Shaping a Way Ahead for the ADF: The Key Role of C2


By Robbin Laird

Enhancing C2 capabilities for the ADF in the near to midterm is a critical part of being able to deliver the kind of defense capabilities which Australia needs for its renewed focus on direct defense of Australia.

During my current visit to Australia, I had a chance to discuss this challenge with David Horton, Vice President at Systematic Australia. His service background is in the Australian Army and still serves part-time at the Australian War College (see his bio at the end of the article).

We started by discussing the dramatic reduction in warning time for Australia for crises in the Pacific. What this means is that long range planning for force development has its place, but the need to enhance the force we have in the short to mid-term is increasingly the priority.

As Horton put it: “the problem is that we’re facing a crises that could happen at any point. It could be next week, or it could be even the next three years or maybe five years, but we need enhanced capability in the short to mid-term for the ADF and for the nation.”

In my view, with the shift to the direct defense of Australia, one needs to focus on how to restructure the ADF which Australia has now and to build a template then for force building concurrently with that shift.  With a focus on the strategic space in the region, then the question of distributing and integrating the ADF requires a C2 capability which can do so.

Horton underscored that this required an appropriate C2system. On the one hand, securing key information for national use is of course important. But on the other hand, for extended regional security, it is important to share information and to shape a common operational picture with partners in the region, and security barrios cannot be allowed to block this from happening.

He used an example which was reminiscent of my conversations when last in Australia with the Maritime Border Commander, Rear Admiral Lee Goddard. “Imagine two patrol boats operating from Fiji and patrolling their waters. We do not have a platform there, but we have an ability to generate and share information for their enhanced situational awareness, that would allow for a joint operational picture. And that means as well, we could make deployment decisions based on what Fiji is doing and sees the need to do as well.”

What Horton was highlighting was a way to build networks of relationships which do not fit into the legacy notion of alliances, but does capture the reality of what 21st century alliances really are becoming – communities of interest, with national determination of what actions to take in times of crisis.

He noted progress on the Australian side with shaping joint C2 as well. He highlighted that in the most recent Talisman Sabre, “for the first time, we had a joint common operating picture. This meant that the joint force commander was able to get the information he needed. And based on this experience, we can consider ways to share information with whole of government and then more broadly with allies and partners.”

In an August 25, 2021 Defence Connect article about Talisman Sabre 2021, the contribution of Systematic to resolving the challenge highlighted by Horton was described as follows:

During the exercise, SitaWare Headquarters provided commanders at the Deployed Joint Force Headquarters with a rich Joint Common Operating Picture. Although primarily an Army asset, the software incorporated air and maritime pictures, and was used by both Naval and Air Force staff offices in both headquarters.

 “SitaWare gave commanders a detailed understanding of the battlespace and demonstrated its ability to operate across domains,” explained Alastair George, senior business architect at Systematic.

 “The software’s architecture enables it to ingest multiple data sources and feeds from across a coalition.”

 “SitaWare doesn’t limit users to information from within their own force structure alone. Its ability to interoperate with other C2 and track management systems, and act as an enabler for Joint operations is a real force multiplier,” George said.

 “SitaWare was trialled at the Headquarters Joint Operations Centre to fuse multiple COP source feeds into a single view of the strategic domain.

 “At Talisman Sabre, SitaWare Headquarters provided chat capabilities horizontally and vertically and was used extensively as a planning and briefing tool and the software integrated effectively with role-specific C2 systems.

At the heart of the C2 challenge is recognizing that the use of military forces in crisis management requires not just shaping effective joint modular task forces appropriate to a crisis management situation, but the ability of the civilians to shape overall political responses with allies, partners and adversaries in that situation.

There is no point in simply having the most exquisite combat information available but not translating that into information enabling crisis management resolutions as well.

The information sharing aspect a key element for reshaping the way Australia can work with allies and partners in the region in crisis management situations.

And perhaps forming joint operational capabilities in the region. For example, Indonesia and Australia could buy Ospreys to come up with a joint squadron would be one way to work HADR plus operations. By operating and sustaining a joint capability and building a C2system into the concept of operations for that joint capability, crisis management capabilities could be built out more rapidly.

And with the right kind of C2 system, each nation could use their aircraft for specific national purposes as well.

Horton underscored that need to drive C2 integration much more rapidly for the ADF, and its ability to work with partners and allies. And I would add, there is one need we often forget – the key element of how to communicate with adversaries in complex crisis management situations.

Referring back to the TS21 experience, he noted: “we’ve put together the interim battle management system in a year, and it works. And we can continue to build off this off-the-shelf solution set to move forward.”

We then discussed one aspect not widely considered that also affects a way ahead with regard to ISR.

That is the contribution of civilians in a society to ISR via their smart phone inputs. I saw this in Norway during Joint Warrior 2018 and we are seeing in Ukraine right now – significant inputs to Ukrainian ISR from the Ukrainian civilians. How to tap into this? How to weave this into the ultimate ISR in crisis management, which is information war?

Put in other words, working C2 and ISR for 21st century operations is not simply about building the most exquisite classified system possible; it is about building a system which allows for crisis management dominance, an ability to shape integratable forces in the battlespace for the ADF forces alone; but in a way that can allow for alliance and partner capabilities.

The ADF needs a C2 and ISR system to build the relevant coalitions on the fly in an actual combat or crisis management system, rather than just being built to plug and play into a specific ally.

 David Horton is the Vice President responsible for the Asia Pacific Region for the Danish-headquartered software company, Systematic, where he has worked for nearly five years. The company develops the world’s leading Command-and-Control (C2) software, SitaWare, in service in 45 countries, including the US, UK, NZ, and Germany. SitaWare was recently chosen as the Australian Army’s interim Battle Management System and was being trialled at Headquarters Joint Operations Command as the Joint C2 capability.

David’s background spans applications (Microsoft), networking (Cisco), telecommunications (SingTel), business consulting, Systems Integration (HP, Fujitsu, NEC), as well as uniformed military service as an Infantry Officer, specialising in combat engineering and intelligence. David still serves part-time as Directing Staff at the Australian War College.

Based in Canberra for over 30 years, working in the Defence and security domains, David also spent four years at Microsoft’s US headquarters as Program Manager Government Requirements, with a particular focus on security across the company. He started his civilian career in the Public Service, which included Defence and Parliament House. David holds a Bachelor of Science from ANU