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Command and Control
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Command and Control

Author: Peter Roberts

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The Command and Control podcast breaks new ground in taking an independent and pragmatic look at what military command and control might look like for the fight tonight and the fight tomorrow. Join us as we talk through C2 for an era of high-end war fighting. The hypothesis is this: command is human, control has become more technological pronounced. As a result, the increasing availability of dynamic control measures is centralising control away from local command. It is a noticeable trend in Western C2 since the late 1980s. Over that time, blending human decision and cutting edge technology has been evolutionary but not deliberate: how will this change? Will it become dominated by a tendency to hoard power in those with the most computing power, might these factors serve to amplify the role of commanders? Given all the hyperbole about AI in C2 (and we will tackle some of that with AI experts), it's a conversation we need to have.
17 Episodes
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Naval C2

Naval C2

2024-05-2048:54

The captain of a warship has, sometimes, godlike omnipotence. Does this mean that naval command and control has some unique characteristics that need to be better understood in order to be integrated into the ‘modern’ rubric? Vice Admiral Martin Connell, Second Sea Lord in the British Royal Navy, talks to Peter about what’s unique about naval C2, and whether the education and development of leaders in the Royal Navy is good enough.
What makes a good and a great military leader? The myth of a divine, born leader is very popular but today we actually know better than this fiction. Science has given us the evidence to understand what traits and characteristics imbue a person with the skills and experience become a great leader. And we actually know how to select them based on the very different requirements in wartime and peacetime. It is also popular to talk about leadership and followership as two distinct functions; the term servant leader has become fashionable amongst military professionals as an attempt to delineate the boundaries between these two groups, yet still keep the hierarchy. Expert analysis is harder to find; for that we need to turn to science and a human psychologist. Sarah Chapman-Trim talks about making the least-worst decision (as opposed to the best one), the fallacy of the divine general, how we can train better leaders, and the dual-agency model of leadership. Sarah’s research paper (perhaps better understood with the title ‘Social identity as Alchemy’) is at https://www.army.mod.uk/media/24170/leadership-insight-no45-social-identity-as-a-leadership-tool.pdf
Many medium powers have been struggling to keep pace with the US military as it reimagines how it will undertake command and control over the coming decade. For those in Canada the challenge is extremely pertinent: shared coastlines, integrated C2 at NORAD, conjoined airspace and territorial seas, a long and unfenced land border, and the block between the US homeland and Russian forces in the Arctic. Canada also faces pressing concerns in trying to balance resources between the challenges being faced to their West as well as to their East and North. Deputy Commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, Major General Darcy Molstad talks to Peter about the various challenges, tensions and frictions, and how Canada has been adapting. Underneath all of the strategic discussion lies an enduring truth about what commanders face in the future, and what will be required of them: delegation to the point of discomfort.
You Cannot Beat Winter

You Cannot Beat Winter

2024-02-1959:15

A discussion with Major General Karl Engelbrekston, former chief of the Swedish Army who retired in Jun 2023. Command and control is clearly different when operating in environmental and geographic extremes; the High North (well inside the Arctic Circle) exemplifies those conditions. How to command and how to exercise control over military forces in those extremes leads to an interesting conversation about the realities of delegation and empowerment. Given Karl's experiences with multi-national forces too, there are some interesting take aways from this discussion that get to heart of modern C2. Most usefully, this conversation allows us to hold a mirror to some of the rhetoric about contemporary and future C2 made in other military circles. Sobering stuff.
Having an intelligent conversation about command and control requires a discussion with the USMC, the same institution that gave us the current C2 taxonomy back in the 1980s. While USMC force design 2030 leans towards a decentralised command structure and an aggregated control hierarchy, the pragmatism of the Corps has nested capabilities at lower levels that would allow a much more flexible approach to C2. In contrast to other forces which retain very structured C2 architectures, the USMC seems to be comfortable with a degree of ambiguity that would make others tremble. Peter talks to Colonel Lester (Ray) Gerber from USMC Pacific Forces Command about the philosophy of C2 in the Corps, about the nature of control now and in the future, and about the centrality of the human component. Much of the latter part of the discussion is focused on partners and allies: should we be ready for less command and more co-operation in a revised C2 dynamic fit for the fight tonight? Much to ponder on here.
Air C2

