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Airspace Control Order (ACO)


The Airspace Control Order (ACO) is a document issued by the airspace control authority, providing detailed information and instructions for the coordinated and efficient use of airspace during military operations. It outlines the designated airspace structures, restrictions, and procedures necessary for the safe and efficient management of both military and civilian aircraft. The ACO aims to minimize potential conflicts between friendly forces, allowing for precise planning and execution of air missions.

Key Takeaways

  1. Airspace Control Order (ACO) is a document published by an airspace control authority that establishes the procedures, regulations, and restrictions for airspace management in a specified area during military operations.
  2. ACO ensures the safe and efficient coordination of air assets among all participating forces, allowing for a rapid and flexible response to changing operational scenarios, minimizing the risk of friendly fire incidents, and enhancing overall situational awareness.
  3. The content of an ACO typically includes the allocation of airspace control sectors, identification and communication procedures, restrictions on altitude and aircraft speed, designated air corridors, and rules of engagement for air defense operations.


The Airspace Control Order (ACO) is a crucial element in military operations as it serves as the primary tool for coordinating, planning, and managing the efficient use of airspace in a designated region.

It ensures the seamless and safe execution of both manned and unmanned aerial missions, including air support, reconnaissance, and transportation.

By establishing specific guidelines for airspace activities, segregating and deconflicting various air operations, and minimizing potential risks, the ACO plays a pivotal role in maintaining the integrity of the overall mission while reducing the likelihood of accidents or incidents.

As such, the ACO is vital for optimizing the effectiveness of the multiple air assets under the command, thereby contributing significantly to the success of military campaigns.


The primary purpose of an Airspace Control Order (ACO) is to facilitate coordination and safe usage of a designated airspace, and ensure the efficient and synergistic utilization of airborne assets in military operations. As an essential management component in an operational environment, an ACO reflects an intricate planning process by integrating various assets such as aircraft, drones, air defense systems, and electronic warfare systems, in order to accomplish a harmonious and effective execution of maneuverability, access control, and airspace management.

The ACO provides the operational guidelines that govern the use of airspace, detailing overall coordination procedures, routes, zones, and altitude restrictions, among other key elements. It also defines the combat roles and functions of friendly airborne forces while regulating friendly and enemy air traffic, mitigating in-flight conflicts, and ensuring the safety of air operations.

In complex military scenarios, an Airspace Control Order serves as a dynamic and evolving document, with constant updates and modifications as necessitated by changes in the operational environment, political constraints, and mission objectives. As an essential reference for aircrews, air support personnel, and other stakeholders, the ACO maintains an optimal and adaptive structure that allows for better synchronization of air support assets and real-time situational awareness to support ground forces in achieving their objectives.

Consequently, the ACO plays a crucial role in enhancing the effectiveness of the joint force and reducing the risk of fratricide or unintended incidents due to a lack of communication and coordination in the use of airspace.

Examples of Airspace Control Order (ACO)

Operation Desert Storm (1991): During the Gulf War, the coalition forces led by the United States implemented an Airspace Control Order to efficiently coordinate the air operations of multiple nations, ensuring that their aircraft could operate effectively and safely within the assigned airspace. The ACO divided the theater of operations into sectors, with designated altitudes and routes for different mission types, and assigned airspace control authority responsibilities to the joint force.

NATO Allied Force (1999): In the Kosovo conflict, NATO employed an Airspace Control Order to manage a complex and congested airspace. Participating nations coordinated their air activities by establishing specific routes, altitudes, and procedures, which led to the successful execution of the air campaign. These measures allowed the alliance to share information and maintain situational awareness while minimizing the risks of air collisions or accidental engagements.

Operation Inherent Resolve (2014 – present): During the ongoing campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, a multinational coalition led by the United States employs an Airspace Control Order to facilitate deconfliction and coordination among the participating nations’ air assets. The ACO ensures the safe and efficient allocation of airspace, preventing incidents such as friendly fire, mid-air collisions, or interference with civilian air traffic. The ACO has been critical in managing the airspace in a complex and challenging environment, where multiple forces and nations with different objectives and capabilities engage in air operations.

Airspace Control Order (ACO) FAQ

What is an Airspace Control Order (ACO)?

An Airspace Control Order (ACO) is a document that establishes the guidelines and procedures for coordinating, integrating, and controlling military air operations within a specified territory. It details the use of airspace, including any restrictions or requirements, and provides essential information for the planning and execution of air missions.

Who issues an Airspace Control Order (ACO)?

An Airspace Control Order (ACO) is typically issued by an authorized military authority, such as the Airspace Control Authority (ACA) or the Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC). These authorities have the responsibility of coordinating and integrating air operations within the designated area of responsibility (AOR).

What information is included in an Airspace Control Order (ACO)?

An Airspace Control Order (ACO) includes information on the air traffic control (ATC) procedures and airspace management guidelines to ensure safe and effective air operations. This can include airspace classification, dimensions, restrictions, coordination measures, designated routes, and procedures for both friendly and adversary air assets. The ACO may also outline special instructions or requirements for specific missions, units, or circumstances.

How is an Airspace Control Order (ACO) implemented?

An Airspace Control Order (ACO) is implemented by the relevant military authority and disseminated to all involved parties, including air traffic control agencies, military units, and other relevant organizations. The ACO is designed to be adaptable to the changing operational environment and may be updated or amended as necessary to maintain effective air operations.

Why is an Airspace Control Order (ACO) important?

An Airspace Control Order (ACO) is critical for the safe, efficient, and effective management of military air operations in a specified area. It ensures that all airspace users are aware of the procedures, restrictions, and coordination measures in place, promoting situational awareness and reducing the risk of accidents or incidents. Moreover, it provides a structure for integrating and synchronizing air activities with other military units and joint operations to achieve common objectives.

Related Military Operation Terms

  • Air Traffic Control (ATC)
  • Airspace Management
  • Flight Restrictions
  • Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR)
  • Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP)

Sources for More Information