By Robbin Laird
In my recent book, Training for the High-End Fight: The Strategic Shift of the 2020s, a major element of the shift focused upon was how command changes with the crafting of a distributed but integrated force. The book started by quoting Rear Admiral Manazir, then head of N-9, in an interview which I did with my colleague Ed Timperlake in 2016:
“The key task is to create decision superiority.
“But what is the best way to achieve that in the fluid battlespace we will continue to operate in?
“What equipment and what systems allow me to ensure decision superiority?
“We are creating a force for distributed fleet operations.
When we say distributed, we mean a fleet that is widely separated geographically capable of extended reach.
“Importantly, if we have a network that shares vast amounts of information and creates decision superiority in various places, but then gets severed, we still need to be able to fight independently without those networks.
“This not only requires significant and persistent training with new technologies but also informs us about the types of technologies we need to develop and acquire in the future. Additionally, we need to have mission orders in place so that our fleet can operate effectively even when networks are disrupted during combat; able to operate in a modular-force approach with decisions being made at the right level of operations for combat success.”
We are continuing our focus on the strategic shift in our forthcoming book to be published by USNI press entitled: Maritime Kill Webs, 21st Century Warfighting and Deterrence.
And in that book, our focus on the kill web is as follows: “Shaping a distributed force which is capable of being integrated with the relevant joint or coalition capabilities through interactive kill webs to deliver the desired combat or crisis management effect. The structure can then enable new innovations and the capability of the fleet to be able to fight at the speed of light in the case of threats which can jeopardize the viability of the fleet as a whole.”
A key element of the technological innovations underlying this strategic shift is in the domain of command and control. Here the shift in the command structure leverages technological developments in connectivity as well as how ISR systems can generate information for decision superiority.
The U.S. Navy is clearly working a new template of command, crafting integrated distributed ops, or shaping the maritime distributed force. By reshaping their command template, they are in a position to tap into the C2.
Combing the shift in operational art with new technological enablers or force generators will allow for better decisions in the distributed operational space, at the right time, to make a timely impact on a crisis, or a combat situation.
Recently, I talked with industrial expert Mike Twyman, who has worked for many years on the evolving C2 technologies. He has worked most recently at Cubic Corporation and previously with Northrop Grumman/Logicon, two leading C2/ISR firms. He now heads the consulting firm Wizard Defense focused on enabling solutions for improved decision making.
We started by discussing how he saw the co-evolution of the command shift with the technological dynamics for enabling technologies in the C2 domain.
Mike Twyman: “I love the concept of co-evolution because, what you’re seeing now with what the Navy’s doing is they’re leading with ideas. And they’re basically developing the plans and the tactics with existing capabilities.
“They’re integrating the F-35. They’re integrating the Triton. They’re integrating the P-8. They’re integrating all these great capabilities and really, in very novel ways, to build this distributed integrated task force. That’s going to be what they go to the fight with today but are positioning themselves for what new technologies can enable down the road.
“At the same time, technology changes can drive operational art, where a technology enables a solution that, when integrated, could change how you conduct your operations. The Navy is clearly work this angle as well as seen in exercises like Resolute Hunter.
“By working exercises and empowering training to encompass development, they can see what the possibilities are and they can then guide those of us in industry on what are the key requirements for change. Our engineers know what it can do, but they don’t know what’s most important. And If we can get that feedback through this exercise loop, then we’ll get things that are meaningful and not just pie in the sky.
“We don’t want to build another JTRS radio. That was not informed really by operational warfighter input. As an acquisition, it failed because the government tried to lead that revolution. Today, software defined radios are essentially a commodity. By having the government try to lead the emergence of software defined radios, they ended up with the same capability in a different box and a big bill for integration.
“It didn’t work. You just can’t invent a new technology because it’s a cooler, neater way to do it. It needs to be aligned with the warfighter.”
Laird: “In other words, it needs to be CONOPS informed.”
Mike Twyman: “That is a great way of putting it. Co-evolution is a key element of how to understand what is happening in the C2 domain.
“In my view, there are three streams of activity shaping the way ahead.
“The first is how the adversaries are working C2 for themselves and shaping tools for disruption and contesting the C2 space.
“Second, there is what our warfighters are doing to shape operational art and innovation.
“Third, there are the dynamics of change in the C2 domain globally, such as the emergence of 5G systems. it’s really the co-evolution of operational art and technology that leads to new solutions to counter the threat, both today and in the future.”
We then discussed what is happening in terms of developments in the C2 and ISR space.
Mike Twyman: “I see three critical areas that are evolving, and offer capabilities which can reinforce and accelerate the shift to the integrated distributed force.
“The first is in the digital domain. Here there is a major shift underway in how the warfighter sees the battlespace and to leverage that vision to deliver decision superiority. I am intrigued by the U.S. Navy establishing MISR officers whose role is to deliver to the maritime force what can be leveraged from the joint and coalition force to get the information to the right place at the right time.
“Another digital example is DARPA’s Adaptive Warfighting Architecture. Here the focus is upon micro-modularity in C2 and the importance of being able to push processing and decision capabilities to the tactical edge. You need the ability to move the command post as needed to provide for the flexibility to commander where the force is operating in an area of influence. You need flexibility in terms who you can integrate at that point of influence.
“I like to call it composing the force for a particular mission or effect that you’re trying to achieve. DARPA’s Adaptive Warfighting Architecture, I think is going to help move that along in the next evolution of capability.
“The second is in the embedded Internet of Things domain. High-performance, secure computing is being brought to the tactical edge. With the evolution of sensor networks, there is a major opportunity to integrate sensor networks into the distributed task force operational approach. With flexible C2 and ISR systems, one can both pass and integrate information, and get it to the right people to achieve the desired effects.
“Additionally, there is the coming of artificial intelligence and machine learning. This is in its infancy for military ISR and C2 decision-making. What AI solutions will be part of is strengthening information processing at the edge? What we’re going to need to do is more processing at the tactical edge.
“And third, with contested environments, driven by the near peer threat, we need the ability to maneuver throughout the spectrum. We’re really seeing the importance of protected communications in both the space and aerial network layers, to allow the force to communicate and make necessary connections. Reducing the need to over manage information in centralized centers of decision making is a key element of change.”
From this perspective, Twyman highlighted the importance of gateways to provide for distributed integrated operations. Rather than ramping up exquisite organic capabilities platform by platform, the use of gateways allows for the distribution of capabilities and does so through a variety of wave forms and interoperable messages. By wave form diversity, greater information security is obtained with greater redundancy.
He also foresees the evolution of capabilities in the electronic warfare SIGINT domains or what he calls Counter-RF solutions which will allow our forces to find the areas in spectrum where they can communicate and conduct their missions.
According to Twyman: “One of the areas that I think is really going to break through in the next few years is the exploitation of free space optical communications. It’s a different region of the spectrum. Traditional optical capabilities suffer from some physics limitations, new solutions are coming out, and recent demonstrations have occurred, where now we have the possibility of having a free space optical backbone for some of these networks to move the information around. This will be especially useful to shape the kind of maritime kill webs you are focused upon as well.”
In short, reworking the command element enabling an integrated distributed force will be reinforced in the next few years by innovations in the C2 and ISR (understood as Information, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) technologies. Co-evolution is a key driver of change in combat capability.