Threat of major war sparks need for comprehensive command-and control
Revised doctrine for major Western powers has revealed the new strategic positioning for defence – that the era of counter-insurgency operations is over amid the threat of major war.
These are set alongside NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept which asserts that it is ‘pervasive instability, rising strategic competition and advancing authoritarianism’ that now challenges the international world order.
All three agree this is further complicated by the acceleration of technological development, enabling threats in new domains of cyber and space. If conflict breaks out, it is technological primacy that will influence success on the battlefield.
But while information can be, and has been, wielded as a weapon, it is also the key to a successful operation. Moving and fighting while in full knowledge of a swiftly coordinated plan, constantly updated with evolving events, can prove the catalyst for operational success.
Shifting from counter-insurgency operations to preparing for possible peer conflict requires not only a revamp of doctrine but a significant change to the methods of warfare – how nations organise the composition of their fighting arms.
In recent asymmetric conflicts such as Afghanistan, tactical forces comprised company or platoon operations which allowed them to be more responsive and agile. Combat was fast-moving, unpredictable and came in short bursts, with forces fighting close up to the enemy and often using small arms fire.
Planning was not conducted symbiotically between operational headquarters and tactical units –instead taking place in permanent compounds with access to personal computers, wired networks and large monitoring screens.
By contrast the nature of peer-to-peer conflict requires not only the sharing of a common operational picture but also the ability for all echelons to have an integrated, planning ability. This involves the coordination of larger formations which tend to be more fluid than irregular war or counter-insurgency operations.
There are often significantly more troops involved in this method of warfare. Forces at the front will need to be rotated with reserves which requires detailed sharing of plans and information with staff back at the planning headquarters at brigade and battalion level.
Threats from drones and long-range precision-guided weapons also require dispersal of both headquarters and deployed units to reduce their vulnerabilities, presenting a real challenge for command and control. It is essential that personnel remain connected through a swift electronical exchange of information across all levels of command.
In these scenarios, plans must be done on the move to allow for flex in rapidly evolving situations. These need to not only be sent down the chain of command, but also up, providing information to continually inform the operational level of war.
That co-ordination of movement and fire among soldiers on the ground and the supporting weaponry is essential for both successful engagement and to mitigate casualties. While no plan survives contact with the enemy, an instant exchange of information is needed to assess how plans should be adapted before being sent out to units. Counterattacks require swift planning, coordination, and execution to be effective. This includes coordination of indirect and direct fire support.
To meet these challenges, as the new doctrine suggests, command and control (C2) comes firmly into the spotlight. Essential for all military activity, it must be done well, or it invites disaster, even against a poorly equipped enemy. To do this, considerations should include:
- The assimilation of all warfighters into the planning and information process is necessary to coordinate the movements of largescale forces. Many legacy systems are simply not equipped to do this – a C4ISR suite that integrates the strategic, operational and tactical levels enables the exchange of battle-winning information, plans and orders quickly and at scale across all echelons. The ability for mobile units to be fully armed with fresh information about the enemy and own plan of attack is imperative to peer-to-peer conflict strategy.
- Speed and accuracy are essential for all types of warfare, but especially when managing forces en masse. Maps and data need to be constantly refreshed and synchronised – even when there is little or no bandwidth. Offensive electronic warfare can severely impede the ability of a force to conduct an informed assault as they may be offline for significant periods. Solutions that are not reliant on internet bandwidth are therefore paramount.
- An ability to share a common operational picture that includes troop tracks, enemy tracks and tactical graphics is an essential means of communicating tasks, plans and orders to everyone across the battalion.
- The availability of battlefield planning tools which allow the synchronisation of planning activity across all echelons of command.
- Uncomplicated systems that have the same look and feel across all products mean that soldiers and units work with an integrated system from the tactical edge to the command post right up to the operational and strategic levels. This builds trust and knowledge that is essential for operating at reach.
- The ability to deliver and accept different types of orders, from warning and operational orders to fragmentary orders. This ensures that all recipients have an awareness of the forthcoming activity and plan, with those at the tactical level also then having the oversight to begin their own detailed preparation. While Western doctrine suggests the command at the higher level should specify as little as possible to the lower levels, thereby empowering them to make their own decisions and plans, this still requires appropriate tools for planning support and synchronisation.
As the international world order continues to shift, elements such as speedy, effective, shareable planning, intelligence and speed of action remain the most effective concepts within a battle-winning formula. Yet as technology changes and becomes more sophisticated forces must seek to enhance their own capability to outmatch the enemy, immediacy and accuracy are ever more important.
In peer-to-peer conflict the assumption must be that the enemy can equal your own capabilities – it certainly has the opportunity and means to do so. To prevail alliances must work together, forces must invest in technological innovation and command-and-control must be comprehensive and assured.