Air C2

2023-12-1142:02

Command and control in the air domain has always been very different to that of other domains. Much more control, command execute in differnt ways, at different levels, and all captured in the phrase "Best picture has....". How much has been forgotten from former expereinces of air C2 in major contests and competiton? How much are we willing to relearn? How much of the differences in domain specific C2 will be lost as we amalgamate and integrate structures towards a beautifully informed single commander or system, a la Enders Game? Peter talks to former senior RAF officer, Paul Kendall about our understanding of air power in the Western, Supremacy and Superiority, and a contested electronic environment without the freedoms that have been hallmarks of Western military operations since the 1990s. 
Having spent the week at the NATO C2 Centre of Excellence in The Hague, talking C2 with some impressive people, this episode captures a ‘hot wash’ between Peter and Colonel Mietta Groeneveld, Director and Commander of the C2COE. Given this was recorded only 90mins after a fairly intense 3 days, we don’t cover all the take aways, but it gives a flavour about some of the themes we talked about and some of Mietta's thoughts too.
JADC2: A primer

JADC2: A primer

2023-11-1338:39

In 2019, the Chiefs of Staff of the US military determined that C2 really had to adapt. The decision came after the publication of a report on Russian C2 and counter C2 capabilities: on that basis, the programme on Joint All Domain C2 was initiated. Currently, the US is spending between $1-2BN per year on it, having scoped it and pushed it forward with remarkable speed. It is progressing rapidly through the experimentation phase but has shifted shape over 5 years – moving from a plan to enable the Joint Force Commander with a long screwdriver to something that enables a more dynamic and rapid kill chain. As Rafael Lopez tells us, it may still suffer from “Principle Agent Problems”, but the future looks pretty bright.
Question time

Question time

2023-09-2046:58

In this final episode of series one, Vice Admiral Andy Burns, Major General Zac Stenning and Andrew Graham answered questions from the audience on command and control live at the DSEi event in London. The panel couldn’t get through all the challenges thrown their way so we focused on the big themes: What will C2 look like in the future? How will ML and AI impact decision-making? Will C2 survive in its current form? What does the role of the commander look like in the future? And do we train and educate our future commanders well enough? Lots to digest before we start recording series two…
People lie at the heart of any C2 complex – both those in command and their HQ staff, as well as those at the gritty end of an orders process. Beyond the dry doctrinal definitions of command and control sit the facets of mental capacity, resilience, adaptability, leadership, standards, behaviours, and trust. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach either because the shock of combat and the context (and battlefield geometry of the fight) differ between battles, let alone campaigns or wars. One combat experience might feel similar to previous experiences, another utterly alien. Peter talks to Major General Zac Stenning, Commandant Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and Director of Army Leadership, about what these mean, about mission command, the future of C2, the joint and combined fight, and the need for a dynamic C2 structure, as well as the role of industry. Underpinning all of this is a desire -  perhaps even a need - to seek and exploit human creativity and initiative in combat. Heady stuff.
AI in C2

AI in C2

2023-08-2341:35

Everyone seems to be talking about how Artificial Intelligence inside HQs will revolutionise command and control. The issue is that we don't even seem to have an agreed definition of AI, and the pol and mil leaders providing this rhetoric don't seem to have an answer to that either (or really understand what it is). Sitting down with two AI specialists, people who work with AI engineers on a daily basis, was enlightening in terms of definitions, clarity and perspective. The reality - from people who make this happen - is that AI (as described by many people) is some way away from widespread utility on military operations: the policy drivers are absent, the confusion with autonomy is widespread, the military purpose is ill defined, and there is a missing pragmatism from the reality of technical development (not least in the inability to provide AI systems with clean databases to learn from). This view from the coalface of C2/AI development is genuinely enlightening. 
Familiarity ≠ Trust

Familiarity ≠ Trust

2023-08-0940:29

Trust has always been a central concept in military command and control: it can be based on a ‘Band of Brothers’ construct or something a bit more complex with allies and partners. Yet this human-to-human rubric is not the same when we consider the concept of trust as it applies to human-machine trust. Or is it? Peter talks to Christina Balis, who wrote a paper in June 2022 about human-machine trust, about how we should be thinking about this – something that has been missing from the discussions as more C2 systems are added into military forces. What emerges is a demand for less coders (or software savvy commanders), and more about diverse education sets and inquisitive minds. Especially if the philosophies of delegated and mission-command are to remain more than rhetoric.
A New Orders Process

