Insight: Digitalised versus traditional C2 – alternatives for the DoD

The battlefield can be a very confusing and disorientating place. The chaos that often ensues in war and Operations Other Than War (OOTW) is quite unlike other in that one can experience and the importance of knowing where your fellow soldiers are and being able to locate them is vital. More importantly than that, knowing where your enemy is so that you can take appropriate action at that appropriate time helps a commander to answer pressing questions such as “What is happening?” ”Where is it happening” “What do I do next?
During informal discussions with commanders and planning staff of the SA Army, we shared ideas on how a Commander`s physical presence affects the battle, even with the digital capabilities the organization is planning to provide. I would like to summaries the thoughts as an antithesis:
“What can we do to help with, understand or allow for the art where the Commander just has to get out and feel the troops, feel the morale, sense the wind and all of those things that are the final art of battle?”
“You really can`t digitize that. No matter what we do with electronics or supporting technologies, ultimately, the human role does come into play and how do we gracefully marry the enabling things with the human role?”
The introduction of advanced technologies into the Military, which could be called the “revolution in military affairs”, is producing an opportunity for significant changes in the DOD paradigm for command and control. The future battlespace will require commanders to operate more efficiently and at a higher operational tempo, so that commanders will be able to use the advantages of dominant battlespace awareness to enhance mission command. In order to do this, it means that the command function will be made by computers that act, and not as an assistant, but as the decision maker and executer.   However, the current Military doctrine and SA Army Vision 2020 is not clear on this point. While resistance to this technology of command and control philosophy is expected, let`s look very shortly at the possible implications of “computers as commanders” during military operations in the future.
Command and Control is defined as the management of the battle space (JWP 138: Issue 01).
In this article I am not discussing the validity of digital command and control of the battle field. In contrary, I do support the DOD intent whole heartily to equip the SA Army with an operational//tactical automated command and control system. To integrate the different sub-systems namely GBADS[1], Cytoon[2] to name a few, will not happen without difficulty. 
The services are recognising this change in communications, and according to Chief Military Information (CMI) inputs at the last Military Information and Communication Symposium South Africa MICSSA conference held in Pretoria 2006, they reacting positive to it. The present Military doctrine is based on the principles to Observe, Orient, Decide and Act (OODA) loop. 
In the Staff Officer`s Manual: Part VII: Operation Concepts, this principle is discussed in detail. The OODA loop represents the decision cycle through which a soldier at any level must go. As you go from the strategic level to the tactical level, the time available for making a decision decreases. At the tip of the spear, it is very short. If you can`t think, can`t hear, and can`t see – and I can – you will lose every time. This concentration of effort in information technology will, and should, have an impact on military doctrine and the way we must fight in the future. Technology became the forklift of the mind and a force multiplier.
The technology being developed to operate on the battlefield of the future will ultimately be limited by the capabilities and skills of the human commander. With the creation of the SADC Brigade operating in OOTW environment, developing and gaining these skills are crucial. 
The challenge for Vision 2020 and military doctrine is to provide guidance. While the current doctrine over-emphasise the human element in war, it should also promote automation as a way to manage the acceleration tempo of battle. I believe the DOD is faced with three alternatives:
The first is to continue to resist changes in the current command paradigm, but this will limit our ability to take advantage of the benefits that are derived from achieving information superiority. The concern is that senior military leaders might choose to recognise and promulgate (force upon) an upper limit on the tempo at which combat commanders will be able to operate, and therefore relinquish the opportunities to command at the tactical level.
The second is to accept the advantages that are derived from this aspect of technological advantage by claiming that “the human will always be in command” while relegate or to transfer theatre-wide planning and execution to a computer. This might appear to resolve the problem, but it will generate numerous doctrinal and operational problems.For the commander`s, on all levels, to perform effectively, they must make decisions rapidly and base those decisions on timely and complete information. Additionally, these decisions must be communicated with sufficient speed and detail to maintain the battlefield initiative during high-tempo operations. Improvements in communications bandwidth and latency are currently being addressed as part of efforts to build and distribute common operating pictures
The Third, and most extreme, we can recognise that there are times and missions in which digitise command is the only viable means of staying in the OODA loop. Only the computer will be able to receive, interpret, and act upon the broad and large quantity of data from the battlefield, and then make the optimum use of resources. This approach will use time to our advantage, but, I believe far fetch, due to the fact that any execution of a mission should be human minded. 
Information has always been a critical factor in war. Clausewitz said “Imperfect knowledge of the situation ….can bring military action to a standstill” and Sun Tzu indicated information is inherent in war fighting. Information warfare embodies the impact of information on military operations
However, I believe that the principles of command and control will not change with digitization. Commanders will still plan, direct and control the operation. Digital capabilities however, will allow the commander to receive timely, more accurate information, enhancing his or her ability to visualise the battlefield and make well – timed battlefield decisions. Digital systems will allow the same information to be accurately shared across the echelons
Source List
  • Carl von Clausewitz, On War (Princeton University Press, 1984). p 84.
  • Sun Tzu, The Art of War (New York: Oxford University, 1971) p84.
  • Joint Warfare Publication (JWP) 138: Issue 01. P 2.2
Roets is a C2 specialist at Fulcrum Defence Systems (FDS). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views or official policy or position of the DoD, FDS or defenceWeb.

[1] Ground based air defence system
[2] Project Cytoon, a battlefield surveillance system