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Catastrophic Disaster Response Staff Officer's Handbook

Handbook 06-08
May 2006

CALL Handbook No. 06-08: Catastrophic Disaster Response Staff Officer's Handbook Cover

Airspace Command and Control (A2C2)/Airspace Control Plan

Appendix K

AC2 During an Incident of National Significance

Incidents of national significance are those high-impact events that require a coordinated response by federal, state, local, tribal, private-sector, and nongovernmental entities in order to save lives, minimize damage, and provide the basis for long-term community recovery and mitigation activities. An effective way to frame a discussion about AC2 during an incident of national significance is to relate AC2 to the Gulf Coast natural disasters of 2005.

Background: Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, August/September 2005

On August 29, 2005, the category three Hurricane Katrina made landfall and in less than 48 hours the scope of that natural disaster overwhelmed Gulf Coast state and local response capabilities. When the category four Hurricane Rita made landfall on September 24, 2005, the regional situation deteriorated further. The Department of Defense (DOD) participated in an unprecedented disaster response effort in support of the lead federal agency (LFA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) exercised its homeland defense responsibilities and established two disaster response joint task forces (JTFs): Katrina (JTF-K) commanded by 1st Army , Fort Gillem, Georgia, and Rita (JTF-R) commanded by 5th Army, Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

In addition, 1st Air Force, Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB), Florida was designated to perform command and control for Air Force assets supporting air operations in and around the Katrina joint operating area. To exercise this responsibility, 1st Air Force established the 1st Air Expeditionary Task Force (1 AETF), Tyndall AFB, Florida, to be the Air Force service component of JTF-Katrina. When 5th Army stood up JTF-Rita, 1st AETF became JTF-Rita’s Air Force service component.

1st AETF was responsible for coordinating and integrating relief operations with local, state, and federal agencies. It established air expeditionary groups (AEGs) at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, Louisiana; Alexandria, Louisiana; Keesler AFB, Mississippi; Jackson, Mississippi; and Maxwell AFB, Alabama. These AEGs supported forward-deployed Airmen on the periphery of the disaster area.

1AF: Provided centralized command for all JTF Katrina and JTF Rita military air assets. As the senior military aviation command and control (C2) agency in the U.S., 1AF is responsible for centralized planning while the airborne C2 platform (Airborne Warning and Control System [AWACS]) is responsible for decentralized execution ( partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other government agencies, 1AF maintains an open line of communication to ensure standing operating procedures are established and followed.

JFACC: The 1AF Commander is JFACC for JTF Katrina and JTF Rita. In this role he acts as the airspace control authority (ACA) and the air defense commander (ADC). The ACA establishes airspace in response to joint force commander (JFC) guidance. During the Gulf Coast disaster the ACA integrated military aviation operations into the National Airspace System (NAS) and coordinated JTF Katrina and JTF Rita airspace requirements. The ACA develops the airspace control plan (ACP) and, after JFC approval, promulgates it throughout the area of operations (AO) and with civilian agencies. The ACA delegates airspace coordination responsibilities to the air and space operations center (AOC).

AOC: The AOC is organized under a director, with five divisions (strategy; combat plans; combat operations; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and air mobility) and multiple support/specialty teams. Each integrates numerous disciplines in a cross-functional team approach to planning and execution. Each AOC is uniquely tailored to the local environment, resource availability, operational demands, and command relationships of the military and civilian hierarchy. In support of the FAA’s statutory air traffic management responsibilities, military air operations are designed to exert minimal negative impact on the NAS. (Figure A11-1 depicts the basic structure of a notional AOC).

FAA: The FAA exercises positive control of all air traffic operating within designated control areas by managing separation of aircraft.

NAS: The NAS is an interconnected system of airports, air traffic facilities and equipment, navigational aids, and airways.

ACP: The ACP provides specific planning guidance and procedures for the airspace control system for the joint operations area (JOA), including airspace control procedures. The ACP is distributed as a separate document or as an annex to the operations plan. The airspace control order (ACO) implementation directive of the ACP is normally disseminated as a separate document. The ACO provides the details of the airspace control measures (ACM).


The ACP outlines airspace procedures for assessment, search, rescue, recovery, and reconstitution operations in the FEMA-declared disaster areas along the Gulf Coast from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, east to Mobile, Alabama.

In general terms, the ACP can be used for other military operations within the scope directed by the JFACC. In the case of the Gulf Coast disaster, it was designed to combine the FAA regional air traffic management capability with the military rescue resources and create a cohesive unit.

