of OPP for aerospace operations.[3]

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Operational Planning Process

The OPP enables the commander to translate strategy and goals into a unified operational plan by describing how operations and logistics will be used to achieve success within a given space and time. The planning process consists of five stages, leading from the initiation of planning through to plan review. It is cyclical, as necessary, to keep a plan current. The five stages of the OPP are as follows: initiation, orientation, course of action (COA) development, plan development, and plan review.

The initiation stage commences when direction to begin the planning process is received from higher headquarters, often in the form a warning order, which should also indicate whether a rapid response or deliberate planning is required. The orientation stages comprise a detailed mission analysis, the development of a mission statement, and finally, the commander’s planning guidance. The course of action development is based on the direction contained in the commander’s planning guidance that will lead the staff to the development of COAs. During crisis action planning, there could possibly be only one COA presented to the commander, but in general there are a number of COAs developed. The various COAs developed are presented to the commander during a decision brief for the selection of a preferred COA. Following the decision on the commander’s preferred COA, a plan is developed. To ensure the plan remains current, periodic review should be carried out. The first three stages of the OPP— initiation, orientation, and COA development—are also known as the estimate process.

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Other Necessary Capabilities

Aerospace forces may use the concept of reachback to support forces deployed or operating in place from multiple locations. Reachback is “the means by which a deployed force receives support from [its own national] organizations external to the area of responsibility.”[4] Communication and information systems should provide a seamless information flow to and from forward and rear locations. The intent of reachback is to give the forward deployed commander the support necessary to conduct operations while maintaining a smaller deployed footprint, so as to support forces forward, not to command operations from the rear.

Effective reachback for C2 requires robust connectivity from the forward location and an available staff in the rear location to provide the support. There may also be a need to carefully manage command relationships, as the forward deployed aerospace forces may not be under the same command as the supporting rearward elements.

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Command and Control Training

As stressed earlier in this chapter, C2 is more a question of human interaction than of technical systems. Therefore, proper training of personnel employed in C2 is critical. This will not simply happen—it must be planned for and emphasis placed upon it. Continual training is crucial to maintain proficiency; the exercise of sound C2 principles and processes by commanders and their headquarters (HQ) /AOC staffs take as much practice as good flying skills. Commanders should ensure that sufficient quantities of the following types of training are conducted:

  1. Individual training. Personnel employed in C2 systems (such as the battle staff of an AOC) require specific qualification training and continuation training in order to be proficient in their duties. Additionally, supplemental training may be required when warranted by new procedures, hardware, or software affecting operational equipment.
  2. Collective training. Regular exercises should be held to practice these C2 skills in as realistic a fashion as possible. Command-post exercises and computer-assisted exercises can often be utilized for collective training in C2.


Commanders and their supporting staffs at all levels require an appreciation for the elements of command and control in order to effectively exercise C2 of aerospace forces. The people, organizations, equipment, and processes that constitute the C2 structure, although unique to aerospace operations, are fundamental to the successful integration of air effects in the joint operations environment.  

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1. DTB record 41466.  (return)

2. Note that there is a NORAD variant of OPP followed by NORAD Headquarters. Similarly, a NATO variant exists, but the principles are essentially the same. (return)

3. For a detailed explanation of RCAF OPP, see B-GA-401-002. (return)

4. DTB record 37303. (return)

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