The latest Army modernisation update on Land 200’s provision of Battle Management Systems (BMS) and their digital bearers, notes that the Tranche 1 radios and systems have been used on exercises at the Bde HQ level down to individual soldiers wearing the dismounted capability. During Ex Hamel 2013, the 2/14 Light Horse Regiment Combined Arms Battlegroup fielded the digitised capability.
The report indicates that this significant capability advancement has impinged upon command and control operating procedures which, through further use and experience, would have a lasting impact on how the Army fights. But just how positive this initial foray into the so-called digitisation of the networked force, and the impact it may have on the Army’s fighting qualities, remains to be seen.
According to the Army paper Building on Beersheba, the journey to digitise the Land Force, informed by extensive exposure to the experiences of Allies and Joint partners, both on and off the battlefield, has only just begun. While this has allowed the avoidance of issues already learnt, the paper warns that the digitisation of both the Land and Joint Force is nevertheless a challenge for Army that extends well beyond the provision of new systems and technologies.
Beyond this, the Army’s future operating environments will require a command, control and communications system which can adapt to the external environment while exploiting the strengths of assigned capabilities. Efforts to support the chain of command will rely on high levels of integration, reliability, flexibility, capacity and security.
To achieve this, the Army of 2030 will need to invest in a range of systems that will provide redundancy in data storage, transmission path and user interface, voice and data. The network also needs to be capable of adapting its capacity and connectivity to ensure that information can be distributed in accordance with the commander’s priorities.
Command and control
Building on Beersheba sees the current roll-out and employment of digital systems in Army Brigades as having contributed to significant growth in the size and power consumption of the HQ, impacted on deployability, forced concentration of key individuals into a single C4I node (the Bde HQ), and raised the detectability of that HQ to an adversary’s sensors.
Perhaps more crucially, the effort to best integrate and sustain the plethora of digital systems and networks of a modern Bde HQ, represents perhaps the most desired target of an opponent wishing to defeat us. In the modern era, such a single node of command and control criticality will likely be a high value target and the digitised force cannot afford to depend on single nodes, which could become failure points.
Such vulnerability lies at the heart of an important study by Lieutenant Colonel Michael Scott, titled Operating in a Degraded Information Environment, which is concerned with the militaries’ heavy dependence on the cyberspace and space realms of the information environment, both of which he sees as crucial to modern command and control (C2), especially the ability to collect, process and transmit information. It is these domains which are becoming increasingly vulnerable to malicious attack with the elements of information superiority, the basis for effective ISR, perceived by adversaries as desirable targets for degradation or destruction.
Scott argues that that the ADF and allied militaries must urgently reassess their capability to operate effectively in a degraded information environment, otherwise they risk being seriously unprepared to operate effectively in future military operations. He sees a degraded information environment as one in which there is a reduction in the effectiveness and/or efficiency of C2 systems, resulting in an impaired ability to make decisions and take action.
Such degradation can be brought about by the destruction, disruption or denial of information systems and their supporting architecture. This might be achieved by attacking C2 platforms and infrastructure and/or information during transmission; physical attacks may include disabling ground-based transmission and receiver stations, severing communications cables, destroying or disabling satellites, or disrupting computer-based systems. The author notes that it is the dominance of the US military and its major allies in conventional warfare, which has forced rivals and potential adversaries to find ways of countering this strength.
Similarly the Army’s 2030 primer on potential threats says many believe that the predominance of US global force projection has led some states to focus on strategies that deny the projection of military power into their respective spheres of influence. These countries’ strategies, supported by technological advances, have enabled the development of asymmetrical advantages that challenge and may surpass conventional Western force projection in the near future.
As to the disruption of satellite systems LTCOL Scott points out that the global nature of modern operations, with the increasing dispersion of troops within a theatre of operations, has made satellite-based systems the primary means of communicating at the strategic, operational and tactical levels. He says this reliance will only increase in the future, not least because of the continuing proliferation of platforms that rely on global positioning systems (GPS). Disrupted space operations therefore, combined with or caused by a cyber-attack, have significant potential to impact all military operations.
Here, the radios and digital bearers acquired under JP2072 and now being integrated with the Land 200 Battle Management Systems, are illustrative of the very high level of communications necessary for the Australian Army’s networked force which can be seen in the future tactical communications fit for the Land 400 Mounted Combat Reconnaissance Capability.
This is based on Land 200 architecture and includes a Harris CNR/TACSAT combination with a 12-channel C/A code GPS receiver embedded in the handheld receiver, an advanced HF/VHF manpack radio, Raytheon EPLRS-XF data radio and Elbit System’s Battle Management System. This suggests that the Australian Army’s approach to digital networking is becoming heavily dependent on satellite communications not only for its broad command and control requirements but also for its ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance) needs.
