The preceding material focuses largely on history and fact: how military establishments have established and applied command arrangements. However, an important body of material has also been built up on the theory of command and control. That body of knowledge is particularly important in conceptualizing how command arrangements might be designed and the range of situations (or operating environments) in which different approaches might prove wise.
Few serious analyses of alternative approaches to command arrangements have been conducted, partly because C2 community research has been preoccupied with communications and computer systems, and partly because command has generally been understood as an art, often driven strongly by the personalities and styles of individual military leaders. The major exception to this neglect has been a long-running discussion concerning the degree of centralization in command arrangements. Historically, command arrangements have gone from more centralized to more decentralized approaches, in large measure because of complexity of the war-fighting environment and the limits on the technologies available for gathering information and distributing directives.
Figure 14 illustrates the evolution of approaches to command arrangements. The vertical axis ranges from the simple battlefields of classical armies, which were commanded by individuals who took into consideration only the immediate terrain, weather, and forces; to the combat of modern warfare in which relevant actors are spread over vast distances, from space to undersea and underground locations. The horizontal axis represents the degree of centralization inherent in the dominant command arrangements.
As the complexity of the environment to be controlled and the technologies available to commanders have evolved, command arrangements have also evolved. Heroic, individual leaders who could dominate a battlefield were the state-of-the-art until forces became so large and the environment so complex that organized staffs were required to coordinate forces out of physical contact with one another. Napoleon is generally credited with developing staff planning and logistics systems that permitted massive armies to operate effectively. The Prussians took these ideas further and produced staff planning and communications systems that enabled centralized control over widely dispersed forces, taking advantage of the technologies of industrial society. These more or less centralized staff systems proved to be transitional, as forces became so large and operating environments so complex as to defy centralized control with the available technologies.
The Germans are normally acknowledged as having recognized that the time needed to collect information from the fighting front, move it to the center, make a new "optimum" decision, plan and coordinate a new course of action, transmit the plan to the forces, and have them implement the new plan was too long to enable them to react to battlefield developments in time to take advantage of opportunities as they arose. In the 20th century, they developed more decentralized approaches that exploited the speed and firepower of modern forces by permitting, even requiring, initiative at lower levels. The classic analyses of these developments are Van Creveld (1985) and Keegan (1987).This process culminated in blitzkrieg, which permitted the Germans to fight and win a number of local battles that their opponents at the beginning of World War II (the French and Russians in particular)were barely aware of before they were over. This decentralized model was essential because the Germans lacked the technology for greater control from the center. Some authors (e.g. Leonhard, 1994) argue today that modern warfare should be based on this "mission tactics"approach, but note that it is not clear that senior US commanders are culturally and psycho-logically capable of relinquishing central command.
However, since WWII, the technologies for collecting and communicating information have grown faster than the complexity of what must be controlled. As Figure 14 shows, the most modern military establishment in the world, that of the US, is in the process of using those technologies to recentralize the battle. In Desert Storm the US-led coalition was able to establish a major advantage over the Iraqis in information about the battlefield. The Iraqi forces largely fought blind, and their commanders found themselves committing their forces piecemeal. Many are now arguing (e.g. Alberts, 1994) that emerging technologies will enable the US to move toward true "information warfare,"in which fully centralized, optimal decision making becomes possible because of "total battlefield awareness" and "information dominance."
More than a decade ago the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA, at the time called the Defense Communications Agency) sponsored broad research on a variety of historical systems approaches to command arrangements (Hayes et. al, 1983a and Hayes et.al, 1983b), including that of the United States (in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and various crises),UK (in WWII and the modern period), the USSR (in WWII and the modern period), Israel (in 1956, 1967, 1973), China (in the modern period),NATO, and others perceived to have effective military establishments. Lessons learned and changes made by outstanding commanders such as Eisenhower, Nimitz, and Bradley, as well as within significant commands(such as the 12th Air Force and the British Fighter Command during World War II), were also examined.
