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Mission Support to Mission Essential
An Analysis of Air Force Engineer Doctrine and Capabilities 

A recent assessment of U.S. Air Force engineer roles and responsibilities uncovered a significant number of capabilities airmen engineers bring to the fight that fall outside the traditional joint engineering realm.

 

By Maj. Erica E. Tortella, M.SAME, USAF

   


 

Author’s Note: The following article assesses the U.S. Air Force’s contributions to the Joint Engineer community emerging from an overhaul of capabilities in Air Force Engineer Doctrine that was instigated by an article published in the March-April 2014 issue of The Military Engineer titled, “Joint Engineering for the Future.”—E.T.

 

Is an Engineer just an Engineer? “Joint Engineering for the Future,” an article authored by Col. Timothy O’Rourke, USA (Ret.), of the Joint Staff Engineering Division and published in the March-April 2014 issue of The Military Engineer went to great lengths to explain each service has unique contributions and one should not interpolate that overlap is just cause for plug-and-play global sourcing.

The article references a capabilities-based assessment that demonstrates how each service has distinctions across time and physical domains (land, air and space, and maritime). The capabilities-based assessment mapped engineer capabilities as they are organized in Joint Capability Areas (JCAs) to the Universal Joint Task List and the Service Task Lists. Based on information from the capabilities-based assessment, models were built to show service contributions on a shaded scale across levels of war (tactical, operational and strategic) and operational environment (permissive, unknown and hostile). The article was well documented and researched but something seemed “off.” The U.S. Air Force’s contribution of engineering capabilities to the Joint Engineer Force seemed a bit slim.

The capabilities-based assessment, and subsequent models built from it, made Air Force engineers realize our true capabilities were not well represented because documentation feeding the models was not well written. Col. O’Rourke’s article highlighted clear disconnects between what was reported in the Defense Readiness Reporting System (a system designed to communicate and measure capability) and the understanding the joint community has of Air Force engineer capabilities.

Over the next year, Air Force engineers rewrote Air Force Engineer Doctrine and the Mission Essential Task List (METL) to ensure that our capabilities were truly defined in formal documentation.

The Air Force has added numerous engineer capabilities to the Joint Capability Areas. The Air Force has added numerous engineer capabilities to the Joint Capability Areas.  


 

CRITICAL ENGINEERING ROLES

Throughout the rewrite process, the gaps identified were so profound that we started thinking: Where else were there gaps?

What was described in Col. O’Rourke’s article and portrayed in the current Joint Engineer Doctrine leaves a void in the critical engineering role of sustaining in-garrison installations: the responsibility of providing the lifecycle management to the power projection platforms, we, U.S. military forces, maintain to support national objectives—national objectives such as Operation Noble Eagle missions flown from in-garrison installations protecting U.S. skies in response to the attacks of 9/11; or a store and destroy mission of our nation’s aging chemical weapons banned by international treaty, headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and conducted at multiple other U.S. Army depots around the United States; or defending the nation via in-garrison seaports allowing the U.S. Navy to conduct interdiction and boarding operations to prevent rogue actors from entering the nation by sea.

If sustaining the facility is so important, why is it not captured in Joint Engineer Doctrine? One may argue that facility sustainment is a capability in the General Engineering subset of the JCAs, but the underlying contingency tones of the descriptions within General Engineering (the ability to assess and repair infrastructure to allow the speedy flow of personnel, supplies, and equipment into theater and forward to tactical units) say otherwise. Whether Base & Installation Support is strictly a reachback capability or whether the unit provides holistic, organic capability, this omission affects all services.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is highlighted in Col. O’Rourke’s article, but the functions are forced to fit the form of the JCAs under General Engineering and its contingency undertones. In reality, USACE often operates in a contingency environment based on situational dependent requirements. However, the nature of its role in engineering, construction management and environmental support fits best under the Base & Installation Support JCA. The same is true for Naval Facilities Engineering Command, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, and the home station mission of Air Force Civil Engineer squadrons.

As shown in the table on page 55 “Joint Engineer Capability Framework,” there are several Base & Installation Support capabilities that if included in Joint Engineer Doctrine would better incorporate the in-garrison mission of the services.

There are several Base & Installation Support capabilities that if included in Joint Engineer Doctrine would better incorporate the in-garrison mission of the services.There are several Base & Installation Support capabilities that if included in Joint Engineer Doctrine would better incorporate the in-garrison mission of the services.


