We are at an inflection point in the evolution of warfare. While technology is rapidly increasing pace, it is also creating an expansion into multiple, parallel domains, and giving enemy forces more options for both disruption and defense. Technology advances are a key factor to successes spanning the spectrum from humanitarian efforts to complex anti-access/area-denial environments. However, technology is only an enabler, and mindsets must change to allow the technology to be a tool for success, and not ignored due to antiquated doctrine, policies, and guidance.

MDC2 represents a new way of thinking about how to coordinate force employment across multiple warfighting domains, and bridging capabilities from old and new technologies. MDC2 itself is not a new technology, but rather a mindset for operational planning, and creating systems that can more easily talk and coordinate with each other. Successful MDC2 will require tendrils and communications links that allow seamless situational awareness, and cross-coordination of planning efforts across existing horizontal and vertical boundaries.

Past human capability has restricted warfare to only a few environments, or “domains”. Land, followed by sea, then subsurface, then air. New battlespace domains are emerging rapidly. Space remained a peaceful environment for decades, but now faces a constantly growing threat with the potential to impose or be subjected to damaging effects. Cyber represents an even more radical shift - hidden, unpredictable, it changes faster than humans can monitor, and can be utilized for wide-reaching effects on top of and within all other domains.

SATCOM quality. Red area on belt reachable by jammer; green is clear.
Cyber C2 Mission Manager

Historically, communication limitations drove warfighters in each of the domains to operate and communicate independently at the tactical level, coordinating primarily at a strategic level. We can no longer successfully execute operations as a set of independent campaigns. The shift to MDC2 enables integrated objectives, capabilities, timing, and planning from the strategic through operational levels; it continues on down to tactical employment, and fosters cross-coordination during execution. We need to rethink command relationships to promote agility across domains during planning and execution. Any given domain may provide enabling functions in support of another domain, or deliver effects designed to channel the enemy towards a domain where we can achieve desired effects. And the roles may reverse within minutes or seconds.

Cyber brings new challenges in identification and response to events. Before responding to any attack we need to identify the source within seconds. We also must differentiate between state and non-state actors, between attacks on national assets and attacks on civilians/businesses. The cross-talk between domains must be fluid and constant. Intelligence sources cannot be binned by domain, agency or time, but rather must be constantly blended so that decision-makers in all domains share temporally relative situational awareness. Every level of decision-maker, from commanders to critical planners, constantly need current situational awareness of plans, operational execution, and observed opponent activity occurring simultaneously in all domains. Today’s operations demand actions and responses far more quickly, and cannot wait for traditional interactions, such as phone calls and emails, to adjust. MDC2 capabilities must be an integral part of the C2 (command and control) tools of the future. It is no longer simply a method of coordination, but a necessity to rapidly assemble the situational awareness necessary to identify and implement the best option to achieve a timely effect.

MDC2 for effects that are planned well in advance is currently performed on disparate systems, predominantly air-gapped with little integration and understanding between domains. Our military expends excessive manpower performing manual coordination and data exchange, completely dependent on liaison personnel at almost every organization. This inefficient process mostly works for one-off strikes, where events are pre-planned and there are limited competing operations drawing on resources. But in the advent of multiple simultaneous operations or open conflict (even in its smallest form) with unpredictability and the need to rapidly react, this approach quickly falters.

Polaris Alpha provides integrated solutions across multiple C2 domains.

The speed of operations differs significantly by domain. On the upper end, maneuvers in space can be extremely expensive in both time and limited resources. At the other end, cyber effects can happen at millisecond scales, at nearly zero marginal cost. Traditional warfighting domains lie in-between, but are under constant demand for increased speed. When various domain solutions offer equal success, timing becomes a deciding factor. The ability to dictate tempo by implementing faster than an opponent can react remains a primal key, and is even more critical in an era of diminishing operational resources.

The rise of social media and cyber capabilities have greatly empowered enemy forces. We can no longer depend on overwhelming force and financial dominance to defeat hostiles. Many of our opponents are also unencumbered by the bureaucratic acquisition or testing cycles currently driving many US programs. Our adversaries realize that the ability to locate a weakness, exploit the environment, communicate on social media, and quickly execute, greatly enhances their chances of success. They understand that the risk of operating outside of cumbersome acquire/test/develop cycles is worth the speed of execution. Our luxury of wielding an overwhelming military force has long hidden our inefficiencies. We take years to build requirements up to extremely detailed specifications, years choosing a contractor, years in development, then further years in integration, test, and certification cycles – before we even begin deployment.

C2Core Solutions are flexible across all warfighting domains.

