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Visby-class Corvettes July 2019

The art of Command & Control

16 min read + Video

For as long as there has been conflict between human beings, people have come up with philosophies on how to manage wars and win battles. Nowadays, digitalisation means that the military is using highly sophisticated Command and Control systems, with equivalent systems used in the civilian sphere. But the principles established in ancient times remain the same.

For 50 years, Saab has been developing Command and Control systems that enable its customers to both take control and deny the enemy control in the air, at sea and on land.

However, Command and Control systems have been used in combat much earlier than that. As long ago as the 5th century BC, Chinese general, philosopher and military strategist Sun Tzu presented his classic masterpiece on tactics and strategy, the Art of War, where 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.

Today, 2500 years later, soldiers, political leaders and even business managers still take inspiration from Sun Tzu’s wisdom – the name we give the process that he described is Command and Control.

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

What is Command and Control?

Command and Control (sometimes referred to as 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.

“Command and Control is a framework for giving decision-makers an understanding and lawful authority so that they are abiding by rules and laws in combat environment. In addition to providing the information and power to do something, the system allows you to act,” says Jenny Gardner, Head of Strategy and Portfolio for Combat Systems.

Why Command and Control is more important than ever

In the digital age, pens, maps, charts and compasses have given way to increasingly more sophisticated smart Command and Control systems, making conflicts much more complex and fast-moving. For example, how do you deal with ‘swarms’ of unidentified aerial vehicles (drones) or even multiple missiles coming your way all at once?

“As conflicts become more multi-layered, the need for quick and decisive action increases because the enemy is acting much faster now too. It’s amazing to think that in comparison the ships taking part in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 couldn’t find each other for much of the conflict!” says Jenny Gardner. It’s an example of what the great military theorist von Clausewitz referred to as ‘The Fog of War’, where confusion can reign and easily lead to a loss of control.  

“The faster the threat, the more automated decision-making power you need to have, while still maintaining the human dimension for the final decision. That’s common to all domains – air, land and sea,” adds Jakob Turcinov, Head of Product Unit Air & Land C2.

“There’s a vast amount of data that needs to be collected, of which we need to make actionable intelligence.”

Jenny Gardner adds that another reason for the importance of C2 is the increasing need for international and inter-agency collaboration. The technology also allows the sharing of a common picture between allies, enabling complete situational awareness.

The OODA loop

Much of Command and Control is oriented around the OODA loop, a theory which was developed by the US Air Force. It stands for: observe (O), orient (O), decide (D), act (A). The execution of this OODA loop is supported by the command and control system. It’s all about allocating your energies in the best possible way to defeat your adversary as quickly as possible, and survive.

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.

Combat systems
The art of Command & Control throughout history

How the systems has evolved throughout the history of warfare.

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Saab’s Command and Control systems

Saab has developed Command and Control systems for the domains of sea, air and land. The company is also engaged in the rotary domain with helicopters for anti-submarine warfare, while the cyber and space domains are rapidly emerging as future arenas for which Saab is also developing capabilities.

Saab’s Command and Control systems are used by customers in various parts of the world and in Sweden they provide extensive support to the national authorities and defence forces for monitoring the country’s waters, coastline, land mass and airspace. With access to up-to-the-minute data, Sweden can use Saab Command and Control systems to keep tabs on events and react if necessary.

These systems contain a multitude of sensors that can pick up radio telecommunications and radar signals, which are then used to create information with which to communicate. The systems are also used for surveillance to protect borders and monitor illegal activities such as drug smuggling – on land, in the air 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.

Naval Command Control

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!

But, by using high-end mathematics and intricate algorithms, a Command and Control system on board a naval unit can spot nine incoming missiles and 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 dodge enemy fire.

9LV Combat Management System

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. The space where the CMS is installed on board is called a Combat Information Centre and that is 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 range 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 frigate there are a lot of different systems which are attached to or integrated with 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 use Internet Protocol while some have their own local software language.

The CMS is not just used as a hub for the users, it 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 lot more. It’s not just plug and play.

Where quick reaction is key, tight integration is needed, so it’s less complicated to use equipment developed in-house. 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, Germany, Finland, Denmark and quite a few others can continue to defend their ships, their nations and keep succeeding with their missions.


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.

As Johan Hägg, Senior Director & Product Manager 9LV, explains: “All professional shipping uses AIS – Automated Identification System, which transmits identity, position, course, speed and some additional information at regular intervals. Nowadays, it’s on public display through the internet. However, the information given 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 data fusion and that’s very helpful. In the Baltic Sea 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.”

Air Command and Control

Saab’s Command and Control offer for the air domain is a stand-alone solution or available as part of package bundled with the Gripen fighter and/or the GlobalEye airborne early warning and control offer. Both Gripen and GlobalEye have customers around the world.

Designed to maintain national air space supremacy, the 9Air C4I solution (C4I is the same as Air Command and Control) delivers situational awareness, decision support and enables force coordination. 9Air uses data fusion, automation and system-of-systems integration, to help the user establish air supremacy.

“One thing we’re really aware of is that you need to have really efficient support for the commanders, based on the large amount of data that’s coming in,” says Jakob Turcinov.

“The absolute core of what we do in C2 is taking all of these sensors, understanding how to extract this information and make sure to present it to an operator that makes sense of it and on which actionable decisions can be made.

