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The following is adopted from Remarks to the Submarine Communications Conference held on JO June 1997 in San Diego.

A particular and peculiar relationship exists between Command and Communications. If fortune favors a military commander with favorable results, his reports will ascribe this success to superior skill and foresight. Should things not go well, however, the failure inevitably will be blamed on inadequate communications. Today, with the utility of submarines viewed in some quarters as less than it used to be, communications gets a similar rap.

Jointness and its partner, interoperability, contain a serious pitfall. As Colonel Ken Allard explains in his classical work, Command and Control for the Common Defense, each service, in fact each major branch within each service, establishes command and control processes to fit the missions, environments, and culture unique to the branch. The result is a mix of techniques, practices and technologies which answers the needs of that branch. Over time, these practices are refined, the technical means improved and the procedures ingrained so that the developments are incrementally improved with the lessons of experience and opportunities offered by new or improved technologies. As a result of this, there are a number of enduring models for successful command and control and for the communications practices and technical needs which support them.

Joint commanders arrive at their positions with small exposure to C3 models other than that in their own service and branch. Most officers are predisposed to believe that “If everyone just does it the [insert service and branch) way we wouldn’t have all these problems”. Evidence of this proclivity can be seen in the C3 processes of joint commands which always lean toward the processes of the commander’s service. Complicating this mindset is a general lack of appreciation for the technical requirements of the supporting communications-a result of organizational structures placing those issues in the hands of specialists. Submariners, famous for their reputation of understanding how things that affect their ship work, seem to have less understanding of and appreciation for their exterior communications than any other part of their business.

The Command and Control and Communications (C3) model for the Air Force has been the Battle of Britain. For the Army, it is Patton’s Dash Across France in 1944. The origin of the carrier-aviation-dominated Navy’s C3 model is the air defense of the fleet off Okinawa in 1944. The characteristics of all of these episodes continue to influence the services and through their senior commanders the C3 processes associated with joint forces. All are characterized by:

  • voice communications – and lots of it
  • forces tightly controlled and closely linked to the commander
  • reactionary control with the short anticipatory time span
  • cyclic command and control.

From these episodes derives the evening campfire, the end of the day meeting to plan tomorrow’s action enshrined by armies, and Colonel John Boyd’s famous “Observation, Orientation, Decision. Action,” the OODA Loop, the Air Force’s classic C2 model.

On the other hand, normal Submarine Command and Control and the associated communications operates on the World War II Pacific Campaign model. After some unfortunate false starts in Southeast Asia in World War II, the U.S. Pacific Fleet submarine forces operated on a set of principles very much different than these. This C3 system was marked by:

  • long-range planning
  • independent action
  • well-developed sense of operational methods
  • minimum communications-mostly one way

The German errors in the Atlantic Campaign with a highly centralized loquacious command and control system reinforced the experiences in the Pacific emphasizing the value of communications stealth. To operate in this manner, with only a patrol order and an 8 hour interval one-way communications, requires:

  • commanders accustomed to planning well ahead
  • well trained, highly-motivated subordinates
  • common culture or doctrine

This model is particularly noteworthy because it -is exactly what the present Naval Doctrine Publication 6, Command and Control, describes as desired in the future information rich environment.

The key to being able to accomplish this arrangement without much radio communications requirement is the possession of a common culture with a large base of shared knowledge and values. To illustrate, consider two bodies each with an infinitely large data base. No information exchange is required because each knows everything. In such a situation, who needs to talk?

As one moves away from this ideal, the bodies must exchange data in order to communicate. This exchange is related directly to the amount of difference in the knowledge which the sending body believes the receiving body knows and needs. If the commander believes his subordinates know what they need for the purpose at hand, few messages are needed. Where common knowledge is low, the information exchange between the bodies goes up in quantity and in urgency.

The transmission rate for such exchanges almost always is established by the commander, not by the subordinates. The commander’s knowledge and understanding set the pace. If the commander is ignorant of what the subordinate knows, is unsure of the mission or has made inadequate plans so that he must shoot from the hip, or lacks confidence that the subordinates will do the right thing, his only recourse is continuous oversight and direct intervention. That requires a large amount of data exchange at short intervals and a plethora of urgent orders.

However, no matter what the difference between services, commanders or staffs, this data exchange is not like a teenager’s phone call-it has bounds. Even where there is no common knowledge, the information needed is not infinite but rather is limited to the issues at hand. Careful definition of what needs to be sent, received, and how quickly data needs to be exchanged yields great efficiencies. Having a good understanding of this allows the data bases of the two bodies to be made as congruent as possible and the flow of information between the two bodies to be reduced dramatically.

The submarine patrol C3, developed in 1943 and improved upon continually since, is perfect fur its designed task . It relies on three pillars:

  • most information is understood at both ends without translation
  • most of the rest is passed one way
  • negative information is real information.

The resulting connectivity in this scheme is very real regardless of lack of electrical energy.

The submarine patrol C3 system’s 50 years of success demonstrates that connectivity does not equate to radio transmissions. Because value is measured as information not as megabits, communications include such things as procedures, doctrine, operation plans, pre-positioned packages. These need not be exotic or even written. A well recognized example is the agreed understanding within a family that “If I am not on the five o’clock train, I will be on the six o’clock.” The driver has every reason to believe that if the passenger does not get off the five o’clock, at least an hour will elapse before he or she will show up, thus freeing said driver to engage in other, probably commercial activities, in the interval. The passenger on the other hand, can expect to be met at the station rather than having to walk home even though not arriving at the expected time.