 

AIR FORCE RESPONSIBILITIES

A deeper look into the potential of additional missing Air Force engineer capabilities started with a review of Air Force Engineer Doctrine (Annex 3-34, Engineer Operations). In the 2009 version of Air Force Engineer Doctrine, we ventured outside the standard joint engineer lexicon of General, Combat and Geospatial Engineering by including capabilities related to Base & Installation Support. But we failed to fully express our capabilities harbored in the other JCAs.

The table above, “Air Force Engineer Contributions to the Joint Capability Areas,” shows the JCAs incorporated in our original 2009 Air Force Engineer Doctrine and the engineer capabilities we have added since based on our research. We challenge the other services to find what they may be missing. For example, one of the great aspects of the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps is organic contracting capability. Operational Contract Support is part of the Tier 1 JCA of Logistics, yet not incorporated in the joint engineering definition of an engineer.

The Air Force-specific capabilities, and associated Tier 1 JCAs they fall under that were originally absent from the 2009 Air Force Engineer Doctrine, are numerous.

  • Command & Control. Air Force engineers have four specialty codes that provide Command & Control functions to prepare for, prevent, respond to, recover from, and mitigate threats to the mission. As engineers, we are charged with many roles within an installation’s Disaster Response Force, including the Emergency Control Center, the Emergency Operations Center, and the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CBRN) Control Center.
  • Structural and Aircraft Firefighting. Conducted by certified enlisted and civilian Air Force engineers and includes, but is not limited to, firefighting actions taken to rescue persons and to control or extinguish aircraft fires; emergency medical response to patients outside a treatment facility; fire prevention; hazardous material incident response; and performing rescue, fire suppression and property conservation activities in buildings, enclosed structures, vehicles and vessels.
  • Explosive Ordnance Disposal. Conducted by certified officer and enlisted Air Force engineers and includes, but is not limited to, rapidly clearing heavy concentrations of area denial from aircraft operating surfaces; destruction of stockpiled and abandoned enemy ordnance; post-attack investigation; counter-improvised explosive device operations; explosive hazard removal left on or embedded in human remains; and sub-surface ordnance recovery.
  • CBRN and Emergency Management. Conducted by certified officer, enlisted and civilian Air Force engineers and includes, but is not limited to, detecting, sampling and identifying CBRN and toxic industrial material hazards; and locating contamination, assessing damage, and aiding in the recovery following a Weapons of Mass Destruction attack.

Air Force Civil Engineers provide many mission support and mission essential tasks, whether in a contingency or garrison environment.

Air Force Civil Engineers provide many mission support and mission essential tasks, whether in a contingency or garrison environment.


 

MAPPING JOINT CONTRIBUTIONS

In Col. O’Rourke’s article, the Joint Engineer Capability-to-Universal Joint Task List-to-Service Task approach was used to build a picture of what each service contributes by extending the mapping to the units represented in Service Task Lists. Based on this, the Air Force only has two types of units: Prime BEEF and RED HORSE.

What is missed by mapping to the unit level is the Air Force may only have two deployed types of units and one home station unit, but the associated capabilities can vary based on the requirement needed. Prime BEEF and RED HORSE capabilities, which are listed in Air Force Engineer Doctrine, are tailored to augment each other and other joint operations. Air Force engineers have over 100 personnel and equipment teams, called unit type codes, and they create a building block approach to employing full requirements. These force packages are ideally suited to provide the right skills at the right time.

In addition to updating the Air Force Engineer Doctrine to add the missing capabilities associated with JCAs that do not fall within the traditional Joint Engineer Doctrine, we rewrote our METL to better communicate our engineer capability menu to the joint community. We organized the common tasks conducted by all Air Force engineers and developed a six-item METL. Core tasks as they relate specifically to engineering support include beddown, sustain, recover, emergency management, explosive ordnance disposal, and fire emergency services. We took the new METL one step further and developed a “playbook” that gives commanders step-by-step guidance on how to capture readiness data. With the development of these tools, our Mission Essential Tasks give the field a clear, defendable, repeatable and measurable way to report readiness. Additionally, within the playbook, we have mapped our METL back to the Universal Joint Task List.

With the changes to Air Force Engineer Doctrine and our METL, we hope to further the point that though the services have some overlap in capabilities, we have delineated ours to prove that, in fact, an Engineer is not just an Engineer.

  


 

Maj. Erica E. Tortella, M.SAME, USAF, is Lead Financial Analyst, Financial Management Office, Directorate of Civil Engineers; 703-614-4833, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..