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april 1, 2019

Best laid plans - Improving the Command Cycle in the Maritime Domain


The dynamic nature of modern naval warfare necessitates timeliness and accuracy when composing and executing orders - whatever the mission.

Improving The Command Cycle In The Maritime Domain

The Contemporary Operating Environment (COE) presents a number of challenges to naval commanders. Their primary missions can be as diverse as countering a near-peer threat on one deployment to undertaking counter piracy operations on the next, and they must also be prepared to undertake ad hoc tasks such as search and rescue, drug interdiction, or disaster relief.

Adding to the complexity is the cross-domain nature of naval warfare, feasibly, a single vessel could find itself simultaneously engaged in surface, sub-surface, and anti-air warfare, and tasked with supporting amphibious operations, providing naval gun fires, and operating organic air assets.

The dynamic nature of modern naval warfare necessitates timeliness and accuracy when composing and executing orders - whatever the mission. At a time when the sources of information available are more varied and comprehensive than ever before, being able to quickly evaluate the myriad of data, determine that which is relevant, and compose effective task orders can be a challenge.

Much of the information received by a commander comes via Message Text Format (MTF), these must be read, the salient information extracted, and then manually entered into combat management (CMS) and command-and-control (C2) systems, this can be a labour-intensive and time-consuming task with opportunities for errors. Likewise, a task group commander in composing their plan faces many of the same issues, they will typically work with an editor in composing the MTF and draw upon a variety of traditional tools and data sources – such as maps for geospatial information.     

The commander’s intent coupled with an initial task order may in some instances be enough information for individual vessels to execute a plan, however, it is more likely that orders will need to be amended as an operation plays out and new information and tasks emerge.

Automating processes and providing a simplified user interface can be a boon for commanders when writing orders and introducing ad hoc changes. For example, when composing an anti-air warfare Four-Whiskey (4W) grid or an Air Tasking Order (ATO) a commander must draw upon a range of geodata sources that can exist in different formats, being able to compose the message in a structured template can negate the errors that may be introduced when free writing many lines of text. It can also serve to reduce labour and time requirements, as well as bring information assurance.

Keep it simple

It is here that Systematic’s IRIS Forms solution can act as a force multiplier. The IRIS messaging system is combat proven and has become the de-facto standard in NATO member countries for interoperability and military messaging using agreed international MTF standards. The IRIS Forms interface effectively guides the user through the writing process via a structured template with simple drop-down options and text boxes, it also automatically flags any errors in the composition of the message.

If used in conjunction with the SitaWare suite, the content contained within the message can automatically be extracted into the C2 system, where the plan and associated graphical elements – such as map overlays – are generated. If the recipient of the message operates IRIS Forms but not SitaWare, then the information is readily at hand and in an easy to extract format, and even if they do not have the Forms solution the data contained in the message will be available in the traditional text format. The IRIS Forms interface also enables quick and accurate changes to be made to a plan, as the relevant components are easily identifiable and accessible for editing.

A step change

The combination of SitaWare with IRIS brings further utility, as changes made within SitaWare can be exported to the IRIS MTF and disseminated through the usual means. New orders can also be easily introduced into the SitaWare C2 system without the need to load a completely new plan, the user simply receives a notification of the changes – for example as a chat message – and then can import the information with a few clicks.

At a time when many navies are facing peer and near-peer threats at sea, shortening the command cycle can make the difference between success and failure - automatically transferring the plan information within an MTF into a C2 system can bring a step change in capability for naval commanders.

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