Vauban Sessions 2022 

From Data to Decision: Technical, Operational and Human Challenges for C2

18th - 19th January 2022
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The 4th edition of the Vauban Sessions, hosted virtually on 18-19 January 2022 by the French Rapid Reaction Corps and Avisa Partners, brought together some 150 participants from 19 NATO Nations, of which some 40 flag officers (Lieutenant General to Colonel).

The debates, held under the Chatham House rule, were moderated by former NATO SACT General (rtd.) Jean-Paul Paloméros, and gathered leaders from armed forces, NATO and EU institutions.

Summary of debates

C2: a paradigm shift

New technologies have brought about a paradigm shift for Command & Control (C2). The consequences of this change impact all echelons of the chain of command and military culture. The advent of Big Data and AI offer unprecedented opportunities to strengthen our Forces' capabilities, but so too of our adversaries. As a result, it is key that allies remain proactive and integrate these technologies to  maintain supremacy. 

 

Indeed, new technologies herald both immense opportunities and risks. The challenge for military forces today is to maintain their technological edge while remaining one step ahead of their adversaries. The future of Command & Control and its operational environment will be marked by a rapidly evolving landscape which could quickly outpace countries’ current military capabilities. Those who can collect the most relevant data, process and analyse it fastest, and disseminate it rapidly and securely will have the upper hand. 

 

To support future political-military decision-making and deliver timely effects, the design of a future C2 must ensure that it is agile, secure, resilient and most importantly, interoperable. To this end, Decision Support Systems (DSS) will be essential to maintaining superiority on the battlefield by providing commanders with up to date situational awareness for faster decision-making. DSS offer real-time understanding of the situation, of available resources, and of options to employ them.

 

Military actors should adopt transformational plans to standardise processes, reduce unnecessary complexities, ensure resilience and consolidate data to leverage the competitive advantage of new C2 technical capabilities. A holistic approach, including reworking on tools and processes, is essential across all organisations in order to ensure a newly efficient and resilient C2. The next NATO summit will be an opportunity for allies to adapt to future strategic processes in line with this paradigm shift.

Human considerations 

Human factors can pose real challenges for a robust  C2. These include lack of trust between players, difficulties in logistics and differences among forces’ technical standards. To reduce the risks posed by these challenges, military staff should be at the center of technology development to ensure that their needs are adequately addressed. Successful AI development relies heavily on informed modelling, which implies that developers must have strong domain-specific knowledge to understand end-user needs. Creating user-centric technologies will in turn enhance military staff’s trust and the cognitive superiority of commanders.

 

Biases are another key human factor to take into account. They imply that any AI-based military tools be developed cautiously, to avoid biases in the modelling of said AI tools. In the military information domain, biases in a Decision Support System could have major consequences, ranging from wrong threat assessment to overall crisis escalation.

Policy changes to foster interoperability 

Interoperability among EU and NATO forces is essential to facilitate their engagement across operational domains (air, land, sea, space and cyber). Military forces must therefore adopt common standards to ensure efficiency, resilience and interoperability for the digitalised C2. The development of common C2 standards and interoperability should start with a consensus between national and international actors on said interoperability standards, before moving towards a centralised defence system at EU and/or NATO level. To support the evolution of a next generation C2 while ensuring interoperability, national and international allies’ strategies must be defined to clearly express the operational requirements of commanders.

 

An example of initiatives in support of future military interoperability is the  European Defence Fund (EDF) which aims to support collaborative defence research and development, by triggering a higher level of cooperation in defence throughout the EU. By doing so, it will create a more European and integrated defence industrial base including non-traditional players to build an overall EU defence capability and interoperability, key to the development of a resilient C2. Increased cooperation will prevent duplication of investment and research efforts. Additionally, the PESCO project « Strategic C2 system for CSDP missions and operations » aims at improving the C2 systems of EU missions and operations through the provision of a strategic level suite of capabilities, in system adaptable for future developments.

 

On the NATO side, the debates on Nations’ and the Alliance’s Artificial Intelligence policies and associated data exploitation framework aim to tackle issues related to AI and data. These include: interoperability, supply and improvement of decision-support tools and the provision of principles of responsible use. They must incite forces to follow the fundamentals of the rule of law, accountability, explainability, reliability, governability and bias mitigation. 

Further reading

  • Data: The core of collaborative combat, written by General (Ret.) Jean-Paul Paloméros, Lieutenant General Pierre Gillet, Commander of the Rapid Reaction Corps - France (RRC-FR), David Tennenhouse, Chief Research Officer (VMware), Axel Dyèvre and Séverin Schnepp (Avisa-CEIS)