Reaching the Summit

British Army Command and Control
L3Harris has developed a common operating picture in association with several other companies to share data from several sources across all echelons in the land manoeuvre force from tactical to operational levels.

A recent experiment in the UK demonstrated the feasibility of networking a raft of assets to provide land forces with a scalable, common operating picture.

The EVEREST experiment took place between 14th and 15th June at the British Army’s Defence BattleLab in Dorset, southwest England. This was the culmination of a series of experiments performed by a group of companies over the past three months to a demonstrate a seamless network of deployable communications and sensors contributing to a Common Operating Picture (COP). This COP can be used by all echelons in a deployed land manoeuvre force. Inmarsat, L3Harris, Leonardo’s DRS subsidiary, NSSLGlobal and Systematic were all involved in the experiment.

Key to EVEREST was the development of a network architecture that can easily share data between soldiers, sensors, headquarters and allies to provide a real-time COP visible to all echelons. This common operating picture is accessible to soldiers at the tactical edge, to commanders in their headquarters and everyone in between. L3Harris has developed the integrated communications and sensor network that carries this data.

Chains of Command

Ian Blower, L3Harris’ regional managing director for the UK, Ireland and Southern Europe, and Graeme Mackay, vice president of the company’s UK division, told Armada that a raft of information can be displayed on the COP. As well as blue force tracking data, the COP displays information on the Ground-Based Air Defence (GBAD) situation and even electronic warfare data. The rationale behind the common operating picture is to easily share data, and the COP, up and down the chain of command. Messrs. Blower and Mackay said that several links were used in the experiments. These links included high frequency (three megahertz/MHz to 30MHz), Very/Ultra High Frequency (30MHz to three gigahertz), and both military and civilian satellite communications. Most of the equipment being used on the experiment is either in service, or about to be. The experiment showed the capability benefits that can be achieved when the equipment is integrated into one system.

Crucially, the COP is not only available to static forces. The L3Harris officials continued that the British Army has a strong interest in using physically dispersed and mobile headquarters. One of the lessons learned from the Ukraine theatre of operations is that such headquarters are more survivable than their static counterparts. Such aspirations will depend on high bandwidth mobile communications using technologies like steerable antennas. The COP architecture L3Harris and their counterparts have devised is currently built around a brigade-sized structure. Nevertheless, the architecture could be scaled up to a divisional level formation and down to battlegroup size, and beyond in both cases, should this be required.

The COP architecture also connects outwards to other domains with maritime, air, space and cyber assets plugging into it. This lets assets in these domains share their data and receive data pertinent to their mission. Data regarding counter-uninhabited aerial vehicle, GBAD and electronic warfare missions can be added to the COP.

Army Needs

The British Army is currently considering its future command and control, and battle management capabilities for the land manoeuvre force. Messrs. Blower and MacKay argued that technology based on the common operating picture architecture could fulfil these requirements. This could use existing army communications systems and future equipment and capabilities the force is expected to procure. Strategically, the COP architecture fits into the UK’s larger Multi-Domain Integration (MDI) aspirations. Analogous to the US military’s Multi-Domain Operations philosophy, MDI takes a whole-of-government approach to defence. In the MOD’s own words, MDI “is about ensuring that every part of defence can work seamlessly together, and with other government departments and the UK’s allies, to deliver a desired outcome.” COP architectures like those recently demonstrated could play in important part in meeting these aspirations.

by Dr. Thomas Withington