USAF combat support leaders must embrace a new TTP approach
While the Air Force does a remarkable job of capturing and codifying lessons within the flying community, the lack of a well-defined process across many of the Expeditionary Combat Support communities is a weakness the service must address.
Our recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have inundated airmen with knowledge and lessons that could improve the collective wisdom of 26 ECS functional communities. However, updates to tactical doctrine have been captured sporadically, are rarely stored, and by and large remain unconsolidated and unavailable to airmen. In many cases, valuable information that could help save lives and execute missions has been lost forever. Two other imperatives increase the urgency of centralizing and codifying what we’ve learned: the drawdown in combat operations, which will no doubt shift our focus away from ECS; and looming force reductions, with the attendant loss of our most experienced ECS “gurus.”
Since 2009, there has been a central repository for ECS tactics, techniques and procedures: the 422nd Joint Tactics Squadron, established by order of Gen. Norton Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff, who also directed the service to develop a process for centralizing, codifying and refining TTPs. However, to reap the many benefits of this new approach, ECS communities — leaders at every level — must embrace it.
The Air Force, which seeks integrated solutions to accomplish its various missions, has organized according to Service Core Functions and designated Core Function Lead (Command) Integrators. For example, Agile Combat Support is an SCF, under which Expeditionary Combat Support is a subordinate capability. Today, despite the chief’s clear guidance and the service’s best efforts, the Air Force continues to struggle to break out from functional “stovepipes of excellence.” The problem is exacerbated by a Cold War system that codifies ECS-related knowledge within each career field, in coordination with major command functional leaders and specific Field Operating Agencies. This system is manpower-intensive and slow to react to changing conditions. As such, it is prone to hinder an airman’s ability to obtain timely and relevant TTP information and is not conducive to sharing lessons.
Failure to break out from functional stovepipes results in a myopic view, focused on a specific functional area of ECS rather than fully-integrated TTPs. As a hypothetical example, suppose a civil engineering unit operating in a semipermissive environment develops better force protection measures. Doesn’t it stand to reason that the security forces community could benefit from some of those lessons? Perhaps; perhaps not. However, they would never know if those lessons were only disseminated within the CE community.
This is the crux of the problem Schwartz was trying to solve. Much more than writing directives, regulations or instructions, the 422nd JTS directly supports ECS airmen by providing them with valuable TTPs and lessons, helping them accomplish their missions safely and with confidence.
If the chief’s vision is to become a reality, we must overcome the lack of commitment to the entire initiative. We must continuously remind ECS functional leaders that the 422nd JTS exists. Airmen on the ground also need to know that the unit exists, about its mission, and how to find and use its products.
To date, the 422nd JTS has developed three ECS-related TTPs, collaborating with subject-matter experts across all of the requisite ECS functions, and disseminated the appropriate products to deployed ECS airmen. The most recent, Air Force TTP 3-4.1, Expeditionary Combat Support Planning, was completed earlier this year. The creation of this product demonstrated how TTP development can assist airmen and their leaders at all levels, from initial planning to mission execution. This is not a part-time job to be accomplished by functional subject-matter experts on temporary orders or solely by the small cadre of ECS specialists currently assigned to the 422nd.
The most efficient and effective method to develop integrated solutions would be to have every ECS specialty represented. The 422nd JTS currently has the manning authorizations to support this requirement, but warm bodies to fill their authorizations remain lacking after two years. Chronic manpower shortages must be addressed if the Air Force is going to get serious about addressing its nagging integration concerns. ECS career field managers must look at the problem through an integration lens, with a view toward the entire ECS spectrum rather than only their specific career field.
This article is a call to ECS leaders servicewide. With their support, we can provide ECS airmen with tactical TTPs and lessons that will help them deploy and redeploy safely, execute their missions effectively and prepare their replacements successfully.
Maj. Gen. William Bender is commander of the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.