Advancing the State of the Art In Command And Control

May 2001
By Alfred G. Brandstein, Henrik Friman and Gary E. Horne

Nations join forces to study decision environment and design next-generation planning centers.

The Swedish armed forces and the U.S. Marine Corps are collaborating to develop a design for the possible command post of the future. The goal is to bridge the gap between operational knowledge and technological solutions.         

At the direction of the commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Virginia, a handful of scientists and Marines embarked on Project Albert, which coincided with the start of the Swedish armed forces project ROLF 2010, described in SIGNAL, February, page 63. ROLF is a Swedish acronym for mobile joint command and control function. Although the two efforts differ vastly in focus, location and methodology, in combination they could become a canonical example of nonlinearity or at least exhibit the archetypal hallmark of nonlinearity.

The collaboration between the Albert and ROLF projects is still underway and continues to be only a developing idea. However, this cooperative effort has matured to the point of earning an official designation—Röde Orm—the name of the Viking example of maneuver warfare.

The foundation for organized social activities such as war and crisis management is the human’s ability to reason. If people cannot understand what is happening around them, they will act randomly, which has great implications for their capacity to coordinate activities toward certain goals. The question is how to create knowledge about and understanding of the unknown.

Although the future cannot be predicted, researchers foresee the development of high probability scenarios that can be used to make more logical decisions that give a competitive advantage against an opposing force. Their findings suggest that to support the process of human reasoning more emphasis should be placed on the environment of the commander and his team, including the design of a command post where appropriate decision-support instruments are available.

Traditional analytic techniques do not take into account the nonlinear and asymmetric nature of warfare. The Marine Corps developed operational synthesis to explore questions using a combination of new and existing methods of simulation and decision support. This research is proceeding under the umbrella of Project Albert, which has the ultimate goal of developing better maneuver warriors. While working toward this end, the research team is developing new tools to capture emergent behavior in synthetic environments.

For example, data farming is being used to examine these behaviors. Recent technical advances make this meta-technique possible; in particular, complex adaptive systems models promise to capture the aspects of adaptability, nonlinear interactions, feedback and self-organization. Computing power enables the generation of the large volume of data needed to adequately represent vast possibilities and supports the ability to organize, synthesize and visualize scientific information. Data farming efforts have focused on computer models known as distillations that ideally feature four characteristics: transparency, speed, ease of configurability, and a low training requirement.

Project Albert seeks to explicitly represent and address nonlinearity, intangibles, and cooperative and competitive coevolution. Over time and within operational synthesis the goal is to apply data farming to maneuver warfare questions. The project includes sub-projects to develop and apply a series of new models, multidisciplinary teams, and scientific method to explore and seek robust answers to questions relevant to the Marine Corps organization, equipment, tactics and doctrine.

For instance, project participants are looking for insight into when decentralized command and control is desired or preferred, when firepower should be used in a given tactical situation and what role trust and other so-called intangibles play on the battlefield. Project Albert explores these types of questions from the perspective of the whole rather than the component parts.

The researchers propose to use operational synthesis to integrate input from across the spectrum of existing methods of simulation and decision support. All available tools will be used to explore and gain insight into a question of interest, including distillations, deterministic models, higher-fidelity simulations and wargames/exercises. These four tools run the gamut on many spectrums: human-in-the-loop/automated, stochastic/deterministic and high-fidelity/low-fidelity, among others. Each one of these tools has its own set of benefits and drawbacks.

Distillations are simple and easy to use and run many times. They are transparent and can capture nonlinearities, binary events, sensitivity to initial conditions and coevolution. However, they are often too simple to be used to represent reasonable emergent behavior. Also, space, an enormous parameter, presents a significant problem with sampling and visualization.

Deterministic models such as equations are concise and accurate and apply to many aspects of the military domain, such as the physics of trajectories. However, they are often applied to parts of the domain without much reason or validation beyond appealing to an analyst’s background. Also, closed form solutions are rare, and the use of equations is essentially an attempt to impose the mathematical constraints of a function on a particular situation when only a relation exists.

Higher-fidelity simulations are useful because they produce an accurate sample. For example, when weather and time of day affect a battle, the outcome would be explicitly represented. Also, experimental data from real operations and exercises may contribute to the correct setting of parameter values. However, these simulations cannot reproduce all possible outcomes because they are bogged down with too much detail for an individual case.

