At this writing, naval forces under the operational control of Commander, U.S. Fifth Fleet launch aircraft that provide direct support to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Naval air forces in the region have operated in much the same way for two decades, supporting the land or air component commander and providing forces directed by the air tasking order and integrating into the U.S. Air Force’s tactical-aircraft-control system overland. This is a well-evolved system enabling air forces from all services to integrate into the joint fight. But that’s only part of the story.
Since 9/11, tactical command-and-control (C2) procedures have revolutionized the control and deployment of joint air assets against the highly dispersed enemy so prevalent in today’s land campaign. Contrary to past practice and popular belief, real-time targeting decisions are not developed or directed at the operational level. Instead, the necessary information is generated by tactical forces in the cockpit and on the ground. When required, these forces work together to deliver precise fires to targets.