Center for Strategic Decision Research


Some Command and Control Observations Derived from Operation Allied Force

Admiral James O. Ellis, Jr.
CINC Allied Forces Southern Europe

Since the theme of this conference is political-military decision making, I will address the command and control aspect of our involvement in Operation Allied Force.


The first and most important point is that we proved, despite the pundits, that the Alliance can stick together while making some very difficult choices over an extended period of time. This lays to rest many of the criticisms that have been leveled both at the Alliance’s political-military decision-making structure and at the consequences of NATO expansion. Napoleon’s biographers tell us that he prayed for God to send him an alliance as an enemy, wishing to take advantage of their fractious nature. He wouldn’t have wished for ours.

A second point, which is related, is the de facto development of a policy of “constructive abstention.” In our Alliance, which requires unanimity of decision, constructive abstention allows action even when one or more countries does not wish to actively participate but also does not wish to impede the action of the group. This policy has not been formalized, but it worked very well in our operations in the Balkans.

A third important point is that we proved the utility of our standing forces, including the ACE Rapid Reaction Corps and the Allied Mobile Forces, Land, which became the nuclei of KFOR and AFOR, respectively. The flexibility afforded by these forces considerably eased force generation concerns in responding to short-notice requirements. The forces deployed quickly, and swiftly became mission-ready in their respective areas of responsibility. On the maritime side, we saw a similar benefit from the deployment of the Standing Naval Forces Mediterranean, Standing Naval Forces Atlantic, Mine Countermeasures Force North, and the newly formed Mine Countermeasures Force Mediterranean. These forces showed great utility in providing sea control and presence, and are continuing to contribute through Operation Allied Harvest, the sweeping of the Adriatic floor for unexploded ordnance jettisoned by Allied aircraft. The success of these forces points to the value of creating regional or sub-regional equivalents under the new command structure.

The fourth and equally important point we can draw from Operation Allied Force is that we are not yet where we want to be in the area of command and control. Operation Allied Force did not resemble a Combined Joint Task Force in its command structure. There are good reasons for that, but if the CJTF is going to be the model for the future, we have to do better approaching that model than we have to date. Often we have defaulted to a number of linked “lead nation” type operations. Without denigrating the outstanding efforts of the dedicated men and women who conducted these operations, this is not where we want to be in the future. Additionally many military decisions took so long to obtain political approval that their impact was diluted. One example of this lengthy process was the obtaining of approval and specification for the proposed visit-and-search regime to counter the import of oil by Yugoslav forces. Our target approval process also suffered from procedural complexity.

A final point is that we need to improve our process for Activation Orders (ACTORD), Rules of Engagement (ROE) approval, and Transfer of Authority (TOA) from national to NATO control. The lack of an ACTORD affects funding, which in turn affects contracting, which in turn affects force protection and logistics. The absence of a standing ROE, combined with a late ACTORD, creates a natural reticence on the part of some countries to transfer authority to NATO command. This has the potential to leave our forces “outgunned and outmanned,” as well as operating under confused command and control. During this operation, things worked out well, but as Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Jackson observed, our forces were operating under “OPCAN” more often than under “OPCON.”


What are the implications of the initial observations I have just outlined for command and control in future operations?

First, there is a lot of work to be done on the CJTF concept. That is not a bad thing. We gained experience from combat operations that no exercise could simulate. We should come away stronger for it, and with a better idea of the challenges we actually face.

Second, there are many improvements to be made in command and control procedural processes. We need to develop a better, smoother mechanism for TOA, for OPCON designation, for ACTORDs, and for Statements of Requirement. These processes need to work much more smoothly and rapidly to respond to the fast tempo of crisis operation. We also need to work to strengthen political-military linkage within the Alliance. Our process is working as designed, but that design expected that the overwhelming danger of attack from Warsaw Pact forces would ensure unanimity and speed of action. In the post-Cold War world, we may need to find a way to allow political processes to set boundaries for the military commander, and allow the commander freedom to act within those boundaries. A continuing dialogue between the military and political sides of our Alliance is essential to our success in this endeavor.

Third, we need to strengthen, and build on, the numerous successes we have achieved. The coordination between nations that we saw in the Combined Air Operations Center in Vicenza was extraordinary. As a measure of how far we have come, let me tell you that, during the Gulf War, transmission of the daily Air Tasking Order required a hard copy courier to move the document between the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy. Less than ten years later, we not only transmit this information between services, but between countries seamlessly.

A final area worth looking at is the often debated question of the technology gap between American and European forces. Certainly, the events of Operation Allied Force pointed out the scope of this issue. However, this topic really relates to ESDI and other elements of European defense, so I will leave it for the politicians and pundits to address.


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