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The Air Force Relies on Reachback Capabilities

The Air Force Relies on Reachback Capabilities

By Staff Sgt. A.J. Bosker, Air Force Print News.

Washington D.C. -- (AFPN) January 23, 2002 -- In the ongoing war against terrorism, the Air Force relies not only on forward-deployed forces but also on reachback capabilities.

Reachback capabilities are those that support the theater commander without having to deploy to forward locations, said Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Leaf, director of operational requirements at the Pentagon.

Some of these, such as command and control functions, imagery and intelligence analysis, and supply depot processes, have fairly significant hardware and communication infrastructures.

"Reachback allows the Air Force to avoid spending the time transporting these assets to the theater, bedding them down, connecting them and actually getting them up and running," Leaf said. "We don’t need the assets physically located on the deployed base proper to access their resources or capabilities.

"It’s not unlike using commercial banking software that allows you to reach back to your bank or financial institution via the Internet," Leaf said. "I can get a statement, pay bills or do other things to achieve a desired effect. I don’t need the bank branch office right here to access its capabilities or my money."

However, the Air Force needs the structure and process to integrate it all.

"In the case of our analogy, (the structure and process) is the software program," he said. "For us, it’s our air and space operations centers that are deployed to the theater. These operations centers are where we bring all this data together to enable decision making by the combined forces air component commander or the theater commander."

Leaf can speak from personal experience as to just how effective and capable reachback really is during actual operations. He was the wing commander at Aviano Air Base, Italy, during Operation Allied Force.

"We did quite of bit of reachback," he said. "For the most part (these assets) were as capable and effective as if they were (at Aviano). They had the potential to be even more effective since it was possible to access a multitude of assets."

From the experiences and lessons learned in Operation Allied Force, Air Force officials implemented reachback training in various exercises and scenarios.

However, this training goes beyond just teaching about reachback, Leaf said.

"We want to expand our ability to leverage these capabilities," he said. "We’re really talking about the horizontal integration of all of our capabilities."

The goal is to reach a point where the maximum number of people or weapons systems that can take advantage of a capability or tool, are given ready access to it, Leaf said.

This evolution of reachback is a necessity in the current and foreseeable world security climate, he said.

"During the Cold War, our focus was primarily on the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact threat," he said. "Now, we’re not sure where we will be next. That unpredictability of where we may be called to apply air and space power mandates more flexibility.

"Reachback gives us this flexibility," Leaf said. "It allows us to more easily shift our efforts globally."

"This is important, especially if the Air Force is conducting several ongoing operations," he said. "Reachback gives us the opportunity for multiple theater commanders to access a capability and serve multiple customers simultaneously."

Leaf, talking about the Air Force men and women who provide this capability, said they are just as critical to mission accomplishment as the forward-deployed warfighters.

"Could we do it without them? Absolutely not," he said. "Anyone who doubts the significance of their role needs to think again.

"During Operation Allied Force, I needed everyone, from those who helped ensure the aircraft and munitions were ready, to those who provided the latest intelligence information, and even the technical sergeant who set up our first field kitchen at the start of operations," he said.

"There were people from all over who were contributing," Leaf said. "Their location didn’t matter as much as the importance of their contributions."

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).