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Visby-class Corvettes July 2019

The art of Command & Control

13 min read + Video

For as long as there has been conflict between human beings, people have come up with philosophies on how to manage these wars and win battles. Nowadays, in the age of digitalisation, the military is using sophisticated command and control systems, but the principles established in ancient times remain the same.

Consider a missile travelling towards a naval vessel at three times the speed of sound: up to one kilometre per second. At just six to ten metres from the water’s surface, it races towards its target, “hiding” under the horizon due to the curvature of the Earth. If you’re on a ship, you won’t see it until it’s 12 to 15 kilometres away – which gives you about 15 seconds to act. That’s not a lot of time. Especially given that missiles tend to arrive in multiple numbers, meaning that you will have to react to each individual one quickly and effectively. Not a chance!

There are only two viable strategies at sea: either you take control of the sea or you deny someone else the ability to do so.
Daniel Wengelin, Senior Director & C2 System Owner

Picture then a command and control system on board a naval unit. It becomes aware of nine incoming missiles and is able to plan how to address each one and effectively deceive the enemy. It might take out three with surface-to-air anti-missiles, two with the main gun, jam one and then address the rest with ‘chaff’ (decoy) targets. Meanwhile, it will turn the ship rapidly to create the narrowest possible cross-section and effectively dodge enemy fire.

Visby Class Corvette
Visby class corvette, a flexible surface combatant.

Daniel Wengelin, Senior Director & C2 System Owner at Saab, says: “Today we have command and control systems that are so smart, they do all the legwork for you. Using plenty of high-end mathematics and intricate algorithms, they can solve very tricky control theory problems within the narrowest time slots, becoming finely tuned to the exact situation at hand.”

And so, provided with an accurate situational picture by a Combat Management System (CMS) and a clear image of the naval domain, an operator can in turn focus on making informed assessments, tactical judgments and accurate decisions based on readiness and a set of priorities.

Authority and direction

For 50 years, Saab has been developing naval command and control systems that enable its customers to both take control and deny the enemy control. But command and control systems have been used in combat for far longer than that. Ever since the ancient Chinese general, philosopher and military strategist Sun Tzu presented his classic masterpiece on tactics and strategy, the Art of War, soldiers, political leaders and even business managers have taken inspiration from his wisdom.

Above all, Sun Tzu advocated diplomacy and the cultivation of relationships with other nations in order to maintain the health of a state and keep the peace. He looked at the process of directing and controlling forces: the exercise of authority and direction by a designated commander over assigned forces in the accomplishment of their mission. This process is known as command and control.

Command and control (C2) is achieved by arranging personnel, equipment, communications, facilities and procedures effectively to accomplish a particular mission. The process is carried out by a leader or commander in the process of planning, directing, coordinating and controlling the forces that they lead.

Maintaining control

Any system that comprises several different but interacting elements needs some form of centralised command and control to ensure stability, resilience and survival. This applies to everything from living organisms, sports teams and whole societies, to military defence forces. For example, the human brain is the command centre for the nervous system. It receives input from a person’s sensory organs and in turn it transmits information to the muscles in the body so that they respond appropriately.

Organising a team of sportspeople so that they function properly together is the goal of any successful coach. And in 21st century society, emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things, robotics and artificial intelligence are being used to develop command and control systems that help society function well. They do so by allowing people to make the best use of data about their environment in order to help them make decisions. In the military, a command and control system consists of all the facilities, equipment, communications, procedures and personnel that a commander needs to plan, direct, coordinate and manage operations with the forces at their disposal. If all of these are functioning effectively, then there is a good chance that the mission will be accomplished.

To understand todays command and control systems, as well as the future systems, it's important to understand how the systems has evolved throughout the history of warfare. Watch the video below for a brief historical take on command and control.

Combat systems
The art of Command & Control throughout history

How the systems has evolved throughout the history of warfare.

Video - 5 minutes 14 seconds

Command and Control in Realtime

In peacetime through the scale of conflict to a situation of war, command and control systems are there to monitor the current situation and keep society out of harm’s way. For example, we use these systems when there is a natural disaster, ensuring that the necessary provisions can be brought in to support people in affected areas as quickly as possible.

