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Vauban Sessions — 2nd edition


Doctrine, Leadership, Human factor
27 – 28th January 2020

Vauban Citadelle, Lille, France

The digital transformation impacting our societies and military forces presents a formidable challenge and a unique opportunity to bolster Command and Control. Artificial Intelligence, Cloud Computing, Big Data and hyper-connectivity have become buzzwords, yet those who truly master these new technologies will doubtless gain significant advantage in operations. The digital transformation of Command & Control will require a seamless integration of technology, but command remains principally a leadership issue, with the human factor as a central element. As such, a successful transformation must be based on enlightened leadership, adapted doctrines and concepts, and a certain cultural shift. ​ The 2020 Vauban Sessions built on the success of the first edition and brought together some 130 high-ranking officers from Armed Forces, NATO institutions, EU bodies, and industry. Discussions were moderated by General (Rtd.) Jean-Paul Paloméros, Senior Advisor at CEIS and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT).
Interoperability cannot be achieve without training, an area where the human dimension is paramount.

Opportunities and challenges of new technologies for C2

Digital transformation will impact the means used to wage war, but not the nature of war itself. Computers can calculate but they do not combat – they are a part of the process. Machines governed by AI implement rules created by humans – the impression of intelligence is only due to the speed of execution. 

Digital Transformation, which affects both civil society and the military, is as much about human beings as it is about technologies. Digitalisation has led to a massive increase of the amount of data collected in quasi real-time on the battlefield. Ultimately however, it is not about having more, but better information. Properly processed, this mass of data could significantly improve situational awareness, with greater anticipation and faster decision-making, generating an operational advantage. 

New technologies also present challenges for the Armed Forces, starting with the management of data flows, speed and potential volatility. Proper exploitation of data is crucial, especially in light of  possible human mistakes and cognitive biases. Human-machine trust is both central and fragile, and can quickly disappear in cases of malfunction. In addition, data leaks, network shutdowns and supplier dependency can complicate the work of Commanders and troops in the field. Another risk is that of « no choice » i.e. when the human brain is tempted to wait for the next information to perfect awareness. As a result, necessary information for the Commander to make decision must be clearly identified early on. 

Rethinking the Command Post for the digital era

The Command Post (CP) creates an environment for staff to plan and coordinate actions and provide the Commander with the right information to take decisions at the right time. There is no one-size-fits-all form of CP, each being adapted to the objectives and need of a specific operation. But the CP cannot be conceptualised without considering the changing global context: specifically the resurgence of risks of major conflicts and the continuous evolution of technology. 

In this changing environment, the CP faces a new level of complexity, needing to generate both a systemic and global vision of the operation on the one hand, and to sort and synthesise data and information from the massive flow collected from subordinates on the other. Put differently, it should reduce vulnerabilities and increase capabilities. Design should account for:

  • Distribution (modularity): modern CPs are spread over different locations, with specific functions, each at a different distance from the frontline to increase survivability;
  • Technology: modern CPs can optimise data management to ensure the quality of information transmitted to the Commander. It should be able to to plug into a variety of systems such as unmanned ground systems or translation solutions;  
  • Mobility: the modern CP can easily be mounted and dismounted to allow quick delocalisation. To improve CP flexibility, C2 secure display walls (wireless) can facilitate scheduled and emergency field deployment. Mobility however also implies an organised manpower for installation and transportation; 
  • Stealth: A key challenge for modern CPs is to reduce their footprint in this digital environment (noise and signal transmission) to avoid long-distance strikes;
  • Resilience: the modern CP is adapted and ready for degraded combat mode; 
  • Robustness: the modern CP includes several layers of protection. 

Adapting the role of the Commander to the digitalisation of the CP

The CP must take into account the human dimension. New technologies can help focus human energy and cognitive capacities on the most important aspects to complete core tasks in operation, but the Commander, as legal and military authority, must remain at the centre of the decision-making process. 

Digital transformation impacts the nature of command but does not necessarily make the leader’s task simpler. To ensure a comprehensive vision and adapt to new threats, Commanders  and military staff must, throughout their career, be educated on the functioning, use and consequence of digital transformation. Courage, guts, and experience however remain as important as facts and figures in the conduct of operations. Technological tools can support understanding and anticipations, but the Commander will always remain the decision-maker. 

A central issue is both the lack and over availability of information. Military doctrine must be adapted to  this new reality, to enable leaders to commanding within the set hierarchy while not being impeded in their decision-making. Interoperability and communication, both vertical and horizontal, within the chain of command, top-down and bottom-up, between the CP and the ground units, and manned and unmanned platforms and systems is key to a mission’s success. The higher the intensity of conflict, the more crucial the level of interoperability and connectivity of CIS. The Main Ground Combat System (MGCS), as a system of systems, could prove to be a valuable asset in this regard.

Interoperability cannot be achieve without training, an area where the human dimension is paramount. NATO, with its 29 nations, must establish a baseline of capabilities and standard operating procedures for all Allies. To do so, it must foster common trust and confidence.