Joint Battle Command—Platform: A next-generation solution for tactical command and control

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The changing character of modern conflict requires nation-states to invest in critical technologies in order to compete effectively against near peers and adversaries‭.  ‬According to General John Hyten‭, ‬Vice Chairman of the U.S‭. ‬Joint Chiefs of Staff‭,  ‬future conflict will require forces to‭ ‬“integrate and effectively command and control all domains in a conflict or in a crisis seamlessly‭ ‬—‭ ‬and we don’t know how to do that‮…‬Nobody‮ ‬knows how to do that‭.‬”‭  ‬An evolving view of the next-generation command and control‭, ‬named Combined Joint All Domain Command and Control‭ (‬CJADC2‭), ‬proposes that the outcomes of future conflicts will be determined by the ability to accelerate decision-action cycles so as to overwhelm an adversary’s ability to react to competing dilemmas‭.  ‬While immensely complex‭, ‬many are already investing heavily to achieve these capabilities‭.  ‬The path to success‭, ‬however‭, ‬begins with increasing the effectiveness of command and control‭ (‬C2‭) ‬systems at the tactical level‭, ‬particularly for ground forces‭.  ‬

At the tactical layer‭, ‬information must be secure‭, ‬reliable‭, ‬and readily available‭, ‬enabling units to share critical data concerning all aspects of the area of operations‭.  ‬Information about the terrain‭, ‬operational plans and graphics‭, ‬and detailed unit locations must be complemented with an understanding of the human terrain‭, ‬intelligence activities‭, ‬weather patterns‭, ‬communications networks‭, ‬and logistics‭.  ‬Additionally‭, ‬the information must be available in equal measure within command posts‭, ‬on mounted and aviation assets‭, ‬and to dismounted forces‭.  ‬For the U.S‭. ‬Department of Defense‭, ‬this suite of capabilities is nested within the Joint Battle Command-Platform‭ (‬JBC-P‭).  ‬

Next Generation Capability Available and Accessible

Since its initial conceptual introduction to replace the clumsily named Force XXI Battle Command for Brigade and Below‭ (‬FBCB2‭) ‬program in 2008‭, ‬through its ongoing fielding within the U.S‭. ‬Department of Defense‭, ‬JBC-P has consistently improved its performance‭.  ‬Early concept development and experimentation identified key technology gaps‭. ‬To overcome these shortfalls‭, ‬improvements to the system design were iteratively implemented to meet effectiveness‭, ‬suitability‭, ‬and survivability standards‭.  ‬This effort culminated with the first U.S‭. ‬Army unit fielding JBC-P in 2015‭.  ‬This effort also provided a‭ ‬“next-generation friendly force tracking system‭” ‬to serve as a baseline for enhanced tactical decision making‭.   ‬

Continual revisions have yielded improvements in cyber protection‭, ‬data accuracy‭, ‬and establishing an open architecture framework to more readily encompass future capabilities‭.  ‬Upgrades in cyber protection enabled the DoD to establish a cyber posture that‭ ‬is equally effective in counterterror and large-scale combat operations‭, ‬providing a broader range of options to senior leaders‭.  ‬This improved protective posture is a principal driver behind the U.S‭. ‬Army’s acceleration of the JBC-P fielding timeline‭, ‬intending to deploy the platform across its entirety by 2024‭, ‬two years ahead of‭ ‬its initial schedule‭.  ‬Increases in accuracy are achieved through broader sensor integration and a faster satellite network‭. ‬Accordingly‭, ‬users can access greater detail while simultaneously lowering the length of time needed to refresh system information‭,‬‭ ‬both of which lower the risk of fratricide‭.  ‬Most recently‭, ‬JBC-P was configured to leverage a modular open systems architecture‭.  ‬As new C2‭ ‬capabilities are developed‭, ‬they can be incorporated and subsequently utilized by JBC-P through a standardized multi-card reader‭.  ‬The new‭ ‬“box”‭ ‬converges‭ ‬“mission command‭, ‬movement and maneuver‭, ‬and fires into one system versus the current method of integrating a multitude of separate capability‭ ‘‬boxes‭.'” ‬Taken holistically‭, ‬these latest improvements enable JBC-P to serve as a start point for a future CJADC2‭ ‬framework‭.‬

In addition to its versatility‭, ‬another advantage of JBC-P is its relative ease of implementation‭.  ‬New innovative capabilities‭ ‬do not generate increases in effectiveness by their delivery to a unit‭.  ‬New capabilities must be fully integrated through doctrine‭, ‬training‭, ‬and leadership development activities to reduce the organizational cost‭ (‬time and labor‭) ‬needed to establish proficiency‭.  ‬If the new capability requires the user to learn all new skill sets‭, ‬then the organizational cost is higher‭, ‬and therefore implementation is harder‭.‬