But we’ve come a long way from the early beginnings of command and control. In the digital age, pens, maps, charts and compasses have given way to increasingly more sophisticated smart command and control systems. These new systems are being developed to support crisis planning and use an integrated set of analytics tools and flexible data transfer capabilities.
Saab’s command and control systems are to a great extent used by the Swedish authorities and defence forces to monitor the country’s waters, coastline, land mass and airspace. With access to up-to-the-minute data, they are able to keep tabs on events and react if necessary. Each of these systems consist of a multitude of sensors that for instance pick up radio telecommunications and radar signals, which are then used to create information. These systems are also used for surveillance to protect borders and monitor illegal activities such as drug smuggling – both on land and at sea.

Maintaining territorial integrity, knowing what’s going on around us, is a pillar of defence and hence an important part of national freedom.
Johan Hägg, Senior Director & Naval C2 Domain Owner.

As Daniel Wengelin explains, “While any conflict will inevitably be won through sheer grit and determination, a military mission can only be carried out effectively once a consolidated picture has been built up through digital signal processing technology. It helps to eliminate errors, improves quality and makes you far less vulnerable to countermeasures.”

The technology also allows the sharing of a common picture between allies, enabling complete situational awareness.

“Sweden and Finland share national data to keep a complete and updated recognised maritime picture in the Baltic Sea,” says Johan Hägg, Senior Director & Naval C2 Domain Owner at Saab. ”Maintaining territorial integrity, knowing what’s going on around us, is a pillar of defence and hence an important part of national freedom, the protection of people and the values the nation represents.”

9LV Combat Management System

The fog of war

It’s not always easy to see everything though, because when a conflict develops, it comes with a certain level of confusion. The Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz referred to this as “the fog of war”. He also wrote about “the friction of war”, where unforeseen circumstances hold up decisions and delay or prevent the execution of military strategies. Commanders need a critical overview to understand their position as it changes.

Given an accurate picture of the status quo by their command and control systems, military commanders are able to keep track of their units, vehicles and aircraft, monitor their weapons, and keep tabs on their fuel, provisions and so on. They can also identify enemy installations and vehicles and monitor their units – all essential information that helps with the planning process.

“If the command and control system knows where your own forces and the enemy forces are, and if it knows the range of your adversary’s weapons, you can assess whether you are within reach of them,” says Daniel Wengelin. “You want to be as dangerous to your enemy as possible without being shot down.”


The OODA loop

During the combat operation process, there is a cyclical process that force commanders engage in, called the OODA loop. The process is divided into four principal steps: observe (O), orient (O), decide (D), act (A). The execution of this OODA loop is supported by the command and control system.

The OODA loop theory was first developed by the US Air Force where it was applied during military campaigns. Litigation, business and law enforcement use it as much as the military. Because after all, it’s all about allocating your energies in the best possible way to defeat your adversary as quickly as possible and survive.

Daniel Wengelin says: “The faster you complete the OODA loop, the greater chance you have of success in the face of your adversary.

“In a military operation, the first ‘O’ in the loop (observe) could involve all available technical sensors and other sources to get a swift and good enough picture of the situation. Meanwhile, countermeasures such as false information, deception or jamming would be used to limit the ‘O’ for the antagonist. Data collected by the systems at hand is then consolidated and made into usable information presented in a way that makes sense, which helps with orient, the second ‘O’ in the loop. The picture gained then facilitates the process of outlining the options regarding decision-making (‘D’). Finally, the necessary action (‘A’) is taken.”

Entering the Naval Domain

The hub of Saab Naval C2 is called 9LV.

If the engine room on a ship is the heart, then the Combat Management System (CMS) of a naval unit would be the brain. Or actually, the space where the CMS is installed on board is called a Combat Information Centre and that space is the brain – where the operators and decision makers meet the C2 technology that Saab provide. It’s in here you will see all the screens and operator consoles where the crew can get information from the ship sensors and direct the communications, weapon systems and other effectors. Even if the CMS can execute a whole bunch of tasks and calculations in parallel at the blink of an eye, there is always a skilled person behind every decision. So even if the CMS contains an automated air defence functionality which can detect, lock-on and shoot down those incoming missiles, there is a decision behind putting the system in auto and a person needs to allow firing.

