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Command posts are increasingly under threat, US Army’s enhancing their survivability, mobility and efficiency

In combat, a unit’s or subunit’s headquarters is often divided into echelons; the echelon in which the unit or subunit commander is located or from which such commander operates is called a command post. Command posts are where commanders and essential staff generally reside and make decisions, so they are designed for information flow. Brigades and division command post systems are essential for sending and receiving orders, spot reports coming from scouts, call for fires and to coordinate medical evacuations.

 

The Army sees its tactical command posts as a major battlefield vulnerability as potential adversaries become better at locating and destroying them. “If our tactical command posts can be found, then they can be killed,” Lt. Gen. Bruce T. Crawford, Army chief information officer, said at the Association of the United States Army’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. The Russian military’s ability to quickly find and destroy Ukrainian command posts made that manifest, Crawford acknowledged. Other nations may have the same ability, although Crawford declined to name them.

 

This threat will further increases as new weapons and tactics shrink both the battlefield and the time to respond to an adversary’s actions. Hypersonic weapons, weaponized satellites and direct energy weapons will present a severe threat to mission-essential land-based facilities, especially operational command posts. “A directed-energy weapon is an example of a potential future system with an unusual application and impact,” the report said. “While [such weapons] may broadly target network and physical infrastructure initially, they may also evolve to enable targeting of specific military and commercial communications and network nodes, devices and infrastructure.”

 

The environment those Soldiers will operate in will be “highly lethal,” and “unlike anything our Army has experienced, at least since World War II,” said Gen. Mark Milley, the Chief of Staff of the Army. With sensors everywhere, Soldiers in the future will have to operate with the understanding that, “the probability of being seen is very high. In a future battlefield, if you stay in one place for longer than two or three hours, you’ll be dead. That obviously places demands on human endurance … [and] on equipment.”

 

Technologies are spawning a revolutionary improvement in command and control that will have a transformative impact on how it is conducted at the operational level. As the speed of communications, richness of data, capability options, diversity of actors, and amount of friendly and adversarial information have increased, so have the requirements for larger staffs and expertise to grow to sort through this complexity. The associated downside of a larger staff size is that it becomes unwieldy, causing breakdowns in communications between staff elements and creating a mass of personnel that represents a high-value target for adversaries.

 

Therefore the future command post an increasingly tantalizing target. Near-peer enemy threats can detect and target mission command nodes using modern assets such as UAS. These command posts are especially vulnerable due to their physical and electromagnetic signature, in addition to the lack of speed and mobility. As such, protection and ensuring operational availability has and will remain critically important.

 

Command posts are essential, according to Army documents. Leaders must also be close to the action, so placing them out of harm’s way is not an option.   “The commander must be able to position himself forward with a command group in the area of operations to gain understanding, prioritize resources, influence others and mitigate risk,” said an October 2015 report, “The Mission Command Network,” produced by the Combined Arms Center and the Army Capabilities Integration Center. Command posts must be more survivable and mobile, the Army has concluded. As a result, distributing and dispersing the headquarters and its personnel will be critical for maintaining effective command and control (C2).

 

Mobile command posts

U.S. Army and Marine Corps tactical networking and command post programs widely acknowledge the critical need to improve mobility. The current state of the art for tent-based command posts requires hours of setup, including thousands of feet of copper wiring, which delays network availability and results in a dangerous lack of situational awareness for commanders.

 

It currently takes about 50 hours to break one down and about as long to get one up and running and re-establish communications once a new location is located enhancing the risk of being attacked. Currently, troops who jump from one location to another typically do so in phases, with tent infrastructure, generators, network servers, and satellite links going up first, followed by the running of cables to provide the local area network command post support. This process translates into long delays in the availability of critical information services, which, in turn, can lead to increased vulnerability of people and their systems.

 

Defensive postures of the past applied to a much more stationary battlefield environment. It was simply assumed that communications would be limited as warfighters moved from position to position. But technology advances by adversaries demand that our warfighters have the same secure communications experience while on-the-move as they do at-the-halt. At the same time, communications solutions must be delivered in a smaller form factor-whether to fit on the back of a Soldier or in a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle.

 

And the fight does not stop just because you are moving. This is why defense forces need networking on-the-move capabilities. On-the-move means communications components that are smaller, ruggedized to adapt to mobility over any terrain, and reliable in the face of unanticipated conditions such as poor power sources and extreme temperatures.

 

Entering a dynamic tactical environment “blind” puts warfighters at a significant disadvantage, which can lead to loss of life and mission failure. There is a need to ensure that transportation vehicles and aircraft operators can communicate directly with a warfighter’s headset-and vice versa-while en route to the destination.

