The history of warfare is rife with examples of how communications mismanagement or miscommunication has caused complete disaster. In the post-WWII era, the rapid development of tactical radios at the battalion and below level have cured many of these past woes. As the battlefield adopts some of the next generation of Command, Control, Computers, Communication, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) technologies, the way our soldiers operate is changing rapidly.
Few militaries have taken these steps to include these new technologies into their tactical network framework. These technologies include commercial smartphone and tablet systems, radios, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) integration, 4G LTE, and existing WiFi networks. With these systems interlinked, tactical-level leadership are able to streamline updated battlefield data between various echelons.
The goal of these new systems is to remove much of the proverbial fog of war and increase total unit situational awareness, as well as allow units operating in the initial phases of a conflict or in an expeditionary role to maintain effective C4ISR. In these early operations phases, many advanced connection nodes and systems may not have arrived, or may be disabled due to an electronic warfare attack.
The Network Coverage Overlay can be used to maintain a communications link with robotic vehicles. (U.S. Army CCDC C5ISR Center photo/Dan Lafontaine)
The end-user system, often a commercial hardware platform such as a smartphone or small tablet, is linked to other units, command elements, vehicles, and UAS systems. The other linked elements are able to transmit real-time data about dangers and enemy positions, viewable by squad, platoon, and company level leadership, enhancing combat readiness. In United States Army tests, the link between armored vehicles and soldier end-user systems have shown to display “enemy” positions before the soldiers even exited the vehicle during their testing exercise.
To do this, the United States Department of Defense procured Samsung model smartphones, wiped the devices clean, and installed their proprietary software onto the devices before fielding them. The data has a multi-layered encryption but operates on a secure but unclassified network platform to enhance the speed at which the data is transferred. More advanced systems are being designed to include both unclassified and classified networks based on the type of data being sent.
In addition, due to the simplicity of use and that soldiers are already familiar with smartphone technology, the training and implementation timeframe is unusually short for such types of systems. Some civilian versions of these apps are already currently available. Law enforcement, search and rescue teams, hunters and hikers, and even participants in shooting sports such as paintball and airsoft have used these apps to great effect. They allow the user to navigate, drop “pins” to display various points of interest, and sometimes even communicate via in-app messaging capabilities.
A U.S. soldier preparing his Blue Force Tracker before departing Camp Victory, Iraq in 2005. (U.S. Navy, Petty Officer 1st Class Brien Aho, Public Domain)
An excellent example of the development and introduction of this model of C4ISR and battlefield network management is the Georgian Army. While numbering only 40,000 active duty members, it serves as almost a petri dish example for this project. From 40,000 servicemembers, this could be scaled out for larger and more diverse militaries across NATO and others.
For the Georgian Army, implementation of this type of system greatly accelerates the development of their C4ISR capabilities. This has routinely been an area of continual expansion and coordination with NATO’s existing systems. Georgia’s new line of UAS platforms promises a great advancement of ISR operability. However, much of the data gathered by these systems would only currently be available to senior commanders and their staff. That mission-essential information would then be parsed out and disseminated to lower level officers in the field, potentially allowing for a missed tactical opportunity.
With junior leadership, both officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs), having access to this data is indispensable. Coupled with good military leadership skills and the encouragement for junior leadership to be proactive in exploiting tactical opportunities, the total technology framework allows for a vastly more effective force. Additionally, the near-future ability for this technology to be integrated into NATO’s existing technology systems makes Georgia’s ascension to the organization all that more promising.
During deployment, the new technology is able to operate offline sufficiently and effectively given Russia’s inclination for Electronic Warfare (EW). With any renewed invasion the expectation for most mainstream military and communications to become disabled is natural. It will be of the utmost importance for leadership involved in the defense to communicate and share by-the-minute detailed information regarding enemy movements, breakthroughs, and withdrawals.
Farther from Georgian territory, as the military moves abroad with their NATO counterparts, the need for expeditionary forces deployed in isolated areas to maintain the warfighting advantage in the C4ISR realm is crucial. In areas where military radio relay stations may be few and far between, the ability to utilize low and mid level satellite, 4G and 5G, and other unconventional data transfer options overcomes the traditional obstacles faced by remotely deployed forces. Places like isolated areas of Africa, remote islands in the South Pacific, and parts of Central Asia are all locations where Georgian and NATO forces may find their C4ISR abilities stymied.
A Georgian army soldier takes down grid coordinates during the Georgia Defense Readiness Program-Training (GDRP-T) at Vaziani, Georgia, Nov. 12, 2018. (U.S. Army photo/Spc. William Dickinson)
Connecting a disconnected battlefield has been a lofty goal for many decades, with attempts going back centuries. The misconception that weapons and munitions are what win wars is to enormously overlook the impact of effective C4ISR and its relevance in planning and execution of military operations. The addition of having small end user devices linked to even the most junior of combat leaders revolutionizes the face of small unit conflicts. With the access to data that previously only brigade or battalion commanders would access empowers warfighters to operate successfully and reduce the propensity for human error and erroneous decision making processes.
The future of Georgian and NATO operations will require a far higher grade of operational precision and data sharing than any conflict seen before. From peacekeeping in Africa to so-called “small wars” in Asia, the need for small expeditionary teams to manage their tactical data and remain relevant in the information battlefield will be what decides the fate of the mission. Georgia’s implementation of this “ground up” perspective on battlefield data management and adoption of the next generation of C4ISR assets and systems will be what takes the nation's defense forces into the future and ensures the country’s safety.
Cover photo: United States Army