11 April 2017

New Nuclear C2 Should Be Distributed & Multi-Domain: STRATCOM Deputy


NATIONAL HARBOR: Just like the individual ICBMs, bombers, and submarines it oversees, the nation’s nuclear command-and-control architecture is aging Cold War tech that needs replacement. But if we just build newer versions of today’s command posts, communications networks, satellites, and so on, we’ll miss a major opportunity. Instead, the deputy chief of Strategic Command said here today, the US could create a system that’s both more survivable and more seamless, one that can integrate operations around the world, with allies, and across the domains of land, sea, air, space, and cyber.

Strategic Command is “very much in lockstep” with initiatives like the Army’s Multi-Domain Battle concept and the Air Force’s Multi-Domain Command and Control, said Vice Adm. Charles Richard, although NC2 will remain a separate system. STRATCOM’s also “very supportive” of Air Force Global Strike Command‘s newly launched NC2 effort, he said.

Why is the nuclear force so interested in new concepts? Deterrence has evolved from the two-player chess game of the Cold War to a multi-player, multi-board monstrosity like the 3D chess from Star Trek, Richard told the Sea-Air-Space conference here today, and our command-and-control must evolve to keep up. The existing NC2 architecture was shaped by fundamental design choices “that made sense in the ’60s and ’70s,” he said. Today, US forces must “integrate timing and tempo of operations, in real time, across multiple domains and theaters, in synergy with allies and partners… Whoever does this first will win.”

Nuclear weapons are necessary but not sufficient. “ICBMs, strategic bombers, nuclear-capable submarines are still the backbone of our deterrence, but integrating them into the nuclear command and control, space, cyber, missile defense, electronic warfare, and conventional capabilities completes today’s strategic forces,” Richard said. “That integration not only has to occur in every domain — air, land, sea, space, and cyber — it must occur in every theater — in Europe, in the Pacific, in the Middle East — and it has to occur inside every partnership that we have, (between) combatant commands, allies, and partners.”

At the most basic level, as NC2 hardware ages, “you have a straightforward need to recapitalize that,” Richard told me and another reporter. “In the same way I need a new bomber or I need a new submarine, I will need a new terminal, I will need a new satellite on orbit.” When you make that case to Congress, though, “It’s hard to visualize,” he lamented. “It’s pretty simple to say, ‘I have a bomber, I need a new bomber,’ but when you start talking about circuits and stuff — the list of things that’s easy to take for granted in this mission set is large.”

Combined Air & Space Operations Center (CAOC)

What’s even harder to get across, however, is how this unavoidable impending overhaul also creates an opportunity to rethink the entire system. “It’s kind of hard for everybody to think through how I want to establish command relationships, who works for who with what authorities,” Richard said. “Once you figure that out, then you build these systems…to follow that.”

Today’s NC2 architecture was shaped by fundamental design choices “that made sense in the ’60s and ’70s,” Richard said. “I would see us headed into a much more distributed world in terms of the architecture that we use for command and control. (New technology) gives you more options to do something that would be far more survivable” against both physical and cyber attack.

We can also do a much better job of sharing data — intelligence, targets, orders — between different forces. Today, servicemembers from different organizations sit side by side in vast operations centers, conveying vital information by voice or by hand because their computers aren’t compatible. Commanders must pull complex information together in their heads because there’s no one screen that shows everything they need. In fact, said Richard, “we would need to think through what is the right way to even show you the picture.” There’s no agreed-on schema for displaying, say, the range of enemy anti-aircraft weapons, the effects of friendly radar jamming, and the positions of ground forces on a single, intelligible map.

Those are problems that people across the Defense Department are trying to solve. The efforts range from the Army’s Multi-Domain Battle initiative, to the Air Force’s Multi-Domain Command & Control task force, to the newly renamed National Space Defense Center (formerly JICSPOC), to Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford’s proposed reorganization of the Joint Staff. “Nuclear command and control will always be special,” Vice Adm. Richard said, and NC2 will be separate from the Air Force MDC2, but the nuclear force can still benefit from this rising tide of innovation across the military.

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