Insight: C2 in the African battle space


Command and control (C2) is the essential business of all leaders at every level of all organisations. It is the art and science of exercising authority, assigning tasks to subordinates and monitoring the results.

The US Marine Corps’ authoritative manual on the subject states that no “single activity in war is more important than command and control”. The manual’s writers continue that C2 give the “countless activities a military force must perform gain purpose and direction.

“Done well, C2 adds to our strength. Done poorly, it invites disaster, even against a weaker enemy. C2 helps commanders make the most of what they have—people, information, material, and, often most important of all, time.

“…C2 is fundamentally the business of the commander. C2 is the means by which a commander recognises what needs to be done and sees to it that appropriate actions are taken.”

C2 exists at the nexus of people, process and technology. As a fundamental of all organised human activity, the leadership and management skills underlying C2 date to antiquity. In the millennia since, many ways to implement C2 have been tried; the successful adopted, the failures learned from and discarded.

Communications technology and lately information technology have greatly added to the speed with which commanders can make decisions and to the volume of accurate data available to them on which to base these decisions.

The old way of doing things, using paper and overlays, took hours to update. Now it takes just a few minutes.

C2 in Africa

Africa has just started to journey down the road to information and communication technology-enhanced C2. For the moment, the state of the art is poor; there is little process and less technology.

Even “tech-savvy” SA must still invest in a true joint-level C2 capability. At present, most of the services that form the SA National Defence Force have just a rudimentary capability and none is currently deployed with any of the troops or air assets supporting African Union (AU) or United Nations (UN) peacekeeping on the continent. These missions are equally deficient in C2 means.

But, there is no reason for this being the case. African military leaders are learning the technical and other barriers are not as high as they feared and the technology is robust enough for the environment.

It is also readily available, so there is no need not reinvent the wheel. The advantage Africa now has is that it can profit from the experience of, for example, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) nations. This reduces both the risk and the cost of C2 infrastructure

That said, it frankly doesn’t make sense for every African country to develop its own system. For all their utility, they cost a great deal of money. The system that is in use with the German Bundeswehr in Afghanistan costs millions of euro as well as seven years of field trials and research to develop.

You don’t have to spend so much money. You can deploy a solution in a really short time: but it must be customised for local conditions. That is the advantage we have here at FDS – NATO experience combined with a detailed knowledge of the African Battlespace.”


Following the leading edge gives Africa another advantage: the opportunity to leap ahead in the C2 environment the same way the continent did in telecommunications, where it jumped cumbersome fixed lines for mobile and wireless technology.

Another important thing is interoperability. Where many nations or agencies are involved, as is typically the case in the peace support environment, care must be taken to ensure they can understand each other.

The best approach will be to agree on common standards for interoperability as soon as possible. If you define the rules, if you agree on a framework for such a system, then countries can develop systems to meet their requirement within that structure.

This also applies at home. The emerging trend towards providing civil or “homeland” security requires different agencies within the same government having the means to co-operate.

Hosting major events, such as the 2009 and 2010 world soccer tournaments in SA, necessitate that a number of security and emergency agencies literally have the ability to operate on the same wavelength.

The military, police and others must be able to interoperate, not just at the highest levels, but also on the ground outside, for example, the stadiums. SA needs to be sure police, ambulances, fire trucks and soldiers can talk to each directly, securely if necessary – without using their personal mobile phones.

Their commanders also need the ability to integrate and fuse data from multiple sources and sensors into a single integrated operational picture to make sense of unfolding events. This should be available to as many agencies as needed. It may well be necessary for emergency officials to track the security situation and for the security services to monitor the deployment of emergency services to ensure a correct response to an incident. Germany had such a system in place when it hosted the Soccer World Cup two years ago.

That’s where SA and Africa can benefit, we don’t have to go through a learning curve; we can acquire appropriate, affordable and proven technology, then customise it to match local doctrine, process and requirement.