C2, the Knowledge Base and the Kill Web


By Robbin Laird and Ed Timperlake

We had the opportunity to work with and for Secretary Wynne when he was in the Defense Department. He was involved in many innovations which revolved around shaping an information force before the term became fashionable, which involved pushing information to the edge of the tactical force, shaping distributed decision making and ISR enablement for what can be called the integrated distributed force.

Part of this effort revolved around the coming of the fifth-generation aircraft, first F-22 and then F-35; and the realization that these platforms had battlefield management capabilities beyond their well-known platform capabilities. 

Feedback enhanced this view, as when an F-22 expended all of its weapons during an exercise, and the force commander directed it to remain on station distributing targets to other platforms from prior generations.

Secretary Wynne was a key mover in the shaping of a coalition F-35 which, because of its multination and multidomain usage could provide for historically unparalleled shared ISR and theater level decision-making capabilities.

We lived through the critical comments about the Secretary and the COS of the USAF, General Mosely, for being too committed to future war with what President Obama came to refer to as a “Cold War” airplane.

And it is clear that for far too many defense analysts, the fifth-generation revolution, with its inherent platform capability to have deeper penetration for a prolonged period is still not viewed as a driver for transformation with regard to shaping the kill web force.

What the war game commander (referred to above with regard to the initial F-22 experience) had learned was that the aircraft could provide target acquisition for the force, and had the ability to share across multi generation platforms and potentially multi domain systems.

But this did not become ground truth for the Air Force and the joint force.

And the full impact of the coming of fifth generation aircraft, still remains too compartmentalized.

For example, at the International Fighter Conference 2019, held in Berlin last November, the entire discussion of the way ahead for the combat air force as a multi-domain force and the challenges and opportunities for shaping a way ahead really was conducted with a discussion of what the impact of fifth generation aircraft HAVE already delivered.

Notably, the presentation on F-35 given at the conference seemed more like a separate discussion related to its platform capabilities rather than being part of the challenges and dynamics of overall force transformation.

Fifth generation aircraft are not a cult; they are a force for the renorming of airpower and a driver for the creation of a kill web force.

The other driver for the Kill Web future which Wynne was associated with has been the Rover system.

Rover, which was first conceived as a means on a better, more direct transmission of information from unmanned Aircraft, ultimately became a communication device for all sorts of airborne platforms for use in battlefield elements and in first responder situations such as fire and flood.

We would note as well that the baseline Rover briefing included in our 2012 article on Rover has been downloaded thousands of times from our sister website where we provide for briefings. And it continues to be downloaded on a regular basis. 

In the world of information based warfare, this ability to transmit images and actually produce calls for fires led to the democratization of the battlefield,  which the introduction of the AC-130 Gunships and helicopter support and integration operations first generated.

Rover has led to a dramatic shift in how C2 and ISR were becoming distributed.

In many ways, the coming of Rover is a key part of the legacy of the land wars which is being taken forward into a more sophisticated and complex kill web force development and concepts of operations efforts for the joint and coalition force.

In a recent discussion we had with Secretary Wynne, we went back over his time at the birth of the kill web and the integrated distributed force. 

A key point which he highlighted was that a major challenge to hierarchical culture had to be addressed within the land wars as the introduction of JTACs into the Army.

This created  dramatic change from the top down distribution of battlefield fire assets, as it led to small unit commanders controlling seemingly theater level assets.

According to Wynne, “the US Army had a difficult time adapting to how and where they would fit into their division, battalion, company or platoon units.

“Over time they were guided by the utility that the Special Forces got from what JTACs could bring to a distributed force. But, at the outset, the Army saw their main contribution as being part of reconnaissance patrols, surfacing information to senior commanders.”

Over several years of innovation, the JTACS introduced a new way of war, information driven, with demand for fires and responses from air and ground support provided farmore rapidly at the tactical level.

Wynne noted that he took a film on this new way of war to West Point to show “the next generation of officers that information warfare is where it was at, and that a new approach, namely, being able to operate with Tactical units on the Z axis was a key way ahead.”

That presentation was in 2006.

He also sent small UAV’s and experienced JTACs to both the Air Force Academy and West Point to summer camps to gain traction with the cadre of seniors enlisted assisting in the training.

The introduction of the JTAC and an ISR officer as part of the maneuver force was a foundation for change.

Now maneuver forces can operate with new technologies to aggregate in larger combat effects, through the revolutions in computational power, C2 wave forms, and cyber capabilities to distribute into the battlespace.

The Army now leads the way in integrating both large and small UAV’s.

And with the impact of the F-35 on the joint and coalition force, a new axis of development, the Z axis is a key driver of change for the emergence of a kill web force.

Secretary Wynne argued that fifth generation aircraft would push forward a significant change whereby every shooter could become a sensor and some sensors as shooters in every domain.

It was about shaping a knowledge set in the battlespace that could inform targeting decisions, but as well to provide for a very different dynamic for battle damage assessment.

With the F-35s operating as a package, the force can deliver a strike or provide the information for a strike, can provide real time battle damage assessment, and continue target prosecution as required.

The emphasis here being to further minimize bombs on target that has been a hallmark of precision weaponry.

This Battle Damage cycle can be a major change for operating a sequential airpower operation with a C2 hierarchy informing the sequential aircraft coming into or operating in the area.

Whereas with the legacy approach, continued strikes would occur even without a need to do so, with a fifth generation enabled force, more effective use of assets can be generated.

There is a key tension built into the evolution of C2 for the kill web which was already evident in the work being conducted when Wynne was in the Department of Defense. The tension continues to ripen between strategic acquisition of information and tactical use of information.  This extends a key tension between tactical decision making at the edge, and the need for strategic direction of the combat forces.

With the new technologies, tactical decision making at the edge is empowered by computing and wave form technologies.

At the same time, determining the impact of the distributed force on desired combat outcomes is crucial for crisis management.

How to best manage the inevitable tension between tactical decision making at the edge, and the right kind of strategic decision making to manage the force to get the desired combat effects?

Wynne described this as a tension between the process owners and the implementers of the process, whereby the later are gaining enhanced knowledge resources to shape the process, while the process owners have so much information available that they now need to step back and look at the strategic picture rather than delving into detailed management of the combat process at the tactical edge.

This is a very difficult situation for command authorities to ensure that they are acting on the most salient and trusted information.

In short, as we examine the way ahead for the kill web force, working how best to manage the distributed shooters and sensors is a core challenge.

That challenge can be understood in part as the ability to provide the most effective decision making at the edge but also guided by effective strategic process assessment.

That shift started with changes made in the land wars with JTACs, and Rover introductions, and is accelerating with the growing impact of the information made available for the entire Joint and Coalition Force by the fifth-generation aircraft.

But leveraging this past, and working the with a fifth generated enabled force, we are seeing a broad transformation of the joint and coaliton force into an integrated distributed force able to operate as multiple interactive kill webs.

The featured photo:Chief Master Sgt. Keith Hunt prepares a 9-line to transmit over the radio during a Remotely Operated Video Enhancement Receiver (ROVER) Internet Protocol Network, or RIPN project field test at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia, Sept. 24, 2013. With the assistance of the 9th EBS and Hunt, the RIPN team from the Pentagon fielded the first test of the RIPN system forming a network through the B-1B Lancer’s sniper pod to several ROVERs on the ground. Hunt is the 504th Expeditionary Air Support Group chief enlisted manger and was the JTAC during the demonstration. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Bahja J. Jones)