The concept is centering around a key idea — one that requires tossing decades of traditional thinking out the window. “As opposed to what many leaders have been doing their entire career, the biggest difference is that in the future there will be no lines on the battlefield.”
The current structure is all about dividing areas of operations. “Wherever we go, if we have to fight, we established the forward edge of the battle area, we’ve established the fire support coordination line, the forward line of troops, and we say: ‘OK, Army can operate here. Air Force can operate here.”
“Everything is about lines” now. But to function in modern contested environments, “those lines are eliminated.”
What does that mean in practice? Pentagon has put forth a vision in which every force can both defend itself and have a deep-strike capability to hold an enemy at bay, built around a unified command-and-control system.
“A naval force can defend itself or strike deep. An Air Force that can defend itself or strike deep. The Marines can defend itself or strike deep. “Everybody.”
That “everybody” includes coalition framework so this plan only works if it can integrate others. And for the entire structure to succeed, the Pentagon needs to create the Joint All-Domain Command and Control capability currently under development.
“We had disparate services with their concepts of fighting. We never really had a manner to pull all the services together to fight as a coherent unit.”
The war-fighting concept will directly “drive some of our investments” in the future and tie together a number of ongoing efforts within the department — including the individual combatant command reviews and the Navy’s shipbuilding plan.
There’s some critical components from those reviews — how you command and control the forces, how you do logistics; there are some common themes in there in a joint war-fighting concept.
If we had that concept right now, we could use that concept right now to influence the ships that we are building, the amount of ships that we need, what we want the combatant commands to do.
“So this war-fighting concept is filling a gap. Leadership wishes we had it now. “It would inform all of the decisions that we make today because now is about positioning ourselves in the future for success.”
There is an aspect that we need to share of this joint war-fighting concept. We have to preserve the classified nature of It and be careful what is reported, to a degree.
It’s Time to Fix the Command Post.
Headquarters need to optimize mobility, survivability and interoperability for the future fight.
Under the conditions of the modern battlefield, brigade combat teams (BCTs) need to find ways to mitigate adversary threats through improvements in mobility and survivability as well as a reduction in the signatures of BCT command posts and tactical assembly areas.
It’s time to ask whether enough has been done to prepare Army units for the challenge.
What Has Been Done?
In the past, the acquisitions process often yielded technology and systems in compartmentalized warfighting-function packages rather than holistically. Establishing the Army Futures Command signalled a unified development and acquisition efforts and represented a substantive first step in identifying and solving interoperability problems across the force.
Leaders recognized the shortcomings of legacy systems and openly committed themselves to breaking “stovepipes” of data and technology as the Army shifted away from counterinsurgency and stability operations and prepares increasingly for large-scale combat operations.
Emphasizing the use of analog Military Decision Making Process products enables command posts’ continuity of operations through displacements and minimizes the need for PowerPoint slide decks.
Army Futures Command and unit-level initiatives to optimize tactical operations center processes continue to permeate unit headquarters across the Army, along with the occasional incorporation of commercial off-the-shelf technology and significant upgrades to communications like Tactical Network Transport On-the-Move.
Digital systems certainly have a place in the way forward, but without a solution to the multi-hour system boots and shutdowns needed to establish connectivity, many units opt to fight with a minimalist architecture.
Army is trying to improve capabilities offered by the intelligence system of record, the Distributed Common Ground System – Army (DCGS-A). These are all steps in the right direction to resolve gaps in how tactical data is pushed to commanders in austere, resource-constrained environments.
The Army’s efforts to modernize also come with the acknowledgement that at times, commanders are being saturated with “too much data,” which can be alleviated with software improvements that allow for targeted data pulls.
What More Can Be Done?
Miniaturize Army Footprints
As the Army shifts back toward preparing for large-scale combat operations, it needs to look hard at the size of maneuver units’ footprints. Some units have experimented by, for example, downsizing sprawling, counterinsurgency-era mission command centers through the optimization and decentralization of legacy systems.
The current force is vulnerable to precision fires cued by visual and electromagnetic signatures, which threat forces use to target formations from the top down. The Army should move the small tent cities onto highly mobile platforms that come equipped with built-in electronics and communications suites.
The command centers of the future must be capable of rapid displacement with the ability to maintain scalable mission command. In order to reduce signatures, it is also in the interest of developers to hone communications suites with dedicated bandwidth that can reach back to processing, exploitation, and dissemination cells in the consolidation area.
No tent can replicate the mobility of mission command on wheels. Even the smallest, most mobile tents still take upwards of twenty to thirty minutes to break down and set up, even with practiced crews. Achieving this kind of mounted mobility may compel the Army to sacrifice vehicle armor for expandable capability.
Ultimately, this risk must be weighed against the anticipated character of future kinetic fights. The current inability to achieve rapid system displacement is so pervasive that it will require a refashioning of BCT and battalion command posts across the force.
The use of expandable vehicles at several BCTs, repurposed from legacy workshop vehicles, has shown that formations can adjust to the new reality. While effective, the Army should look to field these types of systems from the ground up for the next generation.
As legacy intelligence and signals systems are phased out, it is imperative they are not replaced with vehicles at a one-to-one ratio. Acquisitions should look to fashion systems that bring functions under fewer roofs and can displace at a moment’s notice.
A smaller physical presence, complete with built-in retractable antennas and dishes, will be key to dispersion and the elimination of antenna farms and other time-consuming displacement items. This will require the elimination of multi-hour system boots and shutdowns or the permanent tasking of these systems to the consolidation area.