JBC-P‭, ‬however‭, ‬lowers the threshold for effective implementation by having a relatively short initial training requirement‭.  ‬This is accomplished by utilizing well-understood user interface modes such as an interactive touch screen display with free draw‭ ‬features and common chat functions‭.  ‬Together‭, ‬these features intuitively increase user comfort and simplify collaborative planning over distance as well as the dissemination of orders‭, ‬graphics‭, ‬and sketches‭.  ‬Within the U.S‭. ‬Army‭, ‬JBC-P is also serving as the standard solution across command posts‭, ‬mounted vehicles‭, ‬and dismounted formations‭.  ‬This‭, ‬combined with becoming the standard baseline system across the U.S‭. ‬Army’s total force‭ (‬active‭, ‬reserve‭, ‬and national guard‭), ‬enables training and education efforts to leverage an economy of scale‭.  ‬If‭ ‬a soldier assigned to one unit is reassigned elsewhere‭, ‬his training will still be as applicable in the new location as it was‭ ‬in the previous‭.  ‬Among dismounted formations‭, ‬implementing JBC-P enjoys another advantage‭.  ‬The system can run on both Android‭ ‬and iPhones with precedents for both already established within the U.S‭. ‬Army‭, ‬Marine Corps‭, ‬and Special Operations Command‭. ‬With users already well familiarized with operating the hardware‭, ‬implementing the new applications becomes easier to accomplish‭.‬

A third advantage provided by JBC-P is its support for a broad palette of battlefield actions making it extremely practical‭.  ‬The platform allows for the integration of planning and operational activities to include route planning‭, ‬adjacent unit coordination‭, ‬and deconfliction of fires‭.  ‬Additionally‭, ‬it incorporates combat messaging‭, ‬both point to point and group broadcasting‭.  ‬Logistics actions are also incorporated‭; ‬most notable among those are standardized medical evacuation requests‭.  ‬Furthermore‭, ‬the‭ ‬system incorporates intelligence-gathering activities by integrating the Tactical Ground Reporting System‭ (‬TGRS‭).  ‬Developed by‭ ‬the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency‭ (‬DARPA‭), ‬TGRS is a cloud-based‭, ‬small unit comprehensive human terrain mapping tool that enables the collection‭, ‬sharing‭, ‬and analysis of data related to the operational environment‭.  ‬Data collection can include key areas‭, ‬structures‭, ‬capabilities‭, ‬organizations‭, ‬people‭, ‬and events‭, ‬adding depth to the collective situational awareness‭. ‬

Importantly‭, ‬it is unclear whether JBC-P was initially designed to meet the needs of an interoperable combined tactical force‭.  ‬While the system is versatile‭, ‬intuitive‭, ‬practical and available to allies and partners‭, ‬there are enhancements that could improve its accessibility and thereby further entice its broader adoption‭.  ‬One potential improvement is the addition of a language‭ ‬and symbols library to facilitate integration into military formations where English is not commonly understood within the ranks‭.  ‬To complement a language expansion pack‭, ‬another valuable feature would include real-time translation filters to mitigate the‭ ‬potential shortage of suitable linguists within tactical command posts‭.  ‬

Another improvement would be the accelerated introduction of a shared data environment where the interchange of operational data‭ ‬between allies and partners is possible without the imposition of firewalls and gateways‭.  ‬One example of a shared data environment is the Mission Partner Environment‭ (‬MPE‭).  ‬The MPE is a product of lessons learned during coalition operations in Iraq and‭ ‬Afghanistan and is based on the premise that coalition activities could move‭ ‬“off of national secret networks to a tailored mission network in which all coalition members share and operate as equals‭.‬”‭  ‬While requiring a culture shift among partners and allies‭, ‬a shared environment would have clear advantages for JBC-P users‭.  ‬It would enable increased holistic understanding across an entire area of operations instead of being limited to the understanding generated from the experiences of each partner’s isolated operations‭.  ‬The absence of a coalition network does not cancel out‭ ‬the advantages available to a ground force through JBC-P‭, ‬but its potential is unlikely to be fully realized without it‭.‬

Conclusion

While creating the conditions for achieving seamless all domain operations is still many years away‭, ‬tactical integration is possible now and can serve as a building block towards the future‭.  ‬JBC-P provides one piece of the tactical puzzle‭. ‬The system offers several advantages while also supporting iterative expansion as new capabilities are developed‭.  ‬Although more work is necessary to achieve fully interoperable tactical operations‭, ‬JBC-P is a much-needed step towards creating next-generation command and control‭.‬

‮»‬‭ ‬By:Rafael Lopez‭  (‬Senior Military Fellow‭, ‬Institute for National Security Studies‭, ‬National Defense University‭)‬

 

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