In the Army’s 2030 timeframe, enhanced communications will allow ISTAR assets to be linked as an ISTAR system with advances in data transfer and sensor technology and the increased prevalence of sensors in the battlespace, producing unprecedented levels of information and enhanced situational awareness. While GPS technology is invaluable for the safe and efficient movement, measurement and tracking of people, vehicles and other objects, LTCOL Scott points out that navigation is only one of its military uses.
‘Three-dimensional common operating pictures, unmanned aircraft systems, targeting, weapons delivery, ISR, battlespace awareness, and communications are all critically dependent on GPS. Communications, in particular, have become increasingly dependent on GPS, as it provides timing and frequency synchronisation for communications and data networks, as well as encrypted data and communications transmissions. Currently, it is estimated that over 80 per cent of US military communications travel through satellites.’
More broadly, he notes, the US in particular relies heavily on space sensors to provide information on adversary locations and dispositions, as well as battle damage assessment, and data on meteorological and oceanographic factors that might affect operations. An exemplar here could be the US SBIRS program, which delivers timely, reliable and accurate missile warning and infrared surveillance information. The system claims to enhance global missile launch detection capability, supports the nation’s ballistic missile defense system, expands the country’s technical intelligence gathering capacity and bolsters situational awareness for warfighters on the battlefield.
The payload of SBIRS GEO-4 now in final assembly, comprises highly sophisticated scanning and staring sensors, which will provide the satellite with improved infrared sensitivity and a reduction in area revisit times over the legacy constellation. The scanning sensor will provide a wide area surveillance of missile launches and natural phenomena across the earth, while the staring sensor will be used to observe smaller areas of interest with superior sensitivity.
The author says the five major information disruption methods are anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, high altitude electromagnetic pulse weapons, high-power microwave weapons, jamming and spoofing, and cyber-attacks. China proved its ASAT capabilities with the destruction of one of its own weather satellites in 2007 and by the manoeuvring of its own satellites next to one another in 2010.
‘The rate of Chinese advancements in ASAT technologies, including ground-based laser systems, makes it inevitable that they will possess the ability to target the mid-earth orbit, where GPS satellites are located. The ability of China to identify and track satellites is also improving—a prerequisite for conducting counter-space operations.
‘These abilities, combined with the space-based systems that China is currently establishing in order to become self-reliant, mean that the threat of a degraded information environment is very real.’
On the battlefield the impact of degraded space systems would vary according to the extent and type of attack. Thus a limited EW strike, using inexpensive equipment, could degrade GPS and communications within an area of operations whereas a large-scale attack, in which ground and space-based platforms are disabled, could result in the elimination of space-enabled capabilities in an area of operations. LTCOL Scott says that if caught unprepared, the latter scenario would certainly cripple most allied operations.
Operating in a degraded information environment
LTCOL Scott states that to able to operate effectively in a degraded information environment in which an adversary has destroyed or denied space-based C2 systems, the ADF and allied militaries must plan and train accordingly.
‘Specialist communications staff must be included as key participants in the planning process and shape appropriate courses of action. In addition, training for operations in a degraded information environment must occur at all levels—which is already being done by China’s People’s Liberation Army.’
He suggests that providing redundancy in C2 and communications systems will also reduce uncertainty and improve situational awareness. While the use and improvement of satellite and other systems must continue, older systems and technologies, such as HF radio, must not be forgotten.
‘While low-power HF frequencies are vulnerable to jamming, interference is more difficult to sustain. So planning and training for the use of HF communications as a redundant system for long-haul communications of both voice and data BLOS should be practiced.’
An interesting concept is the use of Tactical Command Posts whereby commanders physically move between their formations, directly monitoring progress and concentrating on decisive points at critical times. LTCOL Scott says that during operations in Iraq the coalition’s forward corps commanders successfully employed this technique, using helicopters as a highly mobile command post.
More broadly, he sees the best way of improving the effectiveness of C2 in a degraded information environment is to emphasise the philosophy of what the US Marine Corps calls ‘mission command’, which empowers ‘subordinates exercising initiative in accord with the superior commander’s intent’. Mission command is dependent, however, on subordinates providing situational awareness to the higher commander. Thus, mission command still heavily relies on two-way communication between commanders, their staff and their subordinates.
In concluding, LTCOL Scott notes that while the ADF and allied militaries have acknowledged the likelihood of conducting future operations in a degraded information environment, they have invested limited thought and resources into developing ways to mitigate information degradation.
Most importantly, Australia and its allied partners must enhance ‘mission command’ in order to permit greater implicit communications. Such measures will not negate the threat. But they will improve the ability of the ADF and allied militaries to operate in a degraded information environment.
This article has drawn heavily on LTCOL Michael Scott’s paper, ‘Operating in a Degraded Environment’, published in the Australian Defence Force Journal, Issue No. 190, 2013. It was originally submitted in partial fulfilment of his Master’s degree requirements from the US Marine Corps University, to whom we are also indebted.