Lifting the fog of war: enhancing dismounted command-and-control
No combatant is more vulnerable than the dismounted. Not afforded the protection brought by armour or distance from the enemy, their survival and combat effectiveness have long been closely tied to situational awareness.
Modern operations are complex and varied. While near-peer threats have re-emerged as a priority, for close to two decades many militaries in the West have been engaged in counter-insurgency warfare, where the ‘fight’ is often in and amongst the people and determining the enemy from civilians and one’s own forces is a significant challenge.
While the ‘Mark One Eyeball’ and other senses remain as important as ever in providing an awareness of their surrounds, soldiers’ situational awareness (SA) can be greatly enhanced by command-and-control (C2) and friendly force tracking (FFT) systems. Providing effective solutions, however, depends on a number of factors – both human and technological.
No matter how this capability is delivered, the goal remains the same: providing the necessary information to the dismount in an easy to access, understand, and use manner that enables them to successfully achieve their mission.
Dismounted operations are inherently dynamic and to address this the information provided must be continuously updated and accurate, arguably the most important being the requirement for spatial and positional awareness. Knowing the disposition of your own and enemy forces can be a determining factor in mission success and survivability, as such, effective mapping solutions are crucial.
Marking-up traditional maps ahead of a mission should provide dismounted leaders at all levels – from the squad through to the company – with a thorough understanding of an area of operations and the commander’s intent. However, this process can be slow and open to errors, especially as an operation unfolds and ad hoc changes are required. Relying solely on voice orders to adjust plans in the field and gain an understanding of the position of forces can introduce confusion. If communications are misheard or missed entirely, the success of an operation can be put in jeopardy.
C2 systems with digital maps can go some way to providing the information assurance and speed of delivery that commanders desire. If regularly updated and clearly marked, those in the field can quickly see new orders and changes to plans. Not least, effective displays and interfaces are crucial for FFT.
Simplicity and ease of use are key to their utility. Dismounts are typically equipped with devices no larger than a commercial smartphone or small tablet, avoiding clutter on the screen and enabling drawings to be made, menus accessed, and text entered into the system requires logical work flows and a well laid out graphical user interface (GUI) that is intuitive to use.
Furthermore, being able to quickly review and access a C2 system can also serve to shorten the OODA loop. The use of dedicated command layers on top of the map along with chat groups enables plans to be drawn-up or altered and distributed across a network quickly and clearly.
Many armed forces have invested significant resources in developing soldier systems that include an emphasis on enhancing C2 and SA. Sniper detection systems, augmented reality, and the ability to receive video feeds are among the capabilities that have been developed and fielded to varying degrees. One of the major challenges in benefitting from the wealth of information brought by these systems is in managing its presentation to the individual and identifying which will enhance the user’s effectiveness, as the physical and cognitive burden cannot be increased.
Keep it simple
Industry and the military must be cognisant of the potential to overload the dismount with information that they do not require to complete their mission. That is not to say that restrictions should be placed on the information that soldiers have access to, rather that C2 systems must be built with the operating conditions and requirements of the dismount in mind – the human factors element can be as important as any other in the design.
Striving for ease of use must also translate to training. Any C2 system for the dismount should be delivered with a short training pipeline and be simple to field.
The operating conditions in which dismounted personnel find themselves often restrict communications – intentionally or unintentionally – and indeed, C2 denied and degraded environments (C2D2E) will almost certainly be a characteristic of any conflict with a near-peer or peer adversary.
Intermittent and restricted communication present a challenge to ensuring that all elements are provided with the latest information. The SitaWare Tactical Communication (STC) capability that underpins Systematic’s SitaWare suite enables dismounted users to maintain effectiveness when bandwidth may be limited, latency high, and connectivity intermittent.
STC features intelligent data orchestration that automatically determines when is the best time to inject data into the network. For example, if units experience periods of operation without connectivity, STC’s ability to pass data over very low bandwidth connections ensures that as soon as the opportunity arises to do so, the data is transmitted. Furthermore, it is timestamped, so the recipient is aware of the currency of the information.
Having all elements on the same page and enabling them to operate as a cohesive fighting force can be the difference between winning and losing the fight.