Other samples of non-enunciated communications abound in transmissions between wives and husbands. These transmissions often occur in silence and sometimes without one party even being present. Real time communications can occur without signal in even the most stressful situations: when the middle linebacker blitzes; the tight end cuts inside; and the quarterback throws short to the middle-all without any signal.

Samples of this type of communication in submarine operations which are well known:

  • COPY serial messages = “Just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he isn’t listening”;
  • always operate in assigned AREA = “How do I know he’s not there? Because he hasn’t told me he isn’t.”
  • TALK to the Commander only when ordered or if it is impossible to execute the orders given or understood.

Data flow between commanders and units in this kind of process is very much lower than others are used to doing, and needing, and having. Commanders reared in and used to structures which were more tightly controlled, where data was exchanged or passed with little regard to the value-added to the operation, and where confidence in subordinate activities is built on a continuous stream of reports rather than common culture or belief system, naturally lack confidence in this environment. To create this confidence requires time and training as well as doctrine and tactics.

Ten years ago, Admiral Larry Layman, then the Communicator of the Navy, argued that submarine communications were the best in the world. But that wonderful condition appears to have changed. What happened?

As consultants say, “The paradigm shifted”. Submarines now must engage in roles for which there has not been experience to guide the submariners nor to educate the task force commanders from other warfare specialties on the peculiar circumstances which limit submarines and the procedures developed to counteract these limitations. This is not entirely an educational problem however. The submarine now must play in circumstances where:

  • objectives are not clear
  • planning is sporadic
  • experience is low
  • cultural commonality is vague at best.

Complicating these circumstances are technical advances in information technology which allow short fuse planning and reactive command to be an expected, even usual, mode of operation. To many others who must operate in this environment, the transfer capacity (or in radio terms, bandwidth) is not a problem, information handling is the issue. But with intermittent connections and small antennas, submarines are Apple n users in a Windows 95 environment. The temptation to declare that submarines need communication data rates as large ~ anyone else is overwhelming. But care needs to be exercised not to try to build machines which emulate what large surface ships or major shore activities can do when non-technical means exist or can be created which will accomplish much of the major ends. Talking efficiently first requires looking at the objectives-what needs to be known, by whom and how fast. If the problem is not defined as “So many megabits per second” but as “Timely movement of information to CINC/JTF Commander from the submarine scout”, the problems to be solved start as operational ones, not as technical ones. The answers then may be much different than if specified in transmission rates or frequency bands.

Operators are key here they must become smart consumers. The wizards who make things seek perfection and relish difficult technical problems. In their laboratories, time, money and utility are lesser and in some cases even ignoble values. Operators must hold the wizards’ wands when trying to measure value versus cost. A sense of process, of understanding the system from end to end, is the key to such tradeoffs and operators possess the most important part of this knowledge. Gathering and then providing the right information to the proper user in a timely manner is a vastly more difficult problem than selecting the best radio frequency or data rate.

The Army’s prescriptions for this dilemma are worth considering.

  • Invest in process not function.
  • Invest in fielding tomorrow’s capability, not correcting yesterday’s shortfall.

The first adage requires studying the process starting with the sensors and ending with the mission. The second requires looking beyond, perhaps even ignoring, the CINCs’ requirements. Both are contrary to general practice of the last 50 years. Both require operational overview as focused thought rather than anecdotes.

These propositions are not simply theoretical meanderings. Some practical issues which might be addressed in a system overview include:

Is the Defense Satellite Communication System (DSCS) a useful and proper medium for submarine radio? Within the expected development and deployment time for a submarine SHF capability, the DSCS constellation will be near the end of life, probably to be
replaced by commercial equipment-operating on a different frequency and with different wave forms.

What is the value of LPI when no one, including the United States, has an effective ASW capability?

Is Link 16 connectivity needed on a submarine if GCCS provides the common operational picture?

Although most distrust radio in the high frequency (HF) band because it used to be hard to use, major improvements have been made in transmission paths, improved antennas, high speed equipment, and this medium is the key to coalition warfare. Can this medium be exploited to the submarine’s advantage?

Commercial information management technologies are lightening the load for RF transmission in many ways. Where can the Navy influence the development to make the end products more suitable for government use? (Not many software vendors write programs useful for solving Target Motion Analysis but there are several dozen working in data compression.)

All of the present communication requirements predate Admiral Archie Clemins’ innovation, Information Technology 21 (IT-21). Which will have meaning when IT-21 becomes real?

The difficulty or establishing new, clear requirements in a changing environment or or eliminating existing requirements should not be underestimated. [Emphasis added by Editor.] The persistence of foolish or antiquated requirements and programs is probably greater in the radio communications arena than any other. Developers who have spent years to bring forth a program will not willingly abandon it any more than staff communicators will sit idly by when no improvements are planned for an important system currently in use but scheduled for dis-establishment. Further, a quick scan of Defense News discloses there are innumerable ideas proliferated by both commercial and military suppliers. Everyone has a problem and most have a preferred technical solution.

Careful planning, thorough training, standard practice, experienced leadership, cultural commonality can all substitute for real time communications. Rarely have these been considered in evaluating missions, generating requirements or examining technical solutions. But where these cultural tools will do the job electronic machinery need not be built.

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