Military Embedded Systems

GUEST BLOG: Command and control in the Gray Zone


September 07, 2023

James Terry


GUEST BLOG: Command and control in the Gray Zone

From the Cold War period (1945-1989) through present-day globalization, the importance of maintaining reliable security coalitions and positive international relationships cannot be overstated. As modern-day warfare relies on technology for achieving military readiness and strength, collaborating on interoperable technological advancements remains an enduring mission for the U.S. and its coalition partners.

To perfect military technology, nations must plan strategically beyond tactical units. This is especially important today, as warfare is no longer focused solely on the physical destruction of enemy forces. By acting as a unified front, coalition partners can integrate more effectively, generate deterrence, and thwart adversarial actions by enhancing the training, deployment, coordination, and real-time situational awareness of allied nations.

For instance, in the Indo-Pacific theater of operations, the U.S. maintains a highly capable cross-section of command-and-control technology that supports situational awareness in today’s battlespace. Going forward, however, near-future warfare requires a new paradigm that provides a comprehensive intelligence picture and detailed situational awareness of joint forces across the theater. This information gathered must be consolidated to inform tactical and operational decisions that prioritize deterrence and the saving of lives.

Commensurate with this future paradigm is the ongoing race to develop and deploy multidomain technology and command-and-control systems, which are helping to shape a new era in modern warfare: developing multidomain capabilities to address “Gray Zone” competition (GZC).

Gray Zone competition

GZC tactics, deployed globally to avoid all-out conflict, are becoming increasingly common. Recent examples include China’s recent statements on Taiwan’s independence and subsequent U.S. responses. Even a recent incident between North Korea and South Korea, during which warning shots were fired over a maritime dispute, demonstrate the persistent need to avoid all-out conflict.

These incidents underscore the urgency to develop and deploy a range of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities across multiple domains, including space and surface. These capabilities can then be digitally applied to command-and-control platforms, which can utilize machine learning/artificial intelligence (ML/AI) software solutions to provide forces with a decision advantage.

Nation-state governments recognize the potential for GZC to bleed into the general population. Social-media platforms like Twitter and TikTok struggle to maintain credibility amidst the presence of bots and foreign propaganda; while naval, coastal, and aircraft assets are being deployed to physically harass and intimidate opponents. All of these tactics are in use to gain the upper hand in military efforts.

The ongoing Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) modernization efforts by each service are being driven by all of the multidomain operational imperatives. This is not aspirational; the U.S. is already experimenting and fielding innovative new technologies in both Gray Zone and multidomain operations.

Strength in numbers

Achieving strength in numbers is crucial for effective deterrence. The moral dimension of war calls for a global effort to ensure democratic nations maintain their leadership role in the global world order. Within a theater strategy, coalition partners possess powerful political-military capabilities that can help maintain a strong global presence. This collaborative approach enhances military command-and-control technology while strengthening support within an integrated coalition.

Creating interoperable systems that enable coalition war­fighters to access real-time data and tools across the ground, air, sea, cyber, and space arenas is critical for developing the necessary command-and-control capabilities to compete against military challenges. Seamlessly integrating once-­disparate systems delivers a competitive edge for U.S. joint force and coalition partners. In this way, technology must serve the shared mission, with edge computing and data links two critical systems for achieving interoperability.

Leading at the edge

Edge computing already forms a foundational part of existing mission partner environments. For example, commercial coalition equipment (CCE) is a core component of a mission partner environment (MPE), facilitating expeditionary coalition or commercial network connectivity. This connectivity enables mission command, network communications (e.g., voice, video, and data), and situational awareness among Army, joint, and coalition forces.

By implementing data links and aerial mesh networks supported by nondetectable video data links, warfighters will be better able to receive fast and reliable internal communications between coalition partners. This technology ensures that synchronized strikes and real-time mission updates can be executed or communicated with clarity, uniformity, and efficiency.

One notable example of video data link technology that continues to improve is the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Unified Video Dissemination System (UVDS). The UVDS architecture and its related services consistently meet airborne and ISR full-motion video requirements. In both the Gray Zone and multidomain operational environments, its future importance lies in providing persistent, focused, real-time operational information flow to tactical and enterprise end users worldwide.

Not a new Cold War – a competition

Despite the view of some scholars, modern warfare is not a stalemate. Rather, it is a fiercely competitive landscape where nation-states strive to achieve independent goals. For instance, China recognizes U.S. multidomain efforts and is now working (according to reports) to develop a competing technology for the JADC2 initiative, known as the multi-domain precision warfare (MDPW) concept.

The U.S. remains highly competitive against China’s MDPW efforts and is deploying new JADC2 technologies. This is a never-ending relay race, where each capability “baton” helps U.S. and allied forces extend their lead in this relentless pursuit of assured communications and decision advantage.

Every effort by industry partners and military service program executive offices is critical in this race.

This is not a drill.

James Terry [U.S. Army Lt. Gen. (Retired)] is senior vice president, Cubic Defense.

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