Finally, wargames and exercises provide a common tableau for discussion and enhance mutual understanding of possible occurrences. However, at times they are dominated by personalities and often result in the use of an unrealistic scenario and exploration of limited options; therefore, they do not produce repeatable results, which is a constraint from an analytic standpoint.

The goal of operational synthesis is to use the strengths of individual tools and merge them in a way that combines the wealth of information and knowledge that is gained by utilizing each of them individually. Currently, a methodology is being developed for interfacing distillations and higher-fidelity simulations. A new command and control environment that makes use of the tools as well as other aspects of decision support is planned as part of Röde Orm.

Researchers studying the concept of operational synthesis are attempting to integrate information from multiple tools to answer questions involving the phenomena of nonlinearities, intangibles or coevolving landscapes. Data farming is the mechanism by which operational synthesis is being implemented within Project Albert.

Data farming was first developed and used at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in late 1997. It puts technology advances to work to engage the scientific method. The technique provides an opportunity to explore questions and grow more data in the areas of interest. This growth within a particular definition of a particular distillation might be in the form of more runs or a different preparation of the sample space to include different parameters, finer gradations of parameter values or greater ranges. After the execution of samples and analysis using data visualization and search methods, the data farmer is free to grow more data in interesting areas, integrate with information from other tools, prepare a different scenario using the same distillation, select another distillation or employ any combination of these possibilities that might lead to progress.

Operational synthesis in general and data farming in particular involve processes of merging information from multiple sources to better inform the decision makers. In Röde Orm, the focus of these processes is a multidimensional display such as one used in the laboratory environment known as the Aquarium, or AQUA. In this Swedish testbed for new command and control processes, participants interact with the tools available to the analyst, namely simulations, historical data, equations, distillations and sensors where appropriate. The resulting convergence, which visualization techniques enable, provides a mechanism for the decision maker to extract the needed information. Avatars, or virtual experts, could help the decision makers by responding to questions with possible outcomes and ramifications of different courses of action based on distillation runs covering a large realm of possibility.

Röde Orm seeks to advance significantly the state of the art in command and control. It focuses on human decision-making processes rather than techno-centric decision environments. As such, its objectives are to discern, investigate and leverage key attributes of the decision-making milieu, including nonlinearities of warfare, the influence of initial conditions and dynamics inherent in conflict. It also seeks to examine intrinsic human characteristics of warfare, which are previously unquantified attributes of fighting forces. The program is exploring coevolving landscapes, the codependent adaptation of forces within the crisis-space and crisis learning processes, adapting behavior to leverage one’s own strengths and exploit an adversary’s weaknesses to optimize mission accomplishment.

Another of the joint project’s study areas is crisis-space uncertainty and complexity. The goal is to learn how to effectively manage and exploit the fog and friction of conflict and crisis while capitalizing on multidimensional reasoning, the human affinity for spatial environments, symbolic representations, common understanding of the crisis-space and behavioral connotations in command-team decision making. Finally, Röde Orm is examining time criticality, the pre-eminence of the temporal domain in crises and an awareness of the time-uncertainty trade-space.

In support of Röde Orm objectives, the plan is to mutually extend and collaboratively integrate current areas of research to generate a prototype command and control laboratory. Prototype development will be achieved through a process of evolutionary enhancement. The U.S. partner will apply its expertise in data farming and new methods of modeling and simulation. This will be extended to encompass multiresolution/variable granularity command behaviors, planning, course of action analysis, and crisis-space characterization and response, all augmented by high-performance computing. Sweden will apply its expertise in innovative command and control environments. This will be extended to encompass the development of interactive, multimodal, aspect-dependent and human-centric perception tools for command and control settings.

The two partners will investigate and develop user interfaces that integrate Project Albert and ROLF 2010 efforts. The culmination of Röde Orm will be a working laboratory to enable accelerated command and control innovation by both the U.S. and Swedish militaries.


Dr. Alfred G. Brandstein is the scientific adviser/senior analyst for the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Quantico, Virginia. Dr. Henrik Friman is research and project manager at the Swedish National Defense College, Department of Operational Studies, Stockholm, Sweden. Dr. Gary E. Horne is the Quantico principal scientist with The MITRE Corporation and the executive director of Project Albert working on-site at the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Development Command.