Networked Warfare
The Evolution of Canadian Army Digitization
© 2017 FrontLine Defence (Vol 14, No 3)

The concept of network-enabled operations is based on the premise that if platforms, people, sensors and unit command posts – among other entities in the battlefield – were all connected via a ubiquitous network, military forces would be better. In this context, “better” can be defined as more lethal or quicker to react based on more timely and better-informed decisions by commanders across the battlespace.

Feb 2015 – Exercise Unified Resolve participants in the control centre at CFB Valcartier. (Photo: MCpl Simon Duchesne)

Early Voice Networks
Prior to the digital command and control (C2) capability of Canadian Army systems, C2 was conducted primarily by voice networks that were analogous to the hierarchical nature of armies. Each level of army formation (Division, Brigade, etc.) had its main command voice network and a few specialized networks (such as Artillery or Administrative radio networks). This was augmented by a point-to-point messaging capability for units at the Brigade level and above. Voice messages transited the network from one radio network to the next by humans in the loop who transcribed the message from one radio network to transmit on the second. Much like the children’s game of Telephone, the process was prone to errors such that the received message at the end of multiple hops through the hierarchy may not have borne much resemblance to the original message.

Digitization of the Command Evolution
The concept of network-enabled capability envisions vehicle platforms, people, sensors, and command posts all connected to the network in such a way that any “node” can directly contact or access information from any other “node” on the network. Essentially, it would be the military equivalent of the “Internet of Things,” which can be defined as the interconnection (via the Internet) of computing devices located in everyday things (allowing them to send and receive data, and enabling the rapid exchange of information directly from producer to consumer).

In the early 1990s, the Canadian Army embarked on its initial digitization of its C2 networks with three separate projects. The Tactical Command Control Communications project was to replace legacy C2 capability with a digital communications backbone consisting of radios, messaging systems and long-range communications terminals. The C2 applications were to be delivered under the Land Force Command System. Finally, automated position reporting was to be delivered under the Position Determination for the Land Forces. Making use of these capabilities, the Land Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance project would deliver sensor platforms and intelligence applications.

During this time, the concepts of “Shared Situational Awareness” and “Self- Synchronization” were in vogue. Senior Army staff posited that, with this new digital command and control capability, armies would no longer have to “Advance to Contact” to locate and engage the enemy. A digitized force would be able to engage an adversary at a location and time of its own choosing based on information superiority. The ability to concentrate combat power to strike with precision could equally be the catalyst for reducing the size of the force required as large attrition warfare would no longer be the path to victory.

Oct 2015 – Multinational and Canadian Armed Forces Officers and staff conduct command and control training during JOINTEX 15, which was held at 4th Canadian Division Training Centre, in Meaford Ontario. (Photo: Cpl Brett White-Finkle, Canadian Forces Combat Camera)

Afghanistan, C4ISR and process-driven HQs
The aforementioned projects were starting delivery just as the Canadian Army was deploying to Afghanistan in 2003.

Throughout the Afghan Campaign, more equipment and command, control, computer, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems were delivered as a result of unforecasted operational requirements to meet identified capability gaps for the operation. This included the introduction of new sensors such as the Counter Mortar Radars and the Sperwar Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. New communication capability was also introduced such as the High Capacity Line of Site radios, new Satellite communication capabilities, and new man portable radios. Today, the entirety of the Canadian Army C4ISR capability is referred to as the Land Command Support System.

Intuitively, the belief is that the C4ISR capabilities that have been delivered make the Army better, however, in his article, Ten Years Observing Command and Control, (Military Operations, Volume 3, No 1 Spring 2015, pgs 28 - 31), Jim Storr provides a number of observations that would suggest otherwise. He posits that armies have become bewitched by technology and that the digitization of command and control capabilities has resulted in large, process-driven headquarters.

Operating Concept for the Army of Tomorrow – Adaptive Dispersed Operations
Published by the Department of National Defence in 2007, Land Operations 2021, Adaptive Dispersed Operations: The Force Employment Concept for Canada’s Army of Tomorrow, is a conceptual guide for the transformation of the Canadian Army based on a network-enabled force. The premise of Adaptive Dispersed Operations is that the Army can create and sustain operational advantage over its adversaries through the employment of land forces alternatively dispersing and aggregating throughout the multidimensional battlespace. The concept envisions highly adaptive land forces that can create and exploit opportunities, control the tempo of operations, and achieve information dominance. By doing so, these forces will be able to conduct coordinated, interdependent operations to achieve mission success. The underpinning of this concept is the C4ISR systems that support commanders in the application of the tenets of mission command and manoeuvre warfare.

Complexity Requires Frequent Upgrades and Training
A network-enabled force relies on the digital network and software applications to conduct operations. Over the period that the Canadian Army has been adapting to the use of digital network-enabled capabilities, a number of observations have been made – the complexity of this capability brings with it some secondary effects that must be addressed. First, the complexity of the software with which staff officers carry out their functions requires they learn not only what they are required to deliver, but also how to use the applications with which to conduct their work. Then, if these applications change, or if staff are not using the applications regularly, regenerative training is required to regain or maintain competency with the tools and applications.

The education and training requirements for the Signal Corps (responsible for the planning, installation, maintenance, protection and securing of the network) is considerably more demanding than with the legacy voice and messaging systems. Further, given that the underlying technology of these digital networks changes considerably more often than previously, there is an almost constant requirement for adjustments to the Signal Corps training.

The use of network-enabled capabilities can negatively affect operational flexibility. Firstly, the complexity of the networks themselves makes adjustments to network topologies more time consuming than the use of legacy networks. Self-healing, ad-hoc, mobile networks of the scope and scale required are not yet available. Further, if the process rules are embedded in the software applications, operational flexibility can be hampered should the situation require changing the processes during the operations.

Interoperability with Allies
As the Canadian Army must be prepared to conduct operations alongside its allies, the C4ISR capabilities must be interoperable with those of our allies. With legacy systems, interoperability could be achieved with interoperable radios and shared cryptography. However, with the complexity of today’s network-enabled capabilities that make use of various network communication protocols, switches, routers, applications and databases, achieving interoperability is much more complex. It must be designed into the systems from the outset and, once achieved, must be maintained through disciplined configuration management governance. It is important to note that without such forethought, a single firmware or software upgrade of any one of the components of the network could undo any achieved interoperability.

Intelligence Applications on the Horizon
The Canadian Army is about to embark on a relatively major upgrade to the Land Command Support System through a number of projects: the Tactical Communication Modernization Project will replace communication-bearer systems including radios, line-of-sight systems and satellite communication systems; the Tactical Command Information Systems Modernization Project will replace the applications and tools used by staffs, along with the underlying technical architecture; and the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Modernization Project will replace sensors and intelligence applications.

Leveraging the experience and lessons learned during the past decade of C4ISR capability delivery, project teams will endeavour to ensure that the new capabilities deliver the operational outcomes required of the Canadian Army to achieve mission success in Adaptive Dispersed Operations in such a way that meets the NATO-identified imperative for interoperability.

Previously with 21 Electronic Warfare Regiment, Col Sean Sullivan was the Deputy Commander of the CF Information Operations Group before being appointed to the position of Director Land Command Information/Army G6 and as the Director Royal Canadian Corps of Signals.