The defense industry is often blamed for being slow and cumbersome. We are rightly criticized for hiring behemoth defense contractors who are great at the decades-long processes of building ships, tanks and aircraft, but who are poorly postured to apply the agility, speed, and talent necessary to produce modern software. The outcomes of today’s and tomorrow’s conflicts will leverage the abilities of our military hardware, but will completely rely on the speed and capability of the software and communications required to C2 these assets. This has produced a current trend to look towards Silicon Valley for overnight solutions. At the same time, there is little recognition that government imposed acquisition processes discourage innovation and slow the software process. In addition to prolonged acquisition cycles, the government highly desires to own the resulting products and source code, and pay low fees – the exact opposite of a typical Silicon Valley business model. Further, such stopgap measures can result in unique solutions that only solve an immediate problem and may not scale to a larger conflict nor satisfy the broader user community, impacting standardization and creating additional costs in the form of interoperability and training challenges.

Technological solutions for many MDC2 problems exist today, but continue to be hampered by both organizational and acquisition mindsets. Embracing best-of-breed solutions now, coupled with an open-architecture concept will allow us to grow and meet the MDC2 needs of the emerging battle-space instead of starting over with a long acquisition process, and an accelerating list of requirements.

C2Core is an operational technology suite that enables MDC2 across multiple warfighting domains, within a common technology baseline. It provides enterprise-level capabilities that allow each domain to remain in separate database models, or be combined into a single, integrated, temporal database. This allows C2Core instances to be spread across disparate domains, with each node able to communicate with other nodes, or operate where all parts of the MDC2 effort are co-located. C2Core provides both thick and thin client implementations, with 2D, 3D, and 4D visualization capabilities. For both inter-node and external systems communications, it provides enterprise web services supporting both REST and SOAP connections, and provides standard interfaces in XML, ATO/ACO/OPTASK LINK USMTF formats, CTO, AO COI, Joint METOC Broker Language, and many others.

With a robust C2, domain-agnostic core, C2Core is easily adaptable to include many new emerging domains and operations. C2Core is actively used for daily operations in both kinetic and cyber mission planning domains, in both theater-level and global operations, and by US and allied militaries.

We need to begin encouraging flexible software designs that can be applied to multiple problems and domains. Over-specification of requirements for a singular problem results in solutions that cannot be re-purposed in other domains. Compounding this is the fact that current testing procedures often flag additional capabilities as extraneous and count against the system instead of embracing the enhancement. The ability to reuse and repurpose software and architecture should be a driving factor in investment decisions.

Rapid prototyping and experimentation is not new, although the “idea” seems to occasionally reemerge under different labels. In the early 2000s, the USAF operated Battlelabs, chartered to work with end users to find near-term solutions to technical problems. They were later defunded, despite several dramatic successes. “JEFX” experiments yielded large-scale successes during that timeframe and were utilized to try out new technologies and processes. Capability providers made changes during the events to meet emerging requirements, and in effect execute today’s agile DevOps concepts. Processes have since locked down rapid software modifications such that DevOps is nearly impossible. We need to return to an experimentation, or demonstration focus, and support rapid development at large scale, bringing developers and operational users together.

Just as we need iterative development processes to become the norm, combat planning needs to evolve into a more iterative process, relying on and exploiting temporally accurate data, rather than deliberate pre-planning that is frozen days or weeks in advance, and based on aging situational data. Emerging machine intelligence capabilities have the promise of greatly facilitating human planners. This can let us think at a higher level, easing the time consumption of mundane tasks.

We need to develop more advanced, resilient, and distributed communications networks to allow MDC2 environments to share information smoothly. Our current tendency is to lock down every bit of communications, computers, and software, making it nearly impossible for fast, efficient, and transparent communications. Keeping up will require accepting some operational risk, or we will suffer from continued stovepiped actions between domains.

We need to break down cross-service and cross-domain political barriers. Each service has its own take on MDC2 in parallel, but diverting in purpose and impact. We must be willing to take on more technical risk to keep up with required technological revolution to merge domains. Our information assurance focus should be at the infrastructure level — not every individual application. Automation should be implemented to shorten the time for accreditation — security must become agile as well.

Our enemies do not take years and years to evaluate all potential risks of a particular implementation. They’ve adopted the common commercial mindset long ago that technology is throw-away. Solutions shouldn’t be in use for decades. We need smaller, lighter, faster solutions that can come and go as operational needs evolve.

This article was written by Marcus Featherston, Executive Vice President, Mission Solutions, for Polaris Alpha (Colorado Springs, CO). For more information, Click Here .


Aerospace & Defense Technology Magazine

This article first appeared in the February, 2018 issue of Aerospace & Defense Technology Magazine.

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