Military News

Friday, February 27, 2015

Stand-off Munitions Application Center brings efficiency to force

by Capt. Christopher Mesnard
Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs


2/27/2015 - BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- For more than a year, the 608th Air Operations Center has provided a unique capability to the Department of Defense through the Stand-off Munitions Application Center, an integrated initiative focused on efficiently building stand-off strike capabilities into the operations plans of combatant commands.

"We cannot afford to do business in such a fiscally limited environment without a synchronized, cost-saving program like SMAC," said Col. James Denton, 608th AOC commander. "Our tactics, accuracy and efficiency have advanced significantly since the bombing campaigns of World War II and Vietnam. Now we can use fewer weapons systems integrated together to eliminate or hinder an adversary's ability to operate against us or our allies."

A working group during the January 2013 Weapons and Tactics Conference at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., identified the need for advanced strike packages. The group's recommendation sought to improve the efficiency of air operations by requiring the use of integrated stand-off engagements in addition to drastically reducing the cost to use weapons systems and delivery platforms.

"The process previously in place was very similar to the system used in the Vietnam War. AOCs de-conflicted [operations] by platform-type, but the optimization piece wasn't happening," said Lt. Col. Paul Peconga, 608th AOC Combat Plans deputy director. "The job is getting done, but with the tight fiscal constraints, we're looking to get it done more efficiently using integration of weapon systems."

Prior to the SMAC's inception, members of AOCs didn't have a capability in place to integrate stand-off munitions into strike packages to counter modern-day anti-access and area denial tactics used by adversaries. By using the SMAC, current plans now take into account the advances in anti-access and area denial, which have taken place over the past few decades. The results are more efficient and effective strike packages, which decreases the potential for wasted million-dollar munitions.

Since the SMAC's inception, the effort has paid off. During an exercise last year involving multiple DOD components, the AOC's planning accomplished the stated exercise goals while reducing the number of stand-off munitions expended.

"During [last year's exercise], the savings we saw equated to approximately $25 million worth of cruise missiles," said Maj. Michael Pontius, SMAC chief.

The planning that goes into each strike package is a collaborative effort between many different organizations.

A combatant command begins the process by identifying a long-range strike requirement, such as neutralizing an enemy command and control node that is heavily defended by the most advanced surface-to-air missile systems. Members of the SMAC then assess how to best strike the target and build a delivery capability based on that requirement. For this example, Pontius described a scenario requiring a B-52. Once the B-52 was selected to eliminate the target, the next step identified the support functions to aid the aircraft's crew in completing their objective. This entails identifying varying support requirements to eliminate adversaries in the air or on the ground. This process no longer takes into account only kinetic forces to physically inhibit an opponent's forces, but also cyber capabilities which are developing into more capable assets for degrading an enemy's infrastructure.

The process achieves a "layered effect" with different weapons systems and capabilities from the Air Force, Navy and other intelligence and targeting centers across the DOD, Pontius said. Combining those different agencies' skill sets and capabilities, the SMAC caters to the needs of the requesting combatant command to integrate long-range strike assets, like the Air Force's conventional air-launched cruise missile, the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, Miniature Air-Launched Decoy, and the Navy's Tomahawk Land Attack Missile.

Both the CALCM and TLAM packages provide commanders with options to mitigate the risks of flying into contested air space, but their stockpiles are limited and the current assets must be used resourcefully.

"We don't have a lot of stand-off strike weapons to waste on non-vital targets and the weapons aren't getting any cheaper," said Maj. Gen. Scott Vander Hamm, 8th Air Force commander. "That's where the SMAC comes into play. The program benefits more than just the forces in Global Strike because it takes an integrated approach to weapons planning, tying ACC, PACOM and Navy assets into the planning phase. Through this holistic approach, we find ways to consolidate our war fighting capabilities, efficiently and effectively incapacitating potential adversaries."

A fundamental trait of the SMAC is full integration of DOD components to carry out a long-range strike plan. A plan is no longer developed around the needs of one service component; all DOD assets are incorporated into the strike plan's construction. With this holistic program in play, planners offer commanders more confidence that friendly forces have the best possible chance at mission success and survival.

"We can fly in directly over the target and deliver munitions," Denton said. "But it may not be pretty, and the chance of losing our people goes up. As we figure out ways to nullify defensive points more effectively, be it through physical or cyber-attack, then we win valuable seconds; and in an air battle, those seconds translate into U.S. and allies' lives saved."

The value of this program is not lost on the planning teams at combatant commands, since the SMAC's stand-up last year, the work load for his planners has picked up and the trend is expected to continue.

"Right now we're the only command in the Air Force with this type of capability, and we're earning our keep," Denton said. "Over the next three months, the SMAC will provide stand-off munitions expertise to PACOM, EUCOM, and STRATCOM through three separate exercises."

The 608th AOC plans to continue integrating the SMAC with other Air Force AOCs and DOD components, further improving the operational capabilities of U.S. long-range strike forces. For now, there's room for growth, as the program is still centralized at the 608th with points of contact to other AOCs.

"The current set-up we have is a good start, but there's a greater potential for the SMAC program if we're to continue focusing on optimizing the employment of our weapons systems," Vander Hamm said. "To fully realize the efficiency this program can provide the DOD, we'll need to continue integrating with fellow MAAP planners, in addition to cyber and stand-off capabilities not directly under our purview, or in the Air Force at all. The end result should be a total force effort that provides the biggest bang for our buck across all available strike options."

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