The U.S. military’s ability to fight a network-integrated war, in which it can use vast arrays of sensors, satellites and communications nodes to deliver large amounts of integrated firepower, is one of its key advantages, said Andrew Metrick, a defense fellow at the Center for a New American Security think tank.
But potential adversaries such as China and Russia have zeroed in on that as a key ability they would need to take out or disrupt in a fight against the U.S., Metrick said during a panel for the C4ISRNET Conference.
“We should take it as a given that in places, our communications are going to break and fail,” Metrick said. “When your adversary is as focused and as capable as [China] appears to be, you should not take it as a given that you will have the same degree of comms freedom that you had when that domain was not being tested.”
If a unit cannot act autonomously, and its effectiveness on the battlefield depends on talking to a command post to get permission to fire weapons or coordinate with other forces, Metrick said, that operational concept will collapse.
“How we think about how those units are able to still maneuver and generate effects in a degraded environment is crucial,” Metrick said.
In addition to developing resilient communications systems that can withstand enemy attacks, Metrick said, the Defense Department needs to create “nodal,” almost self-contained systems. These units need to be able to operate largely on their own across battlefield domains, while only having sporadic, low-quality contact back to command posts, he said, though he acknowledged doing that will be difficult.
Metrick said the war in Ukraine has shown how important it is to have a flexible networking construct, though he cautioned not all lessons would apply in a potential U.S. war in the Indo-Pacific region.
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