Transforming Command and Control (C2) Warfighting Systems

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Solider monitors air and ground position location information (PLI) on the Windows Tactical Assault Kit (WINTAK) and Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK). (U.S. Army photo by Justine Ruggio/Released)

If the U.S. Army is going to ensure data-driven decision-making on tomorrow’s battlefield, it must first transform its command and control warfighting systems and establish networks for the future fight.

This was a common and heavily-discussed theme at this year’s Association of the United States Army’s (AUSA) Annual Meeting. Conversations at this year’s event showed that no plan can account for every scenario in combat since the unexpected nature of warfighting requires flexibility and agility on the battlefield. The unanticipated variables inflict uncertainty in all operations and require an approach to command and control that does not attempt to execute perfect operations, but instead assumes uncertainty and allows for unpredictability and risk.

This can only be made possible through command and control systems that are more unified and intuitive. But what will it take to get there?

Creating adaptable systems

Adaptability equals survivability on the battlefield. And it’s no different for successful command and control systems.

Mark Kitz, Program Executive Officer of C3T for the U.S. Army, spoke about how the U.S. Army is adopting an adaptable mindset, “One of the characteristics we’re trying to move on from is the slow-moving, non-adaptive systems that we’ve become frustrated with.”

“…how do we make sure that for whatever mission you’re trying to execute, for whatever part of the world you’re in, and whatever your job is, you have access to the right data. And if you need something more, it’s also accessible.” – Dr. Alex Miller

In order to achieve this goal, command and control systems must deviate from being a “one size fits all” approach. As Kitz explained, “There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach for our network. Whether it’s satellite communication (SATCOM) radios, applications, enterprise technologies, or unified network operations, there is no one contract. There is no one capability or one application, so we can’t start having a philosophy that we’re going to have this one-size-fits-all approach.”

Another requirement for the development of adaptive command and control systems is decoupling data from applications. This is necessary for all the data to be shared operationally across systems. Col. Matthew Benigni, Chief Data Officer of the U.S. Army Futures Command, agreed with this concept when he said, “Our data cannot be trapped in the applications and the services built by specific vendors within the system.”

For this to be possible, industry must ensure that their systems are built on open architecture and capable of interoperating. Dr. Alex Miller, Senior Science and Technology Advisor of the Office of the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, emphasized this requirement, “If your system has some special format that is super optimal for your software, it is not optimal for an architecture that’s broad and scales up, down, laterally, and across.”

Developing a data-centric mindset

The use of data will be essential in revolutionizing current command and control systems, but what is equally important is the ability to move the most mission-critical data. As Dr. Miller explained, “As we’re thinking through what the network has to do, we [need to consider] the network as a weapon platform. We have to be able to move those data, but we don’t have to move all of the data.”

Why not all the data? Even though the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has been calling out for “more data,” it’s essential that they only receive the correct data. They can also face challenges from having too much data to access to and share. “ [The DoD] didn’t have the right data, so they kept saying ‘More, more and more.’ And then ‘more’ became ‘all’,” explained Dr. Miller. “So, what we’re really focused on is how do we make sure that for whatever mission you’re trying to execute, for whatever part of the world you’re in, and whatever your job is, you have access to the right data. And if you need something more, it’s also accessible.”

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach for our network. Whether it’s satellite communication (SATCOM) radios, applications, enterprise technologies, or unified network operations, there is no one contract. There is no one capability or one application, so we can’t start having a philosophy that we’re going to have this one-size-fits-all approach.” – Mark Kitz

But for this to be possible, data will need to be unhindered by boundaries and accessible to all decision-makers. It also has to be secure so that it can’t be compromised or intercepted by the adversary. According to Bg. Joel Denise Brown, Director of Architecture, Operations, Networks, and Space of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for the U.S. Army, “As we move towards that data-centric environment, we’re moving away from network boundaries being our security. We’re going to secure that data through the unified network; it will be built on zero-trust principles. And data centricity is absolutely critical to that. And that is going to start removing that complexity and that burden.”

Collaborating with industry to drive innovation

The military relies on industry for innovation, so it is no surprise that the U.S. Army will need industry to help create more iterative and agile command and control programs for the future fight. Kitz spoke of the importance of the partnership between industry and government, “We are challenging industry and government partnerships to build innovative programs to get after our network’s future together. So, we can embrace innovation and a flexible future network that we can modernize over time.”

The U.S. Army is calling on industry because of its knowledge of commercial technology that can be adjusted to the military space. Joseph Welch, Director of the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) Center, used an example from work being done in the U.S. Army’s C5ISR to depict how investments in industry are paramount for the future network, “There’s a lot of injections into this space that are based on commercial technology… And so part of our investment strategy and C5ISR is making direct investments into those areas, not to improve upon what commercial can already provide, but to be able to adapt it minimally where needed into the tactical environment.”

AUSA 2023 showed that the transformation of command and control warfighting systems and networks is underway, but not complete. There is still work that needs to be done to ensure that all data can be shared and accessed when needed, only the correct and most applicable data is served to decision-makers, and that networks remain both available and secure. The conversations at AUSA also illustrated that industry has a major role to play in overcoming these challenges.