 

To counter this problem, the Army is currently experimenting with mobile mission command platforms, such as the M1087 Expandable Van Shelter, under the Command Post Directed Requirement Pilot Program and is integrating it into units such as the 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team to assess different configurations. The units will then provide feedback on operational suitability and functionality. “The general purpose of the command post directive requirement was to provide units with expandable vehicles and shelters in an effort to allow them to transition command post capabilities from the currently tent-based command post into vehicles and shelters,” said Jim Bell, who works with U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM).

 

“Mobile  platforms would give us a rapidly moveable and potentially more survivable option for our command posts,” said Col. Leo Wyszynski, commander of 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team. “It takes us about 30 minutes to tear down the new command posts, which is significantly less than what it takes us to tear down a tent. Our hope is to be able to jump and move in under 30 minutes as we practice and train with it.”The purpose of the program is to develop equipment that will be more survivable, more mobile in order to protect the unit in the future battlefield and enable them to fight more effectively, Wyszynski said.

 

Reducing signatures

Currently, peer competitors would be able to easily locate a command post through its electromagnetic signals, or even signatures are given off by power generators. “They have gone to school on us,” Crawford said. “They have developed capability that put us at significant risk if we don’t make investments now to mitigate those risks.” Rivals have improved their ability to not only find these command posts, but to quickly link their sensors to shooters, dramatically reducing the kill chain timeline, he said. Electronic warfare and new weapons are of particular concern to the Army. A March 2016 report produced by the office of the chief information officer, “Shaping the Army Network: 2025-2040,” warned of advanced capabilities cutting off communications.

 

The effort is on to reduce their electronic signatures. For example, would it be useful to try to reduce the signature of every radio, and tap into some innovative ideas from industry to allow command posts “to hide in plain sight?” he asked. Command post radio signatures would appear to be ambient noise, he said. “We may not fix 100 percent of the problems, but we want to begin the process of fixing the problems in [fiscal year] ’18, then leverage FY ’19 to ’23 for industry-type solutions,” he said.

 

With future conflicts likely to take place in megacities and highly populated areas, deployed military commanders will need access to local sensors, including not only cameras but also sensors or data feeds related to other essential activities in or around a city. Future commanders will count on a myriad of sensors that will feed a data lake with all types of raw information. Military forces will deploy some sensors, while public or private organizations in the area of operations will own others. These could record economic activities; monitor critical infrastructure or weather; involve social networks; or include structure plans and public records.

 

Sensors and Sensemaking

Exploring technology that makes communication, interfaces and decision-making seamless, resilient and fast will be essential for enabling operational level success on the battlefield. Designing the specifics of a technologically transformed command post for the year 2035 is challenging but can address these issues. Various levels of automation, up to and including the use of AI, will augment human skills and improve the decision-making process. Sensor availability and usage will increase exponentially, bringing ubiquitous access to data and further blurring the lines between the strategic, operational and tactical levels of war. Access to nonorganic sensors will require an expansion of the C2 structure. In addition, memoranda of agreement or technical agreements will need to be in place before conflict erupts to enable the cooperation between the military commander and the sensors’ owners such as governments and ministries.

 

Collecting this amount of information can pose its own set of problems. “The volume of information, the requirement to integrate numerous information sources and the speed of the reaction can result in information overload and can lead to decision paralysis,” according to a NATO statement. However, the combination of AI, data lake, deep learning and advanced analytics will enable sensemaking and decision-making with a reduced likelihood of paralysis. Leveraging technology will be critical to capturing an ever-increasing amount of data while turning it into improved decision-making instead of information paralysis.  These advancements, particularly artificial intelligence, are changing command and control functions such as sensing, processing, “sensemaking” and decision-making. Even greater changes lie ahead as innovation serves a larger role in defining both form and function.

 

In combination with AI, multisensor platforms will optimize the information delivered to the data cloud. Once the data is in the cloud, AI will facilitate interpretation of the near-raw information differently. It will recognize voices, faces and shapes in videos or pictures. Accordingly, to take full advantage of this capability, sensors would not be switched on only at the moment of gathering the information directly related to the mission’s purpose. Instead, they would collect information continuously.

 

For example, at an operational-level headquarters, the primary driver is the length of the operations planning. Long-term plans are created for activity that will take place in more than 10 days, while medium-term strategies involve actions to be taken in three to 10 days and ongoing operations take place within three days. The overarching process that measures the deviation from the original plan is the operations assessment process, which provides the commander with the recommendations required to get the plan back on track or ensure it remains on track. AI can assist with this operations assessment process by providing accurate situational awareness. It will help the staff to analyze trends and predict scenario possibilities and developments. AI will recommend operational actions to achieve operational effects, and it is likely to suggest activities the staff would not have identified or correlated.

