Get Connected 2019

Multi-Domain Operations C2 Demonstrator | Maj. Marcel Scherrenburg (NLD AF), NATO C2COE



As a reservist and an engineer, Major Marcel Scherrenburg bridges the gap between the military and the industrial world. He holds a master’s degree in business administration and bachelor degrees in both mechanical engineering/industrial automation and industrial product development. His areas of expertise are technology and product development, innovation, applied technology and knowledge management. He has over 20 years of experience in multiple engineering and senior management positions within the high-tech manufacturing and product development industry. Within the Royal Netherlands Air Force Reserve he served as a platoon commander and as a training and education officer. He was a liaison staff officer for the Dutch defence industry and contributed to the capabilities-related considerations in the 2018 NLD Defence Industry Strategy. Major Scherrenburg joined the NATO C2COE in 2018 and contributed to the study “The Future of the Command Post – Part One”.




Why the NATO C2COE started the MDOC2 Demonstrator


A Command Post (CP) functions as the location where decisions are made and is the location of the commander and staff. CPs are designed in such a way that the information flow enables the commander to express intent and make decisions.


The theatre of operations is becoming more Colatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA). Because of this VUCA world, the environment in which the decision-making process (DMP) is conducted is becoming more and more complex. As the amount of both friendly and adversary information increases, the speed of communications, the richness of data, the capability options, and the diversity of actors will grow at an equal rate. The response up until now has been to enlarge the CP and increase the number of experts to understand this complexity.


In 2018, the NATO Command and Control Centre of Excellence (NATO C2COE) conducted a study into the future of the command post. The findings were presented during the previous NATO C2COE seminar in Berlin.


Based as they are on static and centralized facilities, current Joint Force Command Headquarters (JFC HQ) have a large footprint. Today’s CP represents a high-value target for adversaries. The JFC HQ must therefore evolve into a distributed and dispersed structure. Additionally, Command and Control (C2) processes need to focus on information superiority and data-driven decisions and the future commander must rely on a toolbox for Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) in a hybrid landscape. The third element is the human factor, which remains crucial within the DMP. However, the DMP can be enhanced by automated systems, although trust is essential for AI-human teaming. The execution of the DMP and the final decision remains the commander’s prerogative.


Innovative technology and market-driven developments have provided tools to improve the C2 capabilities of a future HQ. Some of the emerging technology enablers are:

  • Autonomous sensors with smart data interpretation,
  • Man-machine teaming,
  • Military Internet-of-Things and sensors,
  • Big Data for processing data,
  • Military data clouds.


Despite the exponential growth of technological capabilities in commercial applications, military decision-making processes in joint HQs are not supported by state-of-the-art technology. In addition, there is no dedicated integrated C2 tool for the execution and transition phase of an operation at the operational level within NATO. Therefore, some parts of the decision-making process are done with outdated and labour-intensive tools such as PowerPoint, leading to inefficiency in C2 processes.


Because of the rapidly changing conditions in future conflicts and technological innovations, a paradigm shift in the way we operate and organize today’s CP is inevitable. Even if processes are effective in creating situational understanding, the objective should be to execute the process in less time and with fewer people involved. Time efficiency and quality for multi-domain-operation synchronization and deconfliction in a hybrid landscape need to be improved.



How we will realize the MDOC2 Demonstrator


The NATO C2COE catalyses C2 by capturing, creating, assessing and distributing C2 knowledge within a multi-domain environment. To provide food for thought, the NATO C2COE has launched an ambitious plan to create situational awareness of the limitations in our current processes and to create a sense of urgency on the part of the leadership and operators within NATO to step into the future.


To achieve this goal, the NATO C2COE will develop a Multi-Domain Operations Command and Control Demonstrator (MDOC2 Demo). The aim is to have an initial version available in the fourth quarter of 2020. This MDOC2 Demo should be suitable for a roadshow by means of a minimum viable product to demonstrate the essential features and potential solutions to future problems.


