"The lesson from the last war that stands out clearly above all the others is that if you want to go anywhere in modern war, in the air, on the sea, on the land, you must have command of the air."

Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey to Congress after World War II

1. Scope

This publication provides fundamental principles and doctrine for the command and control (C2) of joint air operations throughout the range of military operations in order to ensure unity of effort for the benefit of the joint force as a whole. This publication addresses operational relationships, policies, procedures, and options for C2 of joint air operations through the designation of a joint force air component commander (JFACC) or use of the joint force commander's (JFC) staff. Commanders of unified commands, subordinate unified commands, and joint task forces (JTFs) should establish implementation policies and procedures within their commands. Variations to the relationships and procedures contained herein may be necessary to accommodate theater specific needs, but such variations must be the exception rather than the rule.

2. Joint Air Operations

Joint air operations are those air operations performed with air capabilities/forces made available by components in support of the JFC's operation or campaign objectives, or in support of other components of the joint force. Joint air operations do not include those air operations that a component conducts in direct support of itself.

  1. Assigned, attached, and supporting forces may provide direct support to certain components while also providing the JFC an operational level force capability that can be employed separately as part of a broader operation. The JFC integrates the actions of assigned, attached, and supporting forces into unified area of responsibility (AOR)/joint operations area (JOA)-wide joint air operations.

    Flight of F-16 Aircraft

  2. In order to create synergism and avoid duplication of effort, the JFC synchronizes the actions of assigned, attached, and supporting capabilities/ forces in time, space, and purpose. The JFC must exploit the unique characteristics of all capabilities/forces to achieve assigned objectives as rapidly and as effectively as possible.

3. Organizing Joint Forces

In order to accomplish the assigned mission, the JFC develops a concept of operation and organizes forces based on that concept. The organization should be sufficiently flexible to meet the planned phases of the contemplated operations and any development that may necessitate a change in the plan, while preserving the responsiveness of individual component capabilities. Sound organization should provide for unity of effort, centralized planning, and decentralized execution. Unity of effort is necessary for effectiveness and efficiency. Centralized planning is essential for controlling and coordinating the efforts of all available forces. Decentralized execution is essential to generate the tempo of operations required and to cope with the uncertainty, disorder, and fluidity of combat. The JFC may elect to centralize selected functions within the joint force, but should strive to avoid reducing the versatility, responsiveness, and initiative of subordinate forces, as in the policy for C2 of USMC TACAIR during sustained operations ashore. Most often, joint forces are organized with a combination of Service and functional component commands, with their authority and responsibilities defined by the JFC. The JFACC is an example of a functional component commander. (See Joint Pubs 0-2, "Unified Action Armed Forces (UNAAF)," and 3-0, "Doctrine for Joint Operations.")

  1. The JFC will normally designate a JFACC to exploit the capabilities of joint air operations. The JFACC directs this exploitation through a cohesive joint air operations plan (centralized planning) and a responsive and integrated control system (decentralized execution).

    F-18 Aircraft

    "There has been a tendency to overemphasize long-range bombardment, and to ignore the versatile application of air power. Our Air Forces were used for any mission considered important, at any given moment. Especially misleading is the distinction made between strategic and tactical air forces. That distinction is not valid in describing the use of air power as a whole, day after day.

    For instance, the primary mission of the strategic forces was to destroy the enemy's war industries, to deprive jim of means to fight. But these same bombers, and their fighter escorts of the strategic air forces, constituted the heaviest striking power at General Eisenhower's command to sweep the Luftwaffe from the air, to isolate German ground forces from reinforcements and supplies, and to spark the advance of our ground troops by visual and radar cooperation."

    Carl "Tooey" Spaatz

  2. In cases where a JFACC is not designated, the JFC may plan, direct, and control joint air operations. If this option is exercised by the JFC, the JFC's staff will assist to provide direction and coordination of the capabilities/forces assigned to the joint force. Throughout this pub the convention "JFACC/JFC staff" is used to imply that the procedures are the same under either option.

4. Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW)

Though missions vary widely across the range of military operations from war to MOOTW, the framework and processes for C2 of joint air operations are consistent. Unity of effort, centralized planning, and decentralized execution are as important in MOOTW as in war. The doctrine and procedures in this publication talk about such things as strategies, objectives, centers of gravity, targets, and adversaries. In war these are often relatively easy to develop and determine. The JFC must realize that they also apply in MOOTW, but may require an expanded perspective to identify. For example, in war, an objective may be to stop an enemy's armored advance, which could involve dropping bombs. By contrast, in MOOTW, an objective may be to stop a refugee exodus which could involve dropping food and supplies. In war, a center of gravity may be the adversary's industrial capacity, while in MOOTW it may be the need to feed the populace. While a target in war may be a power plant, in MOOTW it may be a drop zone for food and supplies. Finally, in war the adversary may be clear to determine, while in MOOTW it may be less recognizable and include such things as drought. Though the converse of all these examples could also be true (e.g., there may be a need to combat starvation in war), by using a broadened perspective the JFC can effectively apply the joint doctrine for C2 of joint air operations in each situation.

5. Summary

Successful unified action across the range of military operations depends on unity of effort among all assigned, attached, and supporting forces. The JFC should exploit the unique characteristics of forces that maximize the military effect to achieve strategic aims as rapidly as possible, while saving lives, minimizing cost, and achieving victory. The JFC normally designates a JFACC to integrate and exploit the joint airpower capabilities of different nations, Services, and components. However, under the circumstances that are addressed in Chapter II, the JFC may elect to use the JFC staff option. In either case, joint air operations are planned and conducted to maximize the total combat power and synergy of the aggregate air effort in support of the JFC's operation or campaign plan.


One of the more historic examples of an effective joint air force evolved, ironically, from the struggle for Midway in 1942, where uncoordinated air strikes from three separate sources proved largely impotent. The joint air component, known as the "Cactus Air Force," formed in August of 1942 and provided air support to the American campaign in the strategic Pacific Solomon Islands. The onslaught of this campaign occurred on Guadalcanal and Tulagi, where amphibious landings were supported by carrier air and augmented by long range bombers based on New Hebrides.

However, by D+2, the carriers were withdrawn and the long distance from New Hebrides rendered ineffective the land based bombers. Thus, out of necessity was born the Cactus Air Force. Based on Guadalcanal, the unit brought together a Marine fighter and a dive bomber squadrons (both squadrons were carrier launched), five Army Air Force P-400 aircraft (a low altitude export version of the P39 fighter), and a Navy dive bomber squadron from the USS Enterprise.

Indeed, transforming the "pick-up" air force in AIRCACTUS, and, in February of 1943, AIRSOLS, a hallmark joint air command, was neither an easy task nor was it achieved all at once. Air operations were challenging and diverse. Missions not only defended the surrounding airspace, but also supported amphibious assaults and attacked enemy naval forces. Bomber strikes were launched against Japanese bases and installations throughout the Solomon Chain. Command and Control of the new joint air force was equally challenging. Brig. Gen. Roy S. Geiger, (the first COMAIRSOLS) frequently changed his C2 to adjust and render support to the "island hopping" campaign. One of these "adjustments" resulted in the forming of two subordinate commands: the Strike command, made up of Marine and Navy attack aircraft to attack enemy shipping; and the Bomber command, of long range Army Air Force and Navy patrol aircraft to conduct long range bombing and search operations. Likewise, the COMAIRSOLS and his staff were required to maintain flexibility in the Planning discipline. The multi-faceted Solomons air campaign required that they develop plans quickly and that these plans reflected a wide range of air support capabilities. Again, the uniquely diverse Cactus Air Force proved appropriate for the situation. Indeed, their accomplishments represent one of the more notable achievements with regard to inter-service cooperation in military history.

SOURCE: James A. Winnefeld and Dana J. Johnson, "Joint Air Operations", Annapolis, Naval Institute Press, 1993 (Summarized by Winston R. Schmidt)