 

Mounted and dismounted leaders at the brigade level require the tactical network to quickly and accurately communicate with higher headquarters, subordinates and soldiers.  As a result, future command posts will need to rely on a high-availability network featuring multiple nodes and communications routes to connect personnel or organizations despite their locations or roles. They will need to always be connected, reducing human actions at the tactical level to ensure network or communications availability. In addition, the networks required to manage communications in real time—and respond to degradation, failure, hostile action and more—will require artificial intelligence (AI) to continue to operate effectively.

 

Keeping an insider threat perspective in mind, placing sensors within a command post with the same level of monitoring also should be considered. Internally recording all conversations, physical movements and communications would have broad implications for process improvement, machine learning and AI refinement; however, the implications for privacy are large. But having a populated data lake from which to pull insights to answer requests for information does not ensure the information needed to conduct operations is available or sufficient. The right query must be formulated, likely to be enhanced in the same way AI improves Google search queries.

 

VR/AR-based Man-machine command interface

“Commanders must visualize and disseminate essential information for display on the [common operating picture] to provide timely and accurate knowledge of enemy locations and survivability information at operationally relevant distances. This is critical for executing any form of maneuver in conjunction with direct and indirect fires,” the report said. The  command posts having one common operating picture with one app that rides on the infrastructure will also reduce the size of the command posts and the complexity of setting them up.

 

Set-up and break-down procedures can be simplified, said Gary Martin, program executive officer for Army command, control and communications-tactical.  The maraid of  wires “going everywhere,” are also been replaced with Nional Security Agency to create a secure WiFi  to reduce the “complexity” of setting up the command posts. The server stacks could be bolted onto vehicles so they are always ready to move. Martin said his office wants to reduce the weight of the server stacks from 1,200 pounds to 260 pounds to reduce their size and power consumption so they can fit on the back of a truck.

 

Advances in other elements in the man-machine command interface also will be needed. For example, the user interface is likely to see significant improvements, alleviating the barriers commanders encounter when searching for relevant data. Virtual and augmented reality also will help a commander establish new C2 relationships with new actors. These capabilities will benefit commanders in other ways. For example, without the need to travel around the area of operations, the commander will be able to quickly “visit” distant places virtually. This technology will create the opportunity for distributed and dispersed command posts, bolstering increased resilience in this vital C2 supporting construct.

 

AI

In addition to advances in virtual reality technologies, developments in AI undoubtedly will affect decision-making processes in the future. AI will present objective analyses and recommendations to the commander. At some point, with continual exponential improvement expected, AI will become better at decision-making than commanders in some if not most situations. Once people begin to trust AI decision-making through experience and positive performance, more responsibilities will be delegated to AI, possibly even replacing positions staff members currently fill. To address this inevitable situation, planners need to identify thresholds that define when, how many and what type of decisions to transfer to machines. These thresholds primarily will depend on the potential impact of the decision in each situation.

 

Technological advancements in communications and networks have shifted. The commercial sector is developing the most advanced capabilities at an increasingly faster rate, and governments and their militaries are struggling to adapt their acquisition policies to take advantage of the technological changes. More aggressive adoption of technologies such as AI will enhance mobility and dispersion of command posts at the operational and tactical level, which is critical for delivering capabilities and achieving operational effects.

 

PacStar Secure Wireless Command Post (SWCP) selected for innovative approach to enabling wireless and mobility for COTS devices in expeditionary and tactical settings

-PacStar®, a leading developer and supplier of advanced communications solutions for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), announced in Sep 2020  that its Secure Wireless Command Post (SWCP) solution was recognized among the best by the 2020 Military & Aerospace Electronics Innovators Awards.

 

PacStar Secure Wireless Command Post is a small, modular communications package that provides warfighters with the groundbreaking ability to securely transmit classified and unclassified information in tactical settings while using Wi-Fi and LTE-enabled commercial mobile devices. Tactical secure wireless eliminates the need for miles of cabling in tent-based command posts, and enables warfighters to mount units on tactical vehicles and pick-up and quickly move as the mission requires. This ultimately enables warfighters to use more advanced technologies at the tactical edge, improving situational awareness and leading to mission success.

 

“Our commitment to innovation has translated into significant traction within DoD to address challenges around delivering secure mobility to warfighters and rapidly deploying command posts in tactical environments,” said Peggy J. Miller, CEO of PacStar. “We are thrilled to receive this recognition for our Secure Wireless Command Post modular communications package.”

 

 

References and Resources also include:

https://www.afcea.org/content/future-command-post

https://www.dvidshub.net/news/316505/new-army-command-post-vehicles-being-developed-counter-modern-threats

 

About Rajesh Uppal

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