One product of that historical and comparative research was the identification of three major types of C2 approaches, each with at least two important subtypes. All six approaches have been successful, but each is more appropriate for some types of warfare than others. Figure 15 shows these subtypes and the relative headquarters capacity (information processing and military art capability) required to apply them successfully. The key distinction is the level of centralization required, ranging from the heavily distributed "control-free" to the inherently centralized"cyclic" approaches. The three categories of directive specificity reflect the level of detail required in the directives issued by headquarters in each type of system, ranging from mission-specific through objective-specific to order-specific.
Control-free command centers (the most distributed approach) seek to assign missions to their subordinates, who are then expected to employ all the assets available to them to accomplish the missions. This requires a military organization where the lower echelons are competent and trusted implicitly by the higher echelons. The system designed by the Germans for World War II is the case that fits most clearly in this category. The success of Germany's blitzkrieg was due not only to the superior weapons and mobility of German forces, but also to the capacity of their officers and non-commissioned officers to operate independently, even under trying conditions. (The fact that Hitler and the Nazi Party often interfered with this system is one major reason that it did not work effectively all the time.)
The Israelis admired the philosophy of the German approach, but felt that it was perhaps too decentralized, particularly given their narrow margin for error in wars that threatened the extinction of their country. They have developed selective-control systems in which higher headquarters also issue mission-type orders and expect subordinates to take broad and deep initiatives. However, their higher headquarters follow the battle in detail and are prepared to intervene in the event of a major opportunity or major threat that the lower-level command does not perceive or cannot manage. This approach requires great discipline on the part of the senior commanders, who have tactical-level information and considerable skill as tactical commanders, but only intervene when operational or strategic level issues emerge. In essence, the Israelis prefer rapid reaction on the battlefield but seek to maintain the capability for central intervention.
Taken together, the control free and selective control systems comprise the more general class of mission-oriented command and control arrangements. Each level tends to assign missions to its subordinates and permit them to define further details of the military situation, beginning with selecting the objectives necessary to accomplish the missions. The presumption is that the commander on the scene has more current and accurate information than superior headquarters and has adequate resources to exploit local opportunities and protect the force while accomplishing the mission. Moreover, through a combination of doctrine, training, experience, and mission orders, the subordinate commander is presumed to understand the intent and overall concept of the operation of the superior commander so that local actions will not be inconsistent with the larger military mission or the actions of other commanders.
UK doctrine can best be understood as problem-bounding. That is, the higher headquarters tend to compose their directives in terms of the objectives to be accomplished, but to couch them in very general terms. Hence, directives are more specific than mere mission assignments and some explicit boundaries (deadlines for achieving some objectives, guidance on risks that might be accepted or avoided, etc.) are articulated. British plans for an operation tend to be less detailed than those of Americans, often by a factor of three to one, reflecting this lack of detail.
For their parts, the US Army and Navy have, since World War II, tended to issue problem-solving directives in which missions and objectives are articulated for two levels of subordinates and substantial guidance about how the objectives are to be achieved is also included. Although this approach provides more detailed direction than the UK philosophy, considerable room remains for lower-level initiative and creativity in accomplishing the objectives. At the same time, however, the high-technology assets which US forces tend to employ often mean that subordinates are heavily dependent on senior commanders for key assets such as lift, intelligence, supplies, or precision munitions.
Together the problem-bounding and problem-solving approaches comprise the objective-oriented approach to command arrangements. They assume some level of trust, creativity, and initiative in subordinate commands, but stress synchronization of assets and actions. As a result, they assume greater coordination and more continuous contact between superior and subordinate and among subordinate commands. This provides greater control. These systems were brought to fruition by the resource-rich in "attrition wars" where superior material and technology were applied to wear down adversaries with limited resources (such as Axis powers in World War II).
Ultimately someone in every military system issues orders to subordinates(directives that tell units and people what to do, where to do it, and when it is to be done). However, this is only done by headquarters above the tactical level in very centralized systems (or in cases where politically sensitive assets such as nuclear or chemical weapons are involved). These have historically been systems where the commanders at lower levels are considered quite weak and unable or unlikely to take the initiative or develop effective courses of action on their own.
The Cold War era Soviet system, for example, can best be described as interventionist, in that it relied heavily on central authority to issue directives, but also maintained very detailed information about the battle (requiring continuous and specific reports from subordinates two layers down) and attempted centralized control through detailed directives. The Soviets used exercises and training of front line units to ensure that they could execute a variety of quite standard maneuvers, from breakthrough assaults and river crossings for land forces to standardized attack patterns against US carrier battle-groups at sea. Senior headquarters specified the time and place for such preplanned operations and controlled them through the preplanning process.
