Delivering a capability for today and a solid foundation for tomorrow

  • Published
  • By James “Frank” Hudson, Jr., Col Donald “Thunder” Cloud, Jr., David Peña, and Craig Olson
  • Pacific Air Forces (A3/6)

"Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the changes in the character of war, not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after the changes occur" General George S. Patton Jr., USA.

In every endeavor, great strides are often made by those who are willing to push the boundaries, challenge conventional wisdom, and forge a new path—the mavericks. The roots of Pacific Air Forces’ focus on innovation and agile war-fighting capabilities reach back decades.

As 1942 ended with a dismal performance rating of US bombers against Japanese ships at sea, time was not on the US side. Lt. Gen. George Kenney, Fifth Air Force commander in New Guinea, and Maj. William Benn, 43rd Bombardment Group commander, were frustrated with the B-17F aircraft's inability to hit enemy warships.

According to B-25 Mitchell vs Japanese Destroyer, Battle of the Bismarck Sea 1943 by Mark Lardas and Steven Ellis, Maj. Benn began experimenting and eventually developed a technique called skip bombing.

Lt Gen Kenney recognized the evolutional development and realized other aircraft in his inventory, especially Gunn's strafer A-20s and B-25s, were better suited to using skip and mast top bombing attacks.

Over the first two months of 1943, squadrons perfected these tactics. Then, in early March, Japan tried to reinforce their garrison in Lae, New Guinea, with a 16-ship convoy – eight transports guarded by eight destroyers. The 5AF pounced on the convoy in the Bismarck Sea.

By March 5th, the US sunk all eight transports and four destroyers. In less than three months, a team of "mavericks" changed the normal air attack tactics and enabled the modification of US aircraft, thus increasing the percentage of naval kills, which was a significant contributor to turning the tide of the war in the Pacific. 

The challenges US forces face today in the Pacific are eerily similar to what we faced back then. And just like in 1943, PACAF has modern-day "mavericks" addressing challenging problems.

A Pacific Air Forces  led and Air Combat Command supported local team of organizationsPACAF Air and Cyberspace Operations, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance,  613th Air Operations Center, 480th ISR Wing, 692nd ISR group, and the 792nd Intelligence Support Squadron—along with an external team—Headquarters Air Force ISR and Cyber Effects Operation, Advanced Battle Management System Digital Infrastructure Consortium, Air Force Chief Technology Officer, Office of the Air Force Chief Information Officer, Air Force Research Laboratory, Space Force Unified Data Library developers, and United States Air Force in Europe AOC, CTO,  and the Chief Data Office —came together on October 2022 and again in March 2023 to address a severe problem for today's warfighter.

The group recognized dynamic targeting as a priority challenge for the Pacific theater that would be critical to deterring and, if necessary, defeating a peer adversary in a high-end conflict.

To further complicate the problem, we must do this effectively in a communications degraded and/or denied environment. A disconnected Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance environment makes it very difficult to access applications and data, especially any applications and data residing in the mainland US, needed to conduct dynamic targeting.

To mitigate the risks of being disconnected from the contiguous United States, the team decided to create a multi-classification, regional cloud to enable the AOC to continue to execute dynamic targeting at speed and scale while in a degraded and disconnected environment, and to continue to ingest PACAF regional data sensor feeds across the theater.

The multi-classification regional cloud provides a local host for critical applications and data and operates over current Air Force networks at the Secret and Top-Secret levels.

This small team's innovative dynamic targeting multi-classification regional cloud initiative fills a critical operational gap. It sets the foundation for Airmen to scale and to interoperate with others, connecting into any ecosystem.

This effort has led to a promising solution for a Software Defined Wide Area Network (SDWAN) transport mesh across all classifications enabling multiple transport paths across the theater. SDWAN technology will allow the agility to change connectivity in a degraded environment and to redefine current networking as it has been constructed piecemeal over many decades.

Rapidly bringing commercial technologies into the DoD along parallel pathways will allow Airmen to leapfrog previous efforts, which have had much longer development times and have been much more sequential in nature. Over time, updating existing systems and technologies has proved costly and inefficient, and ultimately combat ineffective in countering the pacing threat we face.

The SDWAN data mesh solution is a game-changer and is a significant part of the multi-classification regional cloud efforts. The SDWAN effort sets the foundation for implementing an enterprise transport mesh.

The team’s discussion about data flowing up and down across multiple classifications also highlighted the need for an enterprise-level cross-domain solution.

The multi-classification regional cloud effort highlights the need for functionals and weapon systems to come together in a virtual enterprise network, vice siloed and disconnected. To that end, this effort has vital stakeholders in the Air Force Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS), delivering critical capabilities for the project. The ability of DCGS and the AOC personnel to traverse on and off the two weapons systems across multiple classifications and Air Force networks will allow greater flexibility to execute operations at speed and scale for kinetic and non-kinetic effects by US forces and mission partners.

The team has been creative and successful in overcoming the typical speed bumps, such as funding the innovative technology and getting through various barriers, allowing PACAF Airmen to go as fast as they can to ultimately complete the effort in just nine months.

Looking back on the group’s efforts, no one person did this; it took a team of believers and leaders embracing the "maverick" spirit to bring these enabling capabilities faster to the warfighters to shorten the kill chain.

The team of "mavericks" will accomplish much more and continue to provide tangible capabilities to the warfighter as we identify which problem to focus on next, maybe a joint fires integration option. We are confident we are doing the right thing, delivering a capability for today and a solid foundation for tomorrow.

As General Daniel S. "Chappie" James, USAF, once said, "A good plan executed now is better than a perfect plan next week."