Military leaders face an ever-widening array of increasingly powerful threats to their forces, missions, and countries. The acceleration and proliferation of new technologies provide state, and even some non-state, actors with weapons that threaten even the most formidable military platforms. Meanwhile, growing numbers of nefarious actors are developing the ability to launch crippling cyber warfare attacks capable of disrupting the electronic systems on which the world increasingly has come to rely. It is not surprising that in response to such troubling developments many of our military leaders are searching for technological tools to defend against those new threats. Even as we pursue such innovations and the potential of a “Third Offset” to maintain U.S. military superiority for years to come, we must guard against the thirst for the latest high-tech weaponry and reliance on complex computer systems to operate them. That obsession is diverting our attention from the very thing that has made us the most powerful fighting force in the world—our collective initiative stemming from a commander’s fundamental duty to maintain effective command and control (C2) over forces in war.
1. An offset strategy involves a means of asymmetrically compensating for a disadvantage in military competition. The “First Offset” was U.S. exploitation of nuclear superiority to overcome the Soviet Union’s geographical advantage in Western Europe (1950s-60s). The “Second Offset” involved precision-guided weaponry, and the joint battle networks that employed them, enabled by advances in microprocessing (1970s-80s).
2. ADM Sir Cyprian Bridge, G.C.B., The Art of Naval Warfare (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1907), viii–ix.
3. VADM Admiral Robert F. Willard, USN, “Rediscover the Art of Command and Control,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 128, no. 10 (October 2002), 52.
4. To which was later added “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance,” giving us the military acronym C4ISR.
5. Willard, “Rediscover the Art of Command and Control,” 52.
6. GEN Martin E. Dempsey, USA, A White Paper: Mission Command, Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington, D.C., April 2012.
7. Bridge, The Art of Naval Warfare, 3.
8. Ibid., 5.