The greatest degree of centralization occurs, however, when the senior headquarters issues orders to all subordinates, but does so on the basis of a preset cycle time. The Chinese Army and the Soviet World War II forces adopted this approach because their communications structures could not provide continuous information to the central headquarters and because their subordinate organizations were culturally unable to display initiative in the absence of detailed directives. The US Air Force has followed the same approach since World War II, but fora very different reason - the complexity of air operations has meant the information required, coordination needed, and relative scarcity of the assets involved tend to drive the decision making up the chain of command. The USAF has chosen to invest in communications systems so they can issue orders at the numbered Air Force level. The 24-hour air tasking order is cyclic, however, in part because the amount of processing needed to develop these intricate plans requires relatively long lead times.
The existence of these six distinct types of command and control systems in prominent military establishments helps to explain why coalition operations are plagued by "interoperability" problems at the cultural, organizational, and procedural (doctrinal) levels, to say nothing of the technical communications systems they use.
Major differences exist in the capacities required for the six types of command arrangements. Figure 16 illustrates those differences.
First, assuming that the quality of information provided is constant across all cases, the more centralized the decision making, the more information required at the higher headquarters, which means greater detail in each situation update transmitted. However, major differences exist in the frequency with which updates are required. Control-free systems, in which the central commander is not seeking to control the schedule of events closely, require infrequent updates. The two approaches that seek to issue objective-specific directives, problem-bounding and problem-solving, require moderately frequent updates. Cyclic command assumes periodic, paced updates, the lowest frequency. Interventionist and selective control systems, both seeking to assert themselves on an as-required basis, must have almost-continuous updates about the situation, making the capacity required very high.
The information-processing capacity required for these different approaches also varies widely. This represents the effort needed to receive the appropriate inputs, transform them into information the C2 system can act on, and conduct the necessary operations to support decision making. Because the volume of input and output to be processed is lowest for control-free systems, the processing capacity required is also low. This grows as the degree of centralization rises. However, cyclic approaches, because they have a low update rate, need less processing capacity than their interventionist counter-parts, which must be ready to act at any time. In general, greater capability to acquire, integrate, move, and process larger amounts of information rapidly makes more-centralized decision making possible.
Indeed, current discussion of the need for new C2 approaches in an era of "information warfare" explicitly considers situations where the best (most current, accurate, and complete) information may no longer be located at the subordinate command engaged in the field, but rather may be located at higher headquarters. This implies a change in the "best" approach to C2, although considerable choice exists in how information is distributed using state-of-the-art technologies. Whenever speed of decision making becomes crucial, creation of automated approaches to decision making becomes relevant.
The amount of internal information processing required is minimized in control-free systems and maximized in those systems seeking to issue orders from the top, particularly the interventionist model. The same pattern generally holds for the quantity of output generated and, therefore the coordination and explanation of what is wanted. Here, however, the interventionist approach (as practiced by the Cold War era Soviets) is able to take advantage of pre-real time learning by subordinates so it can, in essence, call plays like a football team and does not have to provide detailed instructions in every order. However, this approach limits the flexibility of the command system, making it difficult to make subtle adjustments in response to opportunities or threats on the battlefield.
Finally, the different command approaches require very different capacities among the subordinate commanders and their organizations. In general, the more centralized the command arrangements, the less required from subordinates. Competence here refers to the ability to plan, coordinate, and execute military functions. Similarly, the less-centralized systems require more creativity and initiative on the part of subordinate commands. In fact, classic cyclic systems(such as that of Stalinist Russia during World War II) are perceived to punish subordinate commands that undertake creative activities or move off the detailed orders they are given.
