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Two Outgoing AFCENT Leaders Parting Words on the CAOC

  • Published
  • By Capt. Justin Davidson-Beebe
  • Ninth Air Force

Canadian Air Force Brig. Gen. Sid Connor, director of the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), and U.S. Air Force Col. Julie Sposito-Salceies, commander of the 609th Air Operations Center (AOC), recently concluded their tours. Under their leadership the CAOC navigated new regional security dynamics while reinforcing partnerships as the backbone of an integrated air defense posture. As they prepared for their next assignments, Connor and Sposito-Salceies shared insights on the CAOC's evolution and the increasing importance of cooperation among U.S. and partner nations in the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) area of responsibility (AOR).

The CAOC at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, is the focal point for the command and control of all air operations, including integrated air and missile defense, occurring across the USCENTCOM AOR, which includes 21 nations, spans more than 4 million square miles, and is home to more than 560 million people from 25 ethnic groups speaking 20 languages, and consists of a staff who is largely deployed or on a permanent party rotation.

Connor recently concluded his time at the CAOC as the director. After six months of leading the CAOC, he leaves behind a team focused on collaboration, innovation, and forward-thinking in a region undergoing new regional security challenges.

“As many countries refocus priorities and address threats in different ways, partnerships are becoming increasingly important,” Connor said. “The CAOC must strike a balance in its use of technology, using systems that enable us to operate more efficiently and effectively, and also require less personnel.”

“That technology must also not be too exclusive, as exclusivity can inhibit an organization focused on partnership and cross flow. Building bridges between regional partners requires effective communication tools.”

The CAOC's roots are intertwined with historical coalitions, such as the coalition during the First Gulf War where the original AOC was established. These past experiences serve as a guide for uniting diverse interests against shared threats.

"The CAOC is more than an air operations center," Connor stated. "It's a center of international cooperation, where nations come together to solve complex problems and confront common challenges. The CAOC stands as a nexus, offering a platform for collaboration to approach problems and bring interests together.”

The combined nature of the CAOC, with embedded officers and Airmen from various nations is another key to its success.

“Canada has embedded me in the CAOC to be the director, not to solely advocate for Canadian subset of interests” Connor said. “By preserving the model of embedded members, the CAOC ensures a continuous exchange of ideas, expertise, and perspectives, keeping it at the forefront of collaboration in the face of an evolving security environment.”

The CAOC has facilitated the protection of sovereign airspace in the Gulf region.

“GCC partners are working to keep their individual sovereign airspaces secure, and this leads to greater regional stability,” Connor said.

Connor pointed to the CAOC's recent successes in coordinating the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza as a testament to its role in building strong partnerships in the region.

"The CAOC was firmly established, so nations were already talking to each other and we were able to rapidly support the mission from here, and dropping humanitarian aid is a lot like dropping supplies to our own forces,” he said.

On March 2, 2024, AFCENT, the Royal Jordanian Air Force, and coalition partners began conducting humanitarian aid airdrops to support civilians in Gaza. Over the course of three months, the airdrops provided nearly 1.2 million Meals Ready to Eat from U.S. stockpiles, over 102,000 pounds of food and supplies from Jordan, and nearly 150,000 bottles of water.

Looking to the future, Connor said he envisions a CAOC that is even more agile, adaptable, and integrated. He sees the adoption of new strategies like Agile Combat Employment (ACE) as essential to maintaining a competitive edge.

“Nations will seek to move troops between Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere rapidly as needs arise,” Connor said. “By fostering relationships with regional partners at the CAOC, we will have the partnerships built for the next challenge, breaking down barriers to rapid mobility and agility.”

Another leader who recently concluded her time at the CAOC is Col. Julie Sposito-Salceies, former 609th AOC commander. Like Brig. Gen. Connor, she shared some parting thoughts on the CAOC and on the AOR, and the increasing importance of partnerships.

“The USCENTCOM AOR is active, as it has continually been for years, particularly in the air, space, and cyber domains,” she said. “The CAOC serves as the connective tissue for building shared awareness in these domains for the coalition and partner nations in the region.

Threats in the AOR vary greatly, but the CAOC enables all partner nations to remain vigilant and maintain security in their sovereign airspace.

“Following Iran’s attacks in April, the calculus shifted in the region,” Sposito said. “Partner nations in the AOR saw firsthand the true value in crosstalk, information sharing and the respective role in protecting their sovereign air space. Partnerships are more important than ever.”

Bolstering partnerships remains a key priority in the CAOC, among the 21 nations that actively participate in the day-to-day operations, but to other partners as well.

“What we’ve found is that building partnerships through military exercises, key leadership engagements, and airshows, is extremely important to building trust,” said Sposito. “Once trust is built, partners are more willing to come to the table and participate in building a shared understanding of the entire airspace through their air operation centers and air defense operation centers.”

She referenced exercises such as Desert Flag 2024, where U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles and U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs joined multinational and regional partners for a three-week exercise hosted by the United Arab Emirates for strategic training to build upon a cohesive fighting force in the defense of the Arabian Peninsula. Participating countries included France, Germany, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey, UAE, and the United Kingdom.

“Exercises allow us to build a shared understanding of what stability and security means for the region, and develops a better strategic understanding of the Middle East for all nations involved in the CAOC,” Sposito said. “We are seeking to improve regional security through the eyes of all partner nations. Improving integration between the U.S. and partner militaries means we all have a better shared perspective on what stability and security means in the region.”

Yellow Sands 2024 as another example, is a combined air and missile defense exercise that took place across the Arabian Peninsula alongside coalition allies and regional partner nations. Focusing on full-scale integration of a combat-ready coalition forces, an array of coalition and joint aircraft participated, including advanced fighter, aerial refueling, and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance platforms.

“Yellow Sands is about relationship building, but also about our Integrated Air and Missile Defense posture, enhancing theater security cooperation, partner information sharing, and multinational command and control in a contested environment,” said Sposito.

As Connor and Sposito-Salceies transition to new roles, the CAOC remains well-positioned to build upon their legacies by deepening partnerships, enhancing integration, and working to maintain security and stability across the dynamic CENTCOM region.