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The Command Post needs to change. The British Army needs to revise the way in which command, control, and communications are exercised, particularly with its armoured brigade combat teams.
The lessons from Ukraine have been stark, command and control (C2) nodes have been found, fixed, and destroyed at a remarkable rate. The Ukrainians and Russians have changed how their tactical-level command posts operate; we must learn from their lessons.
Doing this will inevitably be painful. Many of our current military leaders’ formative experience comes from operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. In these campaigns air superiority and dominance of the electromagnetic spectrum was unquestionable.
These conditions lead to a desire to have data-rich services in command posts, a need for constant communications with subordinate formations, and a preference for an increased staff with their own area of expertise to provide guidance and advice. There must be a significant recalibration of these preconceptions in light of the ongoing conflicts in Europe.
‘How We Fight 2026’ and the ‘Field Army Threat Handbook’ (not to mention the British Army’s excellent series of warfare development notes about Ukraine) articulate that smaller, more agile, and faster C2 nodes must be deployed at the tactical level. These should be more survivable, albeit they would necessarily be less capable. We need to face these trade-offs better to meet the prevailing conditions of warfare.
Output vs Survivability:
When discussing output and survivability it is best to consider it a continuum, with the two factors as extremes. There is no ‘sweet spot’ in the middle. A commander must have the option to decide where they need to be on the continuum for a set mission or task. For example; a 24 hour planning cycle in a divisional secure area would allow for greater comfort and capacity by increasing the supporting set-up for the command post (CP). Perhaps providing some data-rich services and access to a field kitchen. Alternatively, a CP controlling a fast-paced brigade battle with enemy artillery operating in the vicinity may wish to adopt a much lighter and tactical approach, requiring a more austere approach and providing the minimum viable product to fight the battle.
Commanders and staff should get used to operating in a degraded environment, where constant communications are not available and fully functional staff working environments are a rarity, sacrificed for speed and agility.
Evidence for the degradation:
During Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) was denied in targeted areas for specific periods of time, but not consistently. Throughout, the EMS was congested, causing disruption to C2 and full spectrum effects. Both Russian and Ukrainian forces have successfully placed false CPs and other decoys to partially counter the threat, but neither side has dominated the EMS.
Doctrine tells us that we need to be aware that our communication systems are likely to be detected as soon as they are switched on, and we can expect to be targeted if assessed as a high enough priority. Russian units hold electronic warfare assets and have used them for targeting with success. Capabilities exist to acquire and engage with both electronic or cyberattack and by fires. The implications on the survivability and effectiveness of our C2 capabilities are stark.
The dispersal, displacement, and swiftness of the deployable British armoured brigades present a significant challenge to providing C2 using current command and control equipment and systems. Constraints on electronic signature, operating range, manoeuvrability, and force protection are factors that affect the survivability of command posts. A RUSI article on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine suggests that “CPs with a large physical footprint have become non-viable in a modern battlefield.”. This correlates directly with Field Army’s direction on identifying where we can ‘strip’ forward HQs and ‘reverse franchise’ functionality. In English, leaving people and equipment in safe places and only deploying those who really need to.
Exploiting assets and tactics that provide a tactical or technical advantage for the deployable brigade command post will increase their survivability and effectiveness.
Without EMS superiority, command posts will suffer from a significant degradation to their communication systems. Furthermore, the employment of electronic warfare assets means that the use of most tactical communication systems (in particular, VHF) will give away the location of a command post.
To mitigate this, there are a range of measures that could be adopted now. For example, remoting antennas as feasible and using near-vertical incidence of skywave as the primary means of propagation on HF would limit the chances of an enemy finding a command post.
The extension of voice networks beyond VHF range through a VHF/HF RRB, Tactical Voice Bridges or Slingshot, and the use of SatCom such as TacSat and MMR would also provide redundancy to the communications network whilst moving away from the VHF band.
Integrating operational communications information systems (‘OpCIS’) assets into C2 nodes at the brigade level would provide richer services and access to collaborative working across the UK divisional infrastructure. However, this would come at a cost, mainly in time for set up and the reduction in space.
The use of current terrestrial trunk network solutions would decrease the nodes’ ability to manoeuvre but this can be mitigated by use of BLOS SatCom and small OpCIS nodes.
In the short term, the Army should supplement the command posts of its fighting brigades and enhance the use of emitters that simulate them, adding to deception planning. The use of multispectral infra-red camouflage would further assist in hiding a command post, and uncrewed systems should be used to both reconnoitre as part of the STAP and to check visibility from the enemy perspective.
Most importantly, we should prepare to operate in a degraded environment; commanders should practise fighting the battle with limited communications and increased Mission Command, relying on their intent and sequencing of actions without constant feedback.
Secondly, there should be a move away from the BFOT (Big F*** Off Tent) that is a leftover from the forward operating base mentality.
Distributing the command post staff into five C2 nodes, each blending the G3 & G5 functions and consisting of 3 or 4 vehicles and operational CIS assets as required. The staff load plan would need to change to allow redundancy in KSE, removing the trend of ‘Fires’ or ‘Engineer’ vehicles for each CP and having broader, but less deep, KSE in each C2 node. These C2 nodes could then operate in a hive style structure, providing the commander with flexibility – they can surge C2 nodes together for collaborative working or disperse them as required.
This provides the commander with multiple capable nodes that can provide redundancy and conduct discrete actions as required. Furthermore, they allow the additional C2 nodes not in Control to develop plans, mitigating the risk of large CPs being found, fixed, and destroyed. These nodes could then conduct a change of control and conduct the execution of their plan, if possible, whilst the previous control node moves to a hide or COA development function.
Smaller, flexible, and discrete C2 nodes are more survivable and should be preferred.
We must do what we can to better deliver effect in the shortest possible time by developing tactics and enhancing the capacity of the CPs with short-term purchases.
Individual detachments should start by augmenting issued camouflage systems with natural camouflage, reducing packet sizes, and adopting tactical routes. The aim of this is twofold: first, to reduce the visible and heat signature of the CP. Second, to make the CP look more like other tactical units on the battlefield, reducing the likelihood of the CP being found and destroyed.
Command posts should be augmented with equipment they can buy off the shelf to enhance their capability quickly. Power generators should be purchased that can replace the in-service field generator but are quieter, cooler, and lighter. Multispectral infrared camouflage nets would decrease the chance of CPs being seen both physically and on the EMS. Finally, tools and equipment should be uplifted to boost the ability to keep vehicles and communication equipment working.
This is a non-exhaustive list of quick wins with a high impact on the overall capability of the ABCT.
One of the main tactical considerations of CP defence is the interruption of the Recon-Fires loop – this requires both careful and planned EMS management and a change to our modus operandi.
The current CP size can be reduced by sacrificing the comfort of the staff and the capacity of the staff working environment (SWE). The current CP establishment timeline is vastly affected by the build of the SWE and not by the establishment of communications assets.
Changing the TTPs of ABCT CPs in transit and setup will increase their survivability; by moving in smaller and more discrete packets, applying live camouflage, and moving in a tactical manner, they increase their chances of hiding in the noise of the ABCT close space.
Smaller, flexible, and discrete C2 nodes are more survivable – albeit at the cost of capability, which can only slightly be mitigated by collaborative working.
We must be prepared to operate with our current assets. Fight tonight must truly mean just that. ABCTs should be prepared to deploy with their current holdings and train to use them to the best of their capability.
Captain Andrew Bilton is a Royal Signals officer. He has worked supporting brigade and divisional headquarters.
The views expressed in his writing are his and do not represent the views of the Ministry of Defence.