The degree of centralization adopted also influences the degree to which automation can be used to achieve the capacity required. Figure 17 shows these relationships. Mission-specific systems primarily assign highly creative roles to the higher headquarters, with selective-control systems both needing more overall capacity and having more potential for automation of those functions they perform. Objective-oriented systems (which require somewhat more capacity) can be more automated. In particular, the problem-solving system in which detailed guidelines and planning for logistics and other support are relatively simple to automate can be managed at the higher levels. Interventionist systems need the most capacity, but are also the easiest to automate because they rely more on prior training and are designed to generate prepackaged"good enough" or suboptimal solutions that can be implemented successfully. Cyclic headquarters are designed to do the same work as interventionist(issue orders) but perform each task less often, which reduces their need for overall capacity.
The variety of command arrangements adopted by successful military systems over time and space should make it clear that there is no single "correct" approach. Rather, there are alternative approaches that are better and worse in different circumstances. The environment in which the system operates (the physical, political, social, economic, military, and technological situation in which the military force is working) is one of the most important of these. The ability of more appropriate C2 arrangements to offset gross imbalances in military force is limited. However, the closer the balance among forces, the greater the potential for C2 differences to determine the outcome.
Figure 18 was developed to analyze war-fighting environments, but its basic logic also applies to peace operations. It illustrates what happens when different philosophies are adopted in different types of military environments. The controlling characteristic of the environment is the ratio of the pace of battle to the speed of the C2 system -in other words, the rate at which the situation changes and the speed with which the C2 system can sense those changes make a decision about whether and how to react to them, and initiate the desired action. In maneuver warfare, for example, the pace of battle and the relative slowness of the C2 system interact to create a large number of local battles fought with local resources and information. At the other end of the spectrum, in static warfare, such as World War I trench warfare, the C2 system is faster than the changes on the battlefield, which means there is no penalty for the time spent in centralized, optimized decision processes. Near the center, in attrition warfare, the ratio approaches 1:1.
In maneuver warfare systems, all other things being equal, decentralized C2 arrangements have the advantage. The decentralized German blitzkrieg, for example, allowed division and lower commanders to fight and win engagements and even battles that the French C2 system hardly knew were taking place. The centralized French system took too long to assemble the information, make decisions, and transmit directives. The Germans, with excellent officers at all levels, simply did not attempt centralized, optimized operations.
At the other end of the spectrum, in static-warfare systems, centralized systems have the advantage. The Eastern front of World War II provides a good illustration. After the Russians had retreated, stretching the German lines and attriting their ranks, the front stabilized. During this period Stalin operated a centralized, cyclic system, giving orders each day to all commands. Despite severe shortages of material, the Soviet forces were able to manage their static battle to frustrate, and ultimately defeat, the German forces.
In attrition warfare, where material and depth of force prevent exploitation of local victories, the type of objective-oriented systems favored by the US and UK proved to be superior. Neither local victories base on local information nor ponderous "optimum" choices prove adequate to overcome superior material properly employed. Objective-oriented approaches synchronize force elements well enough to defeat any adversary when the pace of battle and speed of C2 processes are nearly equal. They prevent major surprises and use contingency plans to prevent catastrophic defeats.
One challenge for peace operators comes from the fact that coalition operations are almost always heavily decentralized, which means they are not in a position to respond rapidly. As a consequence, the enemies of peace are often free to select the crucial time and place to strike. On one level, this is simply restating the principle that peace operations cannot realistically strive to take the offensive. More importantly, however, this implies that they must seek to achieve adaptive control- to foresee the set of possible futures and take steps to influence the course of events so that unacceptable futures are prevented and desirable ones encouraged. Thinking about alternatives available to the enemies of peace and finding ways to structure the situation so that their interests and actions coincide with those seeking peace become very important. This can be as simple as ensuring observation, documentation, and media attention when peace terms are likely to be violated, or as complex as creating incentives for cooperation between groups with very different world views.
Another consequence of the variety of levels of centralization found in military systems is the fact that coalition forces are unlikely to share common C2 or command arrangements approaches. When forces with fundamental differences in understanding of the degree of information they should report, the detail that should be contained in directives, and the degree to which subordinate organizations should take initiative are placed in one military organization; the potential for confusion is massive. Reporting, situation assessment, course of action analysis, decision making, coordination, crafting directives, and implementation all become massively complicated when people with different training, experience, habits, and expectations of command arrangements must work together. In itself, this variety of backgrounds slows the process as well as creates opportunities for errors.
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