Without question, the war in Ukraine is full of lessons for observers and analysts willing to learn. Many of the takeaways focus on the impacts on warfare of new or advanced technologies and systems. These include the effects of long-range precision strike systems, the growing role of unmanned systems, the importance of air and missile defenses, and the need for highly sophisticated electronic warfare capabilities.
Other analyses concentrate on operational issues, such as the future of heavy armored forces, difficulties in establishing air superiority, the value of strategic bombardment, the problem of contested logistics, and whether the defense now has the advantage over the offense in land warfare.
A relatively low number of studies and commentaries have focused on strategic issues such as the challenge of maintaining a robust defense-industrial base to support the intense combat associated with high-end conventional conflict. In some instances, there is already enough data available to formulate conclusions. In other cases, it may be years before there is a definitive answer.
A Model in Urgent Need of Update
One lesson for which sufficient data already exists is the vulnerability of traditional command posts (CPs). A recent article in Military Review, the journal of the U.S. Army, provides a compelling picture of how old-style command posts have been decimated:
“Over the span of eight months, the Ukrainian fires strike complex successfully attacked the headquarters of Russia’s 8th Combined Arms Army, the 49th Combined Arms Army, the 22nd Army Corps, the 76th Guards Air Assault Division, the 247th Guards Air Assault Regiment, and their subordinate elements over twenty-two separate times. These attacks significantly degraded the Russians’ ability to plan and conduct coordinated operations on the western side of the Dnieper River. The loss of effective command and control sapped Russian momentum and prevented consolidation of gains, which ultimately led to their expulsion.”
Ukrainian forces have demonstrated an ability to use Western long-range precision fires systems to strike Russian CPs rapidly and effectively. They have also been quite successful in using electronic support measures and classic eavesdropping techniques to target high-ranking Russian officers. Ongoing efforts by armies around the world to shorten sensor-to-shooter timelines will almost certainly sound the death knell for the old ways of organizing and operating CPs.
This is a particularly serious problem for the U.S. Army. For decades, the Army’s CPs were built around tents and environmental shelters that take hours to set up and tear down. Over time CPs got larger, heavier, less mobile, and harder to conceal. As a result, they are more vulnerable. The Army’s emerging doctrine of multi-domain warfare places greater demands on division and corps headquarters to simultaneously manage operations across the land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace domains. To accomplish all their tasks, command posts are adding personnel and vehicles, deploying more electronic systems, using more power, and putting out more emissions. The result is greater effectiveness, but also reduced survivability.
The heightened vulnerability of traditional CPs operating a collection of hard-to-move assets is not a new problem for the U.S. Army, which has been working for nearly a decade to address the issue. But the war in Ukraine has shown it is urgent that modern armies invest in a new CP architecture. Future CPs must be smaller, more mobile, and more capable of operating in dispersed mode — and preferably on the move as well. The CPs of the future also must employ advanced signature modifications, emissions controls, and state-of-the-art cybersecurity.
Solving Complex Command Post Problems
Fortunately, the Army has programs to solve, or at least mitigate, the problem of command post vulnerability. The most important of these is the Command Post Integrated Infrastructure (CPI2) program. CPI2 aims to provide a new architecture for CPs, one that reduces their size, simplifies their operations, reduces their signatures, improves their connectivity, and enhances their mobility. It requires the development of new vehicles, workstations, antennas, power systems, communications systems, tents, environmental control units, and decision aides. The capabilities developed under CPI2 will be applied to CPs from corps down to battalion combat teams. The goal of the program is to field a command post that can operate effectively while its elements are dispersed for survivability. They should be able to move and set up again in no more than thirty minutes.
CPI2 is being pursued in two increments. Increment 0, for which Elbit America is the prime contractor, is focused on getting basic capabilities — from vehicles to shelters, networks, workstations, and power systems — in the hands of warfighters. The plan is to provide Increment 0 capabilities to five brigade combat teams. A major challenge is ensuring that all the dispersed nodes in the new CP can communicate with one another.
Based on feedback from soldiers, the Army will contract for CPI2 Increment 1, with a goal of initiating development of a fully functional and scalable CP in Fiscal Year 2025. Increment 1 will make the CP truly mobile by adding additional military vehicles, including a unique Command Post Support Vehicle; developing an Integrated Support System that will allow commanders and staffs to share a common operating picture; designing popup shelters with prewired workstations; creating a range of shelters; and providing smart power control systems.
A complementary program to CPI2 is the Command Post Computing Environment. This is a hardware and software suite that will provide users with a common operating picture, decision tools, and support for a wide range of apps intended to simplify warfighting functions.
One additional capability that will be critical to the creation of a new command post architecture is cloud computing at the edge. Companies such as Amazon Web Services have demonstrated how commercial cloud technologies can be adapted to the needs of mobile, dispersed operations. They provide the capability to store large amounts of data on relatively small, easily portable servers.
Victory in a future high-end conventional conflict will likely go to the side that can survive and operate on a lethal, fast-moving battlefield. The CPI2 program could well give the U.S. Army a critical advantage in such a conflict.