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CAOC knows all, controls all of ONW mission

By Senior Airman C. Todd Lopez

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey (Nov. 16, 2001) -- This supreme control room isn't nearly as ominous as the one infiltrated by an incorrigible hacker in the 1983 movie "War Games." There isn't even a computer here capable of starting a nuclear war.

But while the Combined Air Operations Center here does sport the domineering visual displays, what makes it important is its role in Operation Northern Watch.

"The CAOC is responsible for the command and control of the ONW forces. We plan, execute and then assess the effectiveness of the ONW mission on a daily basis," said the Combined Forces Air Component Commander. His call sign is "Buck." "We plan the missions ONW flies, in terms of putting the right forces and the right package of aircraft together, to go and do the mission everyday."

Essentially, the CAOC develops the air tasking order which directs what coalition aircraft will fly for a particular mission, determines when they fly, and drives the operation that takes place.

Buck explained the role of the big projection screens on the front wall of the CAOC control center.

"The screens are there to provide essential information to us while we do the mission," explained Buck. "We have various intelligence and information gathering systems out there that pull in information about various elements of Iraqi air defense systems. Additionally, we can see where our aircraft are and where they are going, as well as other things that contribute to the mission so that we can provide command and control of coalition aircraft from here."

To man the CAOC, resources are pulled from many different functional areas. One role to be filled is that of the MADDOG, short-hand for mission director.

"The MADDOG is responsible for running the mission for me, and he is a very experienced pilot or weapons system officer," said Buck. "He is responsible for coordinating the various elements of the mission."

"Grinner", with the 25 Fighter Squadron, Royal Air Force Leeming, UK, is one of four MADDOGs working at the CAOC. At his home station, Grinner is a Tornado pilot.

As one of four MADDOGs, he draws on his piloting experience when directing a mission.

"We are operators and we have done the [flying] job. What we can do with our flying experience is ask, 'If I was in the cockpit now, what information would I actually like to know? And what information can I sideline until it gets a bit quieter?' Our flying experience really comes into it."

Seeing the command and control side of an overall mission gives him perspective on his flying job as well.

"It is very interesting to actually see what goes on in the command and control side," said Grinner. "When you fly, sometimes you wonder where the direction is coming from and sometimes where bum decisions come from.

"I think this gives you more of an appreciation that there is a lot more going on than you think. When you are flying a mission, as a formation commander, all your responsibility is for a few aircraft within a whole operation. All you are concerned about is completing your little mission within that bigger mission. Sometimes you wonder why they ask you to do something. When you work in command and control, it becomes apparent, because you have the big picture. You don't have that all the time when you are in your cockpit."

Gathering and disseminating relevant intelligence before and during the mission is important because it allows pilots and crew to safely and effectively carry out their mission. That is the role of "Ferris", an intelligence weapons and tactics officer with the 27th Operations Support Squadron, Cannon Air Force Base, NM.

"I provide direct intelligence support to this operation," said Ferris. "That means I ensure the crews are briefed on the threats they will face, on Iraqi tactics, and on how they will affect the operation. Additionally, I keep the aircraft and the CFACC informed on any changes that are taking place inside of Iraq. That means I update them on threat movements.

"Basically we fuse intelligence from multiple sources and ensure the pilots are updated on any activity we witness. They are getting up-to-the-minute updates."

Besides the mission director and the intelligence officer, there are a host of other positions at the CAOC that ensure the mission is carried out smoothly.

"This is a small operation in terms of numbers of people overall in the CAOC, but there are a lot of moving parts," said Buck. "We have a chief of combat plans and people that do scheduling for take-off times and refueling times, and we have technicians that put it all together into an air tasking order. On the floor itself, we have an electronic warfare officer who looks at all the things that go on in the electronic spectrum that could impact our mission. He advises me on how to respond to those things. I have an intelligence officer who is an experienced targeteer and weapons officer and his assistant. We have a search and rescue liaison. Additionally we have Turkish liaisons who help us coordinate with the host nation."

With that many people on the floor, things can get pretty intense.

"I'd say every day is a pretty exciting day here. There is a lot of flying activity south of the 36th parallel that we have to monitor all the time and be prepared for, should they decide to be aggressive and come north," said Buck. "It's is never dull on the floor."