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.
AI in C2
41:35Everyone 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
40:29Trust 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.
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A New Orders Process
41:55In ‘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’.
What makes a great commander?
41:40It 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
39:11Command 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.
The Quest for Certainty
38:17Martin 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 big questions: What's it all about, why is it important, and why now?
17:26The 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.