Requirements for the Command and Control of the UK's Ground-Based Air Defence

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This paper identifies requirements for the command and control of the British Army’s ground-based air defences within an integrated air and missile defence construct.

Requirements for the Command and Control of the UK’s Ground-Based Air Defence

The purpose of this paper is to identify requirements for the command and control (C2) of the British Army’s ground-based air defences (GBAD) within an overarching integrated air and missile defence construct. The context is that the Ministry of Defence is developing an integrated air and missile defence strategy, and the army is starting work supporting its Land GBAD programme. This paper seeks to outline the trajectory of the future air threat environment, as well as the components critical to meeting that threat, thereby deriving requirements for the C2 construct within which the UK’s GBAD will operate.

The future threat environment is characterised by diversifying and converging threats. Historically, air threats have been optimised by their range and cost to strike targets at varying depths, and have largely fallen into two categories: systems that seek to evade defences by flying low to avoid detection; and those that fly fast at high altitude. Defensive systems had therefore been optimised to maximise their probability of successfully intercepting the specific threats aimed at the targets they were defending. Increasingly, these categories are being blurred, both in terms of the targets against which munitions are assigned, and their flight characteristics. The result is that future air defences must be designed to maximise their efficiency as a system, allocating appropriate interceptors against simultaneous, multiple threats. The sustainability of an air defence system is therefore increasingly determined by C2 efficiency. The challenge is how to establish a robust, layered air defence capability that can identify, classify and assign the most appropriate mechanism to defeating complex salvos.

In order to track these diverse threats, the force must avoid being dependent on a small number of dedicated ground-based radars, which can be suppressed, or isolated and deceived. Instead, the air defence system must be able to fuse and integrate data tracks of varying quality and sensitivity from across the joint force’s sensors. This will include both radar on assets such as the E-7 Wedgetail and the F-35, which are optimised to track air threats, as well as sensors of opportunity normally focused on other targets. Acoustic sensors, for example, are likely to proliferate across land formations, intended to identify the source of fire. These systems are also able to provide tracks for low-flying air threats, if the data can be accessed. Accessing such data requires GBAD C2 to be bearer agnostic, and able to ingest data of varying kinds, delivered by a multitude of means. It will also be necessary for the system to be able to integrate new kinds of sensor and effector, either as new capabilities are fielded, or as novel capabilities are brought to bear in response to evolving adversary tactics.

These characteristics are especially important because UK GBAD systems are not currently equipped to be able to defeat many kinds of air threat. UK ballistic missile defences are operated solely by the Royal Navy, for example. Wherever the UK deploys, whether alongside NATO Allies or partners further afield, it must be able to contribute to and benefit from both joint sensors and effectors, and multinational C2. The diversity of UK partners with whom the UK – as a force that is expeditionary by design – would need to integrate means that the C2 architecture must be able to publish tracks to subscribers without sharing source code.

It is noteworthy that the UK currently lacks GBAD C2 capacity. 7 Air Defence Group has a very small cadre of personnel who might be considered professional air defenders, since the career structure in the Royal Artillery does not keep many officers in this area for a sustained period. Interoperability, however, places a premium on experience in dealing with multiple systems, and so professionalising air defence and expanding liaison opportunities is critical. It is also important to note that the two regiments of 7 Air Defence Group are currently configured to be able to provide a C2 node at division. The UK, however, aspires to have a NATO Reserve Corps and two Divisions. It is also evident – given the lack of organic capabilities – that liaison functions across the joint force and multinational allies and partners are vital. 7 Air Defence Group currently lacks the mass to maintain this many C2 nodes.

A further requirement is that the air defence C2 architecture be modular and mobile, without a single point of failure. This is achievable, and decision support tools mean that it is likely to become more so over time. Nevertheless, the C2 system must support air defence coordination from multiple small cells, able to be packed up and moved rapidly.


Dr Jack Watling

Senior Research Fellow, Land Warfare

Military Sciences

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Dr Sidharth Kaushal

Senior Research Fellow, Sea Power

Military Sciences

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