A New Orders Process

2023-07-2641:55

In ‘How to Win’ rather than ‘How to Operate’ in a peer or near peer war, time is vital and the ability to share commands (orders) faster than an adversary becomes a critical function of campaigning. The ability to plan and create those orders rapidly enables a different operating tempo to be achieved, ensuring dissemination works to outpace opponents. Peter talks to Lt Gen (rtd) Ben Hodges, US Army, about the differences between historical C2, the contemporary fight, and the future of C2. A new orders process able to be worked and distributed across coalitions and alliances seems to be a fundamental part of success: underpinned by complex exercises, skilled use of common language, and a shared understanding of what needs to be done. In essence, we need to focus more on a ‘common tactical mindset’ than a ‘common operating picture’.
It is not hard to identify the great (and successful) commanders across history – and it turns out they have a few things in common. But what has changed with the advent of control measures into the C2 rubric? Peter talks to Professor Michael Clarke about how compression and expansion have shaped the modern military C2 machine, about the skills needed from a commander today, and how the political military relationship is changing – given the ability to orchestrate campaigns from afar. The conversation ends by touching on the added complexity of coalition partners and allies in C2 structures: There is no doubt that this requires a successful commander to have an even wider playlist than was the norm across history. Whether we talent spot and train these individuals well enough is a more dubious proposition.
Adaptation under fire

Adaptation under fire

2023-06-2839:11

Command and control in war is very different to peacetime plans: and then C2 that works well for defensive operations will not necessarily be optimised for offense. The Western experiences of Afghanistan and Iraq threw up a host of lessons which HQs have been implementing: yet the observations of C2 in Ukraine provide a different lens for the problem. Peer and near-peer conflict requires a different C2 strategy, one that is determined by those who are able to exploit control tools available now – not those promised at some date in the future. From multiple visits to the Ukrainian military over the past 15 months – and built on experience of numerous other conflict zone - Dr Jack Watling, Senior Research Fellow for Land Warfare at RUSI in London, has a unique view on what it takes to deliver control on a modern battlefield: Whilst command seems to be more culturally specific than we think, control measures need a good deal more flexibility and imagination than we, perhaps, train for.
Martin van Creveld talked about command being about the ‘Quest for Certainty’, in order to make the right decisions. But there is, according to Mick Ryan, also a fallacy in certainty. It is a myth that certainty on a battlefield can ever be achieved – whether the delivery of a real time common operating picture, or exact knowledge of enemy disposition and intent. How do we train and prepare commanders for a battlespace that has no certainly, but also where time is compressed for decisions, where delegation is forced down to new levels, and a command footprint is – in and of itself – a high value target for the enemy? The conversation starts with the context and culture of command in the US, UK and Australia, but also touches on Russia, China and Iran. It moves on to talk about developing people (political leaders as well as military ones), and then addresses the future C2 environment and ideas about preparing leaders, commanders and the role of industry in delivering effective C2 systems for the future. A rip roaring opener for this new podcast series.
The show is about military command and control - sometimes considered the panacea of battles and campaigns - and what it might look like for the fight tonight and the fight tomorrow, whether for irregular warfare or for high end warfighting. The hypothesis is that command is human and control has become increasingly technical/technological. In that, much has been written about command but little enough about control. Blending human decision-making with cutting edge technology in military headquarters has been an evolutionary process over the past 20 years, but the advent of data science, big data, machine learning and AI have given rise to a sereis of promises about machine control at the speed of data exchange: it sounds like an end to human command. How much truth sits within these statements by political masters and AI evangelists? Can AI substitute for the creativity, wit and guile of human commanders? How will dynamic control measures shape military command in the future?  Join us as we talk through C2 for an era of high-end war fighting at a moment when the increasing availability of dynamic control measures is centralising control away from local command. It has been a noticeable trend in Western C2 since the late 1980s. Given the growth of C2 systems in HQs, I think we need to consider how we effectively synchronise between the key functions of command and control. We aim is to open the conversation up – since we haven’t had a serious debate about what the ‘control’ element of C2 since the 1980s.   
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