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Air Tasking Order (ATO)

Definition An Air Tasking Order (ATO) is a detailed plan and instruction issued by a command and control authority in military operations, specifying the missions and tasks for air assets within a specified time frame. It coordinates and synchronizes the allocation of air assets, such as aircraft and support equipment, to accomplish various tasks and […]


An Air Tasking Order (ATO) is a detailed plan and instruction issued by a command and control authority in military operations, specifying the missions and tasks for air assets within a specified time frame. It coordinates and synchronizes the allocation of air assets, such as aircraft and support equipment, to accomplish various tasks and objectives. The ATO integrates information on target identification, mission objectives, and operational guidance to optimize mission success and minimize risk.

Key Takeaways

  1. An Air Tasking Order (ATO) is a detailed and organized plan that directs air missions, assigns targets, and synchronizes military efforts during combat operations.
  2. ATOs are developed by the Air Operations Center (AOC) and provide crucial information such as mission objectives, flight routes, assigned aircraft, and required support resources for successful execution.
  3. ATOs are used to manage and coordinate air assets effectively, ensuring the air power is integrated and synchronized with other components of a joint military operation.


The Air Tasking Order (ATO) is a critical component of military operations, as it serves as the primary method for coordinating and integrating air capabilities in support of a joint mission.

This comprehensive document outlines the specific air missions, allocation of aircraft, targets, and timing for a designated operational period.

By establishing clear communication and guidelines for all participating units, the ATO helps streamline the decision-making process, reduce operational uncertainty, and enable the efficient use of limited resources.

Furthermore, it ensures the synchronization of air efforts with ground and naval forces, ultimately preventing potential conflicts or impediments to the mission’s success.

The ATO’s importance lies in its ability to facilitate effective and unified execution of military objectives, reinforcing the decisive role of air power in modern warfare.


The Air Tasking Order (ATO) is a crucial component in the planning and execution of military air operations, as it serves to streamline the coordination and communication required for effective mission accomplishment. Its primary purpose is to provide a comprehensive, detailed, and time-sensitive plan that outlines the specific tasks and objectives assigned to each military aircraft and aircrew participating in a given mission.

By doing so, the ATO ensures that all assets and resources are utilized efficiently, minimizing the risk of confusion, duplication of efforts, or gaps in coverage during complex and fast-paced air operations. Created and disseminated by the Air Operations Center (AOC) within a Joint Air Operations environment, the ATO is a key tool in synchronizing airpower with ground and naval forces, as well as with partner nation assets.

By integrating all components of airpower into a single, unified plan, the ATO promotes greater interoperability and enables commanders to achieve desired effects more rapidly on the battlefield. This comprehensive approach also fosters a more accurate assessment of the battlespace, enabling commanders to make informed decisions and allocate resources effectively in the pursuit of overarching strategic objectives.

Examples of Air Tasking Order (ATO)

Operation Desert Storm (1991): During the Gulf War, the United States and its coalition partners heavily relied on Air Tasking Orders to coordinate and manage air operations against Iraqi forces. The ATO was crucial in organizing the daily air campaign, with thousands of air sorties executed to attack strategic targets, offer air support to ground troops, and maintain air superiority.

NATO’s Operation Allied Force (1999): In the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, NATO implemented Air Tasking Orders to coordinate its member nations’ air forces in conducting air strikes and enforcing the no-fly zone over Kosovo. ATOs allowed NATO to achieve its objectives of preventing further humanitarian crises and maintaining regional stability while managing a diverse array of air assets from multiple countries.

Operation Inherent Resolve (2014 – present): In response to the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, a coalition led by the United States initiated military intervention to degrade and destroy the terrorist organization. Air Tasking Orders have been regularly issued to manage tens of thousands of air sorties, facilitating coordinated air strikes, reconnaissance missions, and other air operations in support of partner forces on the ground.

Air Tasking Order (ATO) FAQ

What is an Air Tasking Order (ATO)?

An Air Tasking Order (ATO) is a detailed and time-sensitive document issued by a command authority, providing instructions for the execution of air missions, allocation of assets, and coordination of various air operations within a specific time frame.

What is the purpose of an Air Tasking Order?

The main purpose of an ATO is to ensure effective integration and synchronization of air capabilities, prioritize assigned missions, and efficiently allocate resources to accomplish specific objectives in a given operational area. The ATO facilitates communication and coordination among different units and provides a clear outline of tasks, responsibilities, and timelines.

Who issues the Air Tasking Order?

The Air Tasking Order is typically issued by a higher command authority, such as a Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC), a Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), or an Air Operations Center (AOC). These authorities are responsible for planning, coordinating, and controlling the air operations within their respective areas of responsibility (AOR).

What information is included in an ATO?

An ATO contains comprehensive details about air missions, including mission objectives, assigned aircraft, targets, weapons, support requirements, routing, altitudes, timings, and any specific rules of engagement. It also provides information on air traffic control, air-to-air refueling, and any other relevant coordination and deconfliction measures to ensure safe and effective air operations.

What is the time period covered by an ATO?

Air Tasking Orders are typically issued for a 24-hour period, although the duration may vary depending on the operational requirements and the tempo of the campaign. ATOs are usually released daily, and the planning cycle involved in the ATO process ensures continuous updates and adjustments as the operational environment evolves.

How does the ATO process work?

The ATO process begins with the receipt of objectives and guidance from higher command, followed by the identification of targets and the development of mission plans by the various components of the air operations. Then, the available assets and resources are allocated to the missions based on priority and efficiency, and the detailed tasking order is produced and disseminated to the executing units. Once the ATO is released, real-time execution, monitoring, and assessment of the missions take place, and any necessary adjustments are made to the ATO as needed.

Related Military Operation Terms

  • Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC)
  • Close Air Support (CAS)
  • Area Air Defense Commander (AADC)
  • Combat Air Patrol (CAP)
  • Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD)

Sources for More Information

  • NATO Homepage – Official website of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with information about NATO operations, including Air Tasking Order procedures.
  • U.S. Air Force Homepage – Official website of the United States Air Force, with relevant information regarding Air Tasking Orders and air operations.
  • Joint Chiefs of Staff Homepage – Official website of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, featuring information on joint military operations, including the use of Air Tasking Orders.
  • RAND Corporation Homepage – Official website of the RAND Corporation, a research organization that provides detailed studies and analysis on various military subjects, including Air Tasking Orders and their use in military operations.

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