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.
You Cannot Beat Winter
59:15A 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.
The Devolution of Command
34:00Having 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.
42:02Command 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.
NATO C2: How to improve
48:24Having 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
38:39In 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.
46:58In 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…
Confidence and The Initiative
45:32People 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
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.
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’.