Thursday, July 26, 2012

Command and control must be modular, scalable and transportable

Guest column
By Edward Hanlon Jr.
*Edward Hanlon Jr. is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general. Hanlon, who retired from the USMC after serving as commanding general of Combat Development Command in Quantico, currently serves as Raytheon's regional executive for Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Israel. In his writings, Hanlon explains why the Marines need an integrated C2 system to make sure they remain the efficient, high-value force they've always been.

For a Marine in harm’s way, what happens on the ground has a great deal to do with what’s going on in the air above. One of the decisive advantages our country enjoys in warfighting is our ability to integrate air and ground operations into a single whole.

The Marine Corps is our nation’s premier expeditionary force. While fighting, Marine commanders must have the best picture possible of the terrain, friendly and hostile forces, and all available assets. The battlefield is actually a battlespace, with ground, air and cyber components.

Consider a hypothetical unit on the move in Afghanistan, which finds itself pinned down under heavy fire following an ambush. The commander pinpoints the source of the fire and calls for air support. Within seconds, literally, air assets strike the target and silence the enemy’s weapons. This integrated capability in expeditionary maneuver warfare is something few if any others can match.

What mostly distinguishes our battlefield commanders from our enemies’ is our commanders’ decision-making superiority. This involves not only brains and experience, but also the superior assets we enjoy for command-and-control, or C2.

C2 is all about how that commander sees the environment around him, knows what his options are, reliably issues instructions, gets results, and moves on to his next challenge. The Marine Corps’ Common Aviation Command and Control System — or CAC2S — is precisely such a program. CAC2S is a next-generation command-and-control system currently being developed for the Marines. It is designed to serve as a single repository for the wide range of data collected by Marine aircraft and sensors during combat.

Our expeditionary capabilities are critically dependent on C2. And while our current C2 system has worked well, our weapons systems and sensor capabilities are advancing so rapidly that they are pushing past current C2 capacity. Our legacy systems are struggling to manage the volume of information and the speed of response.

Our decision-making superiority depends not just on the quantity of information available to our commanders, but the quantity. A unit commander beset by too much inadequately processed information can be just as uncertain about what to do as a unit commander with no information.

We need to invest in CAC2S to enable us to take full advantage of the advances we are seeing in weaponry, sensor capability and cyber. Our objective must be an integrated system that affords all users an easy-to-grasp picture of the battlespace.

Above all, that means we need a CAC2S that can readily adapt to a variety of circumstances — whether the operation is big or small; in a desert or jungle; embarked aboard a Navy ship or on the move.

Accordingly, an effective CAC2S must be modular, scalable and transportable.

Consider the first requirement. The battlefield is no place to splice together system components that were never designed to work with each other. Everything has to fit together — tailorable so Marines can add or subtract elements as needed. In other words, it’s critical that Marines are able to do so. With hardware that’s logically divided into modules, Marines can leave behind equipment that isn’t essential to the immediate mission. This flexibility is not possible with today’s C2 system.

The second key is scalability. Our missions vary tremendously in size and scope. We are not in a position to say, “Go big or go home.” Neither can we afford to rely on mere hope that functional small-scale systems simply can be strung together to make big systems like so many strings of Christmas tree lights. Whether an operation requires just a small task force or hundreds of troops, CAC2S should work.

Finally, there’s transportability. Expeditionary maneuver warfare means you must be ready to go anywhere at any time. Equipment that slows down any aspect of a deployment reduces our warfighting capability. That’s why it’s critical for CAC2S to be easily packed up and moved, and capable of supporting all anticipated contingencies.

So long as CAC2S is built with these three characteristics at the forefront, the capabilities of our Marine Corps will be significantly enhanced. The battlespace in which we do business will be getting more, not less, complicated in the years ahead. We must make sure that our command-and-control infrastructure keeps pace.

*This article was originally published in "Stars and Stripes" July 12, 2012.


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