This platform will not be an end state, but should be used as a guideline and demonstrator of future modular-designed systems and applications. To provide such a platform, the MDOC2 Demo will be a concept development and evaluation environment to test and design coherent technology-augmented systems within the CP. This will enable further development and research regarding the distributed and dispersed headquarters concept.


Since time is valuable for our senior leadership, we are planning to have a 90-minute interactive experience. In this period, the commander will receive information and is requested to act accordingly, with support of the available technology and support systems.


The interactive experience will most likely consist of imitating the moments of the battle rhythm in a comprehensive commander environment when the commander is involved in the process (SAB, JCB and possibly JTCB). This will be an interaction between the commander and the MDOC2 platform. In between active moments, After-Action Reviews (AARs) will be conducted in which the fundamentals of the technology used, the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) and the impact on future HQs will be explained.


The MDOC2 Demo should be able to continuously sense the degree of achievement of the effects and decisive conditions, and to develop courses of action accordingly. The platform should also be able to identify deviations from the mid and long-term plan in time and provide suggestions to act appropriately and decisively.



What we will do within the MDOC2 Demonstrator project


Given the ambitious time line, the complexity of a full battle rhythm and the time-consuming process of product development, we will focus on demonstrating some crucial elements to the NATO leadership. The focus regarding the MDOC2 Demo will therefore be on potential ideas and the impact on future CPs rather than on system specifications. The MDOC2 Demo will show the potential of currently available technology and raise awareness, without waiting for the perfect plan.


As indicated in the “Future of the Command Post” study, future HQs will provide the same joint functions that are in place today but might differ from current HQs in the way they are designed and organized. In 2018 NATO Allied Command Transdormation (ACT) provided the C2 Capstone Concept (Figure 1), which is very suitable for defining functions within the future CP.

The collecting elements (Sensing and Processing) could be regarded as the input for the decision-making processes and are composed of a myriad of sensing elements to create raw data. This data needs to be processed to provide the essential information for the decision-making process.
The central process is decision making (Sensemaking and Deciding). This DMP should take place in a distributed and dispersed network of multiple nodes. This will provide the commander and his staff with a multi-domain operations toolbox to operate in a hybrid landscape during different stages in his campaign.


The effecting elements (Acting and Assessing) could be seen as the output of the DMP and is used to create effects in the hybrid landscape.


Figure 2 provides an impression of the cohesion between the different elements.


It is not our intention to compete with existing products. On the contrary, we want to encourage suppliers to share their solutions so that they can contribute to the best fit-for-purpose overall enhanced C2 tool at the operational level. The project will be based on an open platform approach and needs to be modular, node-based and interoperable by design. This open platform innovation will prevent additional stovepipes, secrecy and a silo mentality, which is typical for products designed in traditional Defence research labs.


The execution of the project is agile and in line with the insights developed during the development of the MDOC2 Demo. For the different work packages, end states are described instead of system requirements. The delivered product will be a minimum viable product and will most likely be a system of systems. Based on a robust concept, this is not only a system of software solutions. It is also a set of modular-built hardware technologies and process definitions.


Innovations in both technology and doctrine have the potential to enhance the commander’s capacity and efficiency in a C2 process. Hence, the aim of the MDOC2 Demo is to use applied knowledge and state-of-the-art technology within the context of a future command post. Essential elements like decentralized or distributed and dispersed staff locations, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and innovative human-machine interfaces will be implemented.


This NATO C2COE MDOC2 Demo is bridging the gap in C2 between technology and operators, the tactical and operational level and academics and applied knowledge. A roadshow after the summer of 2020 will demonstrate the potential of this current application in a future distributed and dispersed HQ. This demonstrator will enhance military C2 efficiency and the decision-making process. This will raise operators’ awareness of the possibilities provided by state-of-the-art technologies for supporting military decision making, and will help them and the procurement officials in defining what to ask for.


Key take-away

The NATO C2COE will design and develop a minimum viable platform (demonstrator) that can mimic one or more elements of the current decision-making process at an operational/a high tactical level command post (CP).


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