Nr 6   2010

On Command and Control Systems

Military command and control systems have traditionally relied on state-of-the-art electronics, with the  associated  exponential  growth in performance as stated by Moore´s Law (performance doubles every 18 months, at unchanged cost).  They have also benefitted hugely from developments in cellphone systems design and architecture. In a few specific areas (such as rapid frequency hopping, ultra wide-band systems and encryption) military systems were ahead, sometimes far ahead, of what the commercial market offered, but it was mainly the latter that drove technology development.

Before Iraq and Afghanistan, interoperability within coalitions was not always a major issue, and several  nations chose to develop bespoke systems, with little or no commonality, nor adherence to standards (which, in practice, meant NATO standards).  Systems were sometimes acquired more based on what technology could achieve than on what capability requirements implied.

How the world has changed! At the recently held MILCOM 2010 conference in San José in the U.S., a number of keynote speakers, in particular several U.S. flag officers,  strongly emphasized robustness, interoperability, and ease-of-use in command and control systems.  The warfighter’s actual needs should always override what technology can accomplish, but which may not be requested.

These developments exactly mirror recent events in Sweden, where there is now a major emphasis on fielding systems in support of Swedish Forces in ISAF. Much of this will be accomplished by acquisition of existing, standardized systems from the NATO NC3A Agency, rather than through indigenous Swedish development programs.

The above doesn’t preclude some novel thinking, however. The buzzword at MILCOM 2010 was something called cognitive radios, communications systems which sense spectrum contents and adaptively position themselves in unused parts of the spectrum, or, alternatively, run at such low power that they are perceived as noise by other users, collocated in the same frequency range. All kinds of certification issues can be foreseen, however, before such systems materialize into real products.