Footprint reduction must also come with the institutional concession that displacement crew drills cannot fully mitigate the threat of BM-21 multiple launch rocket system salvos. While drills are important and should be trained, commanders should not let proficiency in crew displacement create a false sense of security. Systems modifications to promote mobility will be a huge challenge for the acquisitions community.
We need viable frameworks to get intelligence to “move at the speed of decisive action” while performing key tasks to inform commanders’ decision-making processes. The transition to reduce vulnerable forward footprints with condensed, modular systems will take time and vision.
At the core of this shift should be a sustained commitment to maneuver supported by precision fires. The Army will not perpetuate these successful institutional norms without more maneuverable BCT and battalion headquarters and complementary fires development to protect units from long-range artillery.
The unmitigated effects of adversaries’ intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, electronic warfare, and artillery against the American constellation of ground command posts could lead to overmatch and potential defeat on a future battlefield.
Mitigate Bandwidth Issues and Improve Interoperability
Establishing and maintaining sustained communications in remote operational environments is a struggle for even the best-trained organizations.
While some units master the tenets of “shoot” and “move,” the last building block, “communicate,” often remains elusive. Many units fail due to overly complicated architectures, lack of support, lack of priority, and user error.
Tactical bandwidth requirements continue to outpace system capabilities, with different warfighting functions demanding alternate networks to meet classification needs. The “soda straw” analogy is a popular visualization of this issue, describing how voluminous data can only flow at the rate of available “piping” or bandwidth.
The typical BCT pipes several levels of data networks, tactical radio, and satellite-based tracking systems simultaneously, saturating the signal environment. The lapses when moving forward headquarters leaves ample room for shutdown and startup errors.
The Army should seek to condense as many of these tactical data streams and functions as possible. One reliable network that is accessible across the operational environment is a reasonable aim, even if it makes networks slightly more vulnerable to electronic attack.
Some say the Army has already taken this step with the tactical SIPR network, but there are numerous systems that do not fall under this umbrella. This goes back to the Army’s culture of security, which is rigid by regulation but often loose in practice to reduce friction.
The Department of Defense consistently labels systems and documents “SECRET” when it’s not necessary, slowing down the dissemination and collection of battlefield data.
In essence, this creates operational barriers at lower echelons. A thorough review of future systems and documents should emphasize lowering classification when possible, reducing the security burden on commanders and freeing up bandwidth across the BCT for priority communications.
Achieving this kind of network would come with a tradeoff between communications and operational security in exchange for reliability and access. In this area, innovators have already started to step in, providing alternative solutions like soldier-level ATAK (Android Tactical Assault Kit) modules and encrypted communications that use cellular network backbones.
Though these might not work well in an austere environment and are more vulnerable to targeting by electronic warfare, the need to simplify user-level systems and encourage interoperability is paramount.
Simplification is an area where the Army has made some strides. There have been efforts to overhaul of the legacy DCGS-A software suite to eliminate extraneous functions, condensing essential tools into fewer, and more user-friendly, applications.
With regard to mission command, BCTs regularly fail to achieve doctrinal expectations using currently fielded systems. The Army can learn from “self jamming” failures and build on successful simplification efforts to balance the risks between security and reliable mass communications.
Pairing on-the-move mission command with at-the-halt capabilities hampers commanders’ ability to maintain tempo. Mobility enhancement and dispersion enable commanders to reduce the threat to command posts and keep vulnerable elements out of the range rings of the enemy.
The Army doesn’t get to choose its next conflict or adversary, but it can prepare for the fight through investments in command nodes, communications, and trust in commanders’ equipment requests.
A blind brigade will never be able to mass and link/coordinate effects. On the other hand, a brigade enabled by highly mobile and redundant mission command, bound together by flexibility in tactics and communication, will stand ready to meet and defeat adversaries on a future battlefield.
Each aligned Network project includes supporting Plans of Actions and Milestones that encompassing issues, risks, and mitigation plans to meet the overall strategic vision. Each project contains measurable parameters verified in advance of commencement.
Project progress measures against the originally set parameters quantifiably tracking each project’s advancement. Planning, prioritization, and coordination of these project efforts are necessary to establish and maintain tempo and momentum in system development.
Here we provide objectives addressing technical methodology and details to provide engineering details and parameters of interrelated projects across the strategy. In other words, they provide the “how” in regards to the technical parts, processes, and policies required in achieving assured C2.
1. Transform Air Ground Task Force Command and Control
Establish warfighting network providing interoperable, always present and rapid access to information in any location/condition
Standardize network by eliminating legacy systems, consolidating resources, and optimizing network operations
Establish and maintain application development standards, processes, and infrastructure allow system capabilities to be delivered rapidly and efficiently
4. Installation/Tactical Processing Nodes
Standardize capabilities of regionally aligned Installation Processing Nodes, increasing effective access to secure information
5. Command and Control Network Survivability
Ensure survivability of the Command and Control network through the most austere, challenged, and contested conditions
6. Network Security
Establish appropriate measures to protect and defend data, users, systems, connections, and missions
Maintain proven Command and Control capabilities, while fielding capable, relevant, and interoperable systems employed in innovative ways
8. Workforce Training and Resources
Establish and enforce disciplined workforce skill sets and processes for delivering effective/efficient enterprise capabilities across all warfighting functions requirements
9. Enterprise Command/Control Policy
Establish enterprise policies, processes, and standards that govern the implementation, operation, and sustainment of the Command and Control network
10. Information Technology Value
Influence and shape investment opportunities to demonstrate fiscal responsibility while guiding innovation throughout Capabilities Based Assessment