WASHINGTON — Command posts must become nimbler and better networked over greater distances to prevent an enemy from targeting them and killing soldiers, according to U.S. Army leaders closely watching Russia’s assault on Ukraine for lessons in warfare.
Command posts of old were relatively stationary, a bear to construct and then breakdown, and often distinguishable by their heat, noise and electronic signatures. Such recognizable targets will not cut it in a fight against advanced adversaries such as Russia or China, as battlefields teem with advanced sensors, powerful jammers and weapons touting extended ranges, said Mark Kitz, the service’s recently installed leader of Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical.
“We learned a significant lesson in Ukraine, right? You have to move. These lower echelons, below the division, their command posts have to move to be survivable. They have to be dispersed to be survivable,” he said in an interview. “The command posts that we were building and architecting, with the network as an enabler, clearly would not be survivable in a large-scale combat operations fight.”
The Army is investing in several efforts to improve endurance, concealment, and the speed at which commanders can pause, plan and move again. Among them is what’s known as Command Post Integrated Infrastructure, or CPI2, which combines trucks with communication nodes and off-the-shelf commercial technologies.
The CPI2 setup underwent testing in August at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. The trials, which came in the wake of four other soldier feedback sessions, featured newly introduced mobile command platforms and command post support vehicles.
Kitz found the exercise “enlightening” and said it demonstrated that flexibility is key to survival and long-term success. He plans to prod industry at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual convention in early October about what’s feasible.
“Each of these commanders is going to want to tailor their command post,” said Kitz, whose office helps develop and deploy tools troops use to share information, like radios and command-and-control applications. “Some of them are going to be really good with this Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles variant that we gave to the Stryker brigade. Some want to do planning on the move and have their command post be fully on the move.”
“One of the things that we’re embarking on is making sure that our command posts of the future are not one option,” he added, noting such a move would be a change for the Army. “If they want to do it in an FMTV, we can do it like that. If they want to do it in their Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, how can I architect a command post that gives them a JLTV variant?”
A fight with either Russia or China would mean contending with an avalanche of sensors: drones buzzing overhead, as is seen in Ukraine; signals intelligence tools cuing in on communications; and thermal imaging, like forward-looking infrared, zeroing in on heat signatures. It would also demand battlefield hubs be scattered across hundreds of miles, over mountains, between islands and throughout cities, straining the digital tubes that funnel intel to and from the front lines.
That future is radically different compared to the decades the U.S. military spent in the Middle East and elsewhere while attempting to eradicate extremism and topple terrorist cells.
“Most of our commanders have grown up not having to worry about that problem. When you were in a forward-operating base in Iraq and Afghanistan, it wasn’t a challenge,” Ward Roberts, the assistant lead at PEO C3T, previously told C4ISRNET. “We have seen that when you have a highly skilled enemy, you can’t sit there very long. If you do sit there and long, they’re going to find you. If they can find you, they can target you.”
To get it right, PEO C3T is concentrating on factors such as connectivity, camouflage, ergonomics, power management and shelter.
The command post innovation comes as the Army increasingly focuses on the division, not the brigade, as the unit of action. The pivot, alongside an initiative known as the “division as a unit of action network design,” is meant to free up soldiers by elevating burdensome tasks and coordination.
“We want to, or we recognize, that the future fight for the Army will have the division as a linchpin of the network,” Kitz said. “We’ve got to be able to architect our network much more flexibly, we’ve got to be able to architect our command posts much more flexibly if we’re going to operate in Indo-Pacific Command versus what we see in Ukraine. They’re very different environments.”
“That’s one of the things I’m learning in this early C3T journey,” he added. “Each of these commanders wants to employ their network in very different ways. How do we enable that?”
Kitz took the reins of PEO C3T in June. He previously led Program Executive Office Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors, a one-stop shop for Army spying, jamming and aircraft survivability suites.
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.