The knowledge to connect all sensors and effectors into one optimised system is called Combat System Engineering. On a complex naval unit such as a frigate (above), there are a lot of different systems which are attached, or integrated, to the CMS. On most ships they are provided by different companies from different countries, some are perhaps a few years old and some are new, some talk Internet Protocol (IP) and some talk their own local software language. The CMS is not just used as a hub for the users, it’s also serves as the technical hub to get all surveillance sensors, all weapons and other assisting systems to work as one. Try setting up your home network to work without any friction – then try this!

It requires skills in a number of areas such as system design, software engineering and programming, hardware design, expertise of available systems and manufacturers, knowledge of the operating environment, procurement, commercial skills, logistics and a raft more. It’s just not plug and play – competence and determination required!

Where quick reaction is key, tight integration is needed and thus it is less complicated to use equipment developed inhouse. The 9LV story actually started with a fire control system 50 years ago which gave ships unique capabilities for air defence. It still does and will continue to do so as we, the people at Saab, keep combining cutting edge technology with experience so that the Navies of Sweden, Australia, Finland, Denmark and quite a few others can continue to defend their ships, their nations and keep succeeding with their missions.

Combat systems
9LV - striking performance

If the engine room on a ship is the heart, then the Combat Management System (CMS) of a naval unit would be the brain.

Video - 1 minute 5 seconds

Providing Maritime Security

Similar technology is used surveilling the sea from ashore. Most coastal nations have a network of radars and other sensors permanently mounted, keeping constant lookout for ships and aircraft over the maritime territory. All these sensors send their data via a network typically to one or a few operations centres where a surveillance system or a CMS will be used to make sensible and structured information out of all digital reports.

Johan Hägg explains: “All professional shipping uses AIS – Automated Identification System, which transmits identity, position, course, speed and some additional information at regular intervals. It’s on public display through internet nowadays. The information given however, can be changed manually on board so when working with surveillance of territorial waters you may need to double check the AIS information with other sensors. This can to a great extent be done in a CMS by smart datafusion and that’s very helpful. In the Baltic alone there can be up to 4000 ship movements every day!”

“In some cases you still need to identify ships optically. Then you need to have support from ships or aircraft to be tasked with identification. This is also a field where unmanned units are effective. Running this on a 24/7 basis requires optimised C2.”


Technology for the times

A lot has happened in the 50 years that has passed since Saab’s first command and control system was launched. Where defence forces collected information to be able to shoot down one target at a time manually, there is today a vastly more sophisticated sensor-effector chain that allows the automatic targeting of multiple threats.

“Still, despite the technological progress that has been made, challenges remain with new threats like weapon systems but also in more recent arenas such as with cyber. Addressing them involves innovation, forward thinking and a huge amount of work,” says Hägg. “And we are very good at carrying our command and control systems forward”.

Looking ahead, there will be more and more unmanned operations as robotics and artificial intelligence play an increasingly prominent role in defence and surveillance. Today, hundreds of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones are already used to monitor major events such as the Olympic Games or political summits. All these new assets need proper Command and Control to be effective.

Clearing sea mines is an area which demonstrates the ‘person out of the loop’ thinking. Instead of pushing mine hunting ships with their crews into a mine danger area, unmanned vehicles can be sent in to find, identify and destroy these subsurfaced explosives, keeping personnel well out of harm’s way.

“In the Baltic Sea alone there are some 60.000 mines left on the bottom from the two world wars. Every year a few are brought up by fishing vessels putting people, ships and harbours at risk”, says Hägg.

At the Saab sites in Järfälla, Sweden and in Adelaide, Australia, Saab is housing all skillsets needed to bring a complete Combat System to the forefront of Navies. It was born 50 years ago and fostered by the geostrategic prerequisites of the Baltic Sea, now applied with great success among navies and partners around the globe.

Combat systems
Malin Lindell, educational engineer within C2S

Meet Malin Lindell, engineer and teacher, on working with C2S.

Video - 2 minutes