C2 For Emergent Situations:  An Australian Perspective

Dr. Jennie Clothier
Electronic and Surveillance Research Laboratory
Defence Science and Technology Organisation
PO Box 1500, Salisbury, South Australia 5108
E-mail jennie.clothier@dsto.defence.gov.au



Australia has no official policy in relation to command and control for emerging situations. However, Australia does have a strong commitment to improving its command and control and developing a warfighting organisation capable of meeting the most exacting situation.


It is interesting to draw some comparisons between the nations represented at this conference. Relatively speaking, Australia has a large land mass, low population, a very low percentage of gross domestic product committed to Defence, yet only a low total Defence budget. The United States Defense spending is 33 times that of Australia, but the population is 17 times. Similarly, for the UK where the Defence spending is 4 times that of Australia, but the population is only 3 times.




United Kingdom

United States of America

Area (km2)





Population (m)





Defence GDP (%)





Defence Spending($USb)





Table 1. A comparison of some Defence attributes for Australia, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States of America. Source the CIA Fact Book, 1997.

The percentage of these budgets expended on C4ISR is not clear. It is known that the Australian Department of Defence spends approximately 35% of its budget in the domain of C4ISR.

Defence spending differs across nations due to strategic and historical circumstances. Australia is currently undergoing a significant shift in its strategic policy and maturation of warfighting.

Australia’s strategic environment and its policies are outlined in a document known as ASP 97 (Australian Strategic Policy 1997). ASP 97 shows a shift in Australian defence policy. Rather than concentrating on the defence of Australia and a policy of self reliance, ASP 97 makes a commitment to Australian involvement in regional and global issues. There are now four main elements of Australian strategic policy – Defending Australia Against Attack, Defending Regional Interests, Defending Global Interests, and Seeding and Shaping the Strategic Environment.

ASP 97 highlights the role of C4ISR in enabling all other aspects of warfare. To highlight the characteristics of C4ISR rather than the functions, ASP 97 refers to C4ISR as the Decisive Knowledge Edge.

As Australia has broadened its strategic policy in to areas providing immense cultural challenges, there has also been development of a number of warfighting concepts. The aim of the warfighting concepts is to help develop the operational art for an Australian way of warfighting. The paramount concept is that of decisive manoeuvre. A number of other concepts underpin decisive manoeuvre. The substrate on which all of the concepts are based is that of decision superiority.

In summary, Australia faces a more complex strategic environment with a strong commitment to defending regional interests. The Australian way of warfighting is maturing , but within the region any activity is likely to be undertaken as part of a multi-national coalition.

Understanding Emergence

To understand and respond to emergence requires knowledge of the properties of emergent situations. Consider Figure 1, it is a situation with which we are all familiar, but few of us would be able to predict the situation given that it is our first experience. Further, given that the situation has occurred before, how many of us really appreciate the complexities.

Figure 1 is actually the various transitions through which water passes as it evolves from solid through to liquid and then gas. There are two important properties illustrated by the water example. One is that of evolution – the transition to a new form despite linearity in the environment – and the other is that of discontinuity. A two dimensional view of the situation which simply compares the states of water belies the complexity which is evident when a three dimensional trace is addressed.


Figure 1 A complex physical situation represented in three dimensions.

Replacing the physical example used so far with a soft system, such as a socio technical system, produces a situation that may be characterised by Figure 2. Certainly, a soft system and the situation that evolves or revolves will be a product of social, technical and epistemological considerations, but what will be the course of events.

Figure 2. Courses of events (COE) and courses of action (COA) will be extremely difficult to predict for soft systems.

Given that the properties of emergent situations can be identified, this paper postulates the following:

C2 for emergent situations will itself be enabled to be emergent.

Changing the Current Paradigm

Our current paradigm for C2 is based upon the layers of support shown in Figure 3. For C2 to be enabled to become emergent, some modifications are necessary. As an alternative overall paradigm consider Figure 4. Strong similarities exist between the two representations but significant shifts are required to frameworks, knowledge systems and technical systems.



Figure 3. The current paradigm for C2 Support systems consists of a number of information oriented layers.


Figure 4. A C2 support paradigm that highlights frameworks, knowledge and technical systems.


C2 Frameworks

Many of the C2 frameworks we acknowledge as existing do not help us cope with emergence. Linear command and control structures used by terrorist groups and special forces provide success in short, one-off events. Centralised command structures are slow, information centric rather than knowledge centric and do not provide the responsiveness necessary for emergent situations. Directive control structures do have flexibility but assume end state is predictable and command and control structures follow planned operational phases.

More futuristic command and control structures such as decentralised command and coordination have high training overheads which again pre-suppose that emergent situations can be trained for and novel time critical outcomes well coordinated in a distributed organisation. The underlying principle that a complex task will be required to solve an emergent situation may well be a poor axiom.

Emergent situations require responsive command and control. Decentralisation of command is certainly required if the on-scene and superior commander are to be given the authority to act in an appropriate manner. But how can coordination be achieved if situations emerge that are not part of the regular training program. To achieve responsive coordination some degree of centralised control may be necessary, whilst also permitting lateral communication for more standard circumstances.

Knowledge Systems

Responsive decentralised command requires a knowledge intensive system capable of dynamically planning command and control decisions to meet the commander’s decision superiority requirements. To achieve this aim, knowledge and its role in command and control planning needs to be articulated and elevated in status.

One way to elevate the status of knowledge in command and control is to define the role of a knowledge cell. The role of a knowledge cell is simply to know about the performance of the warfighting organisation in relation to command and control, decision superiority and the situation at hand.

Systems are currently being developed which promote superior situation awareness on a wide scale. For an emergent situation it is the role of the knowledge cell to determine who is best able to take command of the situation.

Figure 6. A knowledge cell for decision superiority.


Technological Issues

Emergent situations have difficult to predict timing, scalability and discontinuity aspects. To meet such demands, technologies with greater configurability and dynamism are required.

Australia has studied the need to develop configurable command and control systems and to an extent understands the configurations necessary for deriving intent, force generation and employing the force. The studies suggest that there are at least twenty six factors that determine the success of a command and control system. Emergence does not change these factors, rather it places greater emphasis on responsiveness and reconfiguration.

Increased configurability and dynamism moves the systems of systems concept into a new generation of virtual system of systems. There are two important technological initiatives: a move to producers and harmonisers, rather than request brokers, and a move towards greater representation of the enterprise in configuring the operating systems.

In terms of tools for the user there is no doubt that a better understanding of the complexity of a system can lead to better decisions on who has command and what courses of action are appropriate. From the water example given in Figure 1 it is clear that a three dimensional, time oriented display provides more insight into the situation than a simple two dimensional representation.

Emerging situations place a high demand on telecommunications capabilities. A grid for complex tasks may not be the most suitable form of network. Rather a generative and extensible network capable of rapidly meeting changes would better fulfil the needs of the situation.

Summary and Conclusions

Australia has no official policies in regard to command and control for emergent situations. However, Australia’s widening strategic outlook and maturing warfighting role provides impetus to develop policies which will enable multi-national coalitions to operate effectively in emergent circumstances.

The properties of emergent situations can be identified in both physical and soft systems. It is postulated that C2 for emergent situations will itself be enabled to be emergent.

C2 frameworks for emergent situations may be based on decentralised command, supplemented by coordination streams and responsive centralised control.

Knowledge systems may be implemented through knowledge cells that dynamically configure command and control, information and planning.

Technological