The ACP is based on the premise that civilian air traffic control (ATC) facilities and communications would be used as long as possible to provide visual flight rules (VFR) separation. The plan contained general guidance and procedures for airspace control within the Katrina and Rita JOAs.

The ACP is a directive to all military recovery operations aircrews; air, ground, or surface (land and naval) forces; air defense sector; any current and future C2 agencies; and ground, naval, and DOD forces. Strict adherence to the ACP, as well as FAA air traffic procedures will ensure the safe, efficient, and expeditious use of airspace with minimum restrictions placed on civil or military aircraft. Total airspace deconfliction among military versus military and military versus civilian traffic would impose undue constraints on the NAS. The ATO governs JOA airspace usage by means of a pre-planned system of ACMs that can be adjusted according to mission requirements. To assist with coordination, all component services and applicable civil authorities provide liaisons to the JFACC, and all air activities are thoroughly coordinated with FAA representatives. (Figure A11-2 depicts the pre-planned system of ACMs.)

Graphic depicting pre-planned system of ACMs
Figure AK-1: Pre-planned system of ACMs.

The detailed 2005 Gulf Coast natural disaster ACP can be accessed at:

Combat Plans and Strategy Divisions: Combat Plans and Strategy Divisions are two of five elements in an AOC. These divisions apply the JFACC’s vision to the JFC’s campaign plan to build the air campaign plan and the daily air tasking order (ATO). ATOs are the orders that assign air missions to JFACC-controlled aircrews. (Source:

Hurricane Katrina and Rita: The AOC became a central point of contact for those needing rescue, supplies, and flight information. The Combat Plans Division also acted as a clearinghouse for information on behalf of the FAA, from fielding hundreds of calls to the 1-800-WEATHER-BRIEF number, to ATO development, to directions regarding flights into the JOAs. These calls were then forwarded to appropriate agencies for action.

General: 1 AF airspace managers were the military and civilian air traffic controllers responsible for coordinating and integrating all JTF Katrina and JTF Rita mission airspace requirements with the FAA. They applied the positive control elements of the NAS and procedural control capabilities of Theater Battle Management Core System (TBMCS) computers.

One of the most significant challenges to publishing a complete ATO was a result of the immediate and “real time” nature of the situation. Information flowed to Combat Plans and Strategy Divisions as well as to the crisis action team (CAT), and JTF teams. Because assets were coming from all branches of the DOD, other government agencies, and foreign governments, each team had a piece of the puzzle. The picture was not complete until Combat Plans Division instituted a dedicated air asset tracker program, staffed by a planner who gathered, organized, and consolidated all aviation assets information into a single source document and posted it to the Website.

This table identifies some of the aviation assets involved in the 2005 Gulf Coast disaster response effort:

JFACC Controlled

Non-JFACC Controlled

Air Force

U.S .Coast Guard


Marine Corps


AMO (formerly Customs)

ANG (Title 10)

Local Law Enforcement

AF Auxiliary

Civilian Contractors


ANG (SAD and Title 32)


Canadian Forces (Sea Kings, BO-105)


Republic of Mexico (MI 17s)


Republic of Singapore (CH 47s)


Russian Forces (AN24)


Netherlands Forces

If a non-JFACC controlled asset is transferred to the JFACC, it can then be line-tasked in the ATO. For those assets not directly controlled by the JFACC, applicable mission information appears in the special instructions (SPINS) section of the ATO for visibility and coordination purposes.

The Combat Plans Division also created two Websites to display Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita aviation mission data and JFACC update briefings. These Websites quickly became the fastest means of disseminating JFACC information.

“The Wild Blue Yonder”

Air Force commanders and personnel will normally lead the effort to control airspace for joint force commanders. Airmen must understand how to organize forces and how to present them to the joint force commander to ensure safety and survivability for all users of the airspace, while ensuring mission accomplishment. Military staff officers unfamiliar with AC2 also need a basic understanding of these tenets. The “Quick Users” guide below will help you get oriented once on the ground and provide a quick reference for understanding AC2 in your JOA.

The Staff Officer’s “Quick Users” Guide

1. Find out who the JFACC or J (Joint) FACC is and where he is located.

2. Find out who the centralized command is for all military air-assets.

3. Find out where FAA representatives are located.

4. Find out where the AOC is located. Visit it as soon as you can.

5. Get a copy of the ACP and get Website address/es for updated information.

6. The guidance provided in the ACP is a directive to all military recovery operations aircrews.

7. Find out what assets are JFACC/JFACC controlled (i.e., Air Force, Army, Navy) And non-controlled (i.e., Coast Guard, Marine Corps, foreign support assets).

8. Get telephone numbers and email addresses.


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