“The speed of information and data needs to be quick enough to act on the likes of hypersonic threats, so the decision-making process needs to be very quick.

“For the creation of a situational picture we essentially have to fuse a large number of sensor sources into a common operation picture and support the operator to take well-oriented decisions and act before the opponent does.”

Saab’s Command and Control portfolio also includes the 9Airborne mission management system, which can be used in an on-board fixed setting as well as on rotary-wing aircraft. 9Airborne C4I can be used on platforms conducting a wide range of missions, from surveillance to anti-submarine warfare.

9Airborne responds to the demands of high-tempo multi-domain operations, managing information fast and effectively to provide on-board status and high definition situational awareness.

“Looking ahead, it’s really important to use the entire tool box of decision support solutions, comprising both deterministic solutions as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning-based solutions. That way our customers always can stay one step ahead of the opponent,” says Jakob Turcinov.

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.

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Land Command and Control

Compared with the other domains, the land domain has additional complexity relating to its size and the numbers of people involved. One brigade has about 5,000 soldiers and consists of five management levels. It also has about 1,200 vehicles. All this needs to be orchestrated in time and space and the Command and Control solution needs to support the full scope of the operation. The Command and Control systems need to create a common perception of the status and the plan(s) (i.e. the situational picture). It needs to be fast and the information needs to be high quality. A further challenge is interconnecting the different types of units in the army and decide who’s taking care of which mission or task.

The main challenge for land Command and Control systems is the variable level of communications. Unlike air, the constraints of geography play a much more limiting role. And if the naval domain does have to deal with the fact of Earth’s curvature, land has that plus varying signal reliability, depending on the terrain.

Land defence has to deal with opposing land forces but also threats from the air. The main threats include detecting unmanned aerial vehicles (drones, sometimes off-the-shelf models that can operate quite effectively using Google Maps) and enemy artillery, as well as bombing by fighter jets. The need for smooth, fast information using sensors is acute.

“Armies are typically using small/shortwave band radio communication which is prone to losing and resuming connection in remote and rough terrains. But of course a common operational picture is still needed while being careful about what information is being sent and filtering the information that is needed to be able to act.” explains Jakob Turcinov.

Saab’s land Command and Control offer 9 Land C2 consists of a suite of products, with a security platform, soldier offer and the 9 Land BMS (battle management system).

9Land BMS uses integration of sensors and digital tools for reporting, so that a digital situational picture is created. This is automatically distributed within the unit, with the support of graphic ordering, and clear information is quickly created that is then followed up on. Building on the 9Land Security Platform, an integration and security solution is provided that protects the system's information and supports administration.

Joint Command & Control

Saab 9CCIS, is a complete solution for a joint operations centre. It provides the capabilities required for the planning, execution and reporting of joint domain operations (JDO). The system is designed for operational use 24/7. The solution comprises a standardised information exchange with different tactical Command and Control solutions (e.g. 9Air, 9Land C2, etc.). The CCIS solution provides a common operational picture of the complete battle theatre, plus meteorological information, chat functionality and adaptability to whatever interfaces the customer needs.

Future challenges

A lot has happened in the 50 years that have 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 Johan 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. As equipment becomes more and more intelligent in itself, all these new assets need proper Command and Control to be effective, while also compliant with laws and conventions.

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 sub-surfaced explosives, keeping personnel well out of harm’s way.

And it’s not only about the enemy on the battlefield, regardless of the domain – it’s also about the technology itself, and how easy it is to use for the operators.

The system has to be intuitive because there’s no time for long training packages or courses. The operator has to be able to learn by using it and is expected to enter into live combat scenarios after a quick initial training. We need to keep up with the latest software developments and changes to people’s approach to learning.”

As weaponry becomes more sophisticated so does the theatre of battle: multi-domain conflicts are fast becoming a reality. The need for interoperability between different systems, especially as international alliances of nations expand and change, makes the concept of multi-domain operations very important for the future.

“To have the edge in this type of warfare, you have to share information between the different domains, so you need all the sensor data and the effectors, and seamlessly act across the domains,” says Turcinov. “The technology to support multi-domain operations exists – the real challenge is the methodology and doctrines to operate in this context.”

The multi-dimensional aspect is further complicated by the increasing interface between the civil and military spheres. So you need to not only interact between the different domains (air, land and sea), but you also need to be able to collect data from civil systems and solutions such as road cameras and weather information and filter the data that is viable for your next decision and secure quality to avoid disinformation.

“In the future, the interfaces between domains, civil systems and open-source intelligence will be highly integrated and used to provide operators with high-level decision support – and possibly more than support,” says Jakob Turcinov.

“Nowadays, we’re getting access to more and more information. And it’s not just the three traditional domains of air, land and sea; there are also the cyber and space domains emerging. Between and within these five domains is a lot of information. You need to analyse all of that data quickly and ensure decision-makers get the right information they need to act quickly and decisively. Information transfer is becoming central to C2 systems,” he adds.

“Today we are a long way from the times of Sun Tzu and his Art of War,” says Jenny Gardner, “But however the times change, most of his principles will stay the same and strong Command and Control capabilities will remain the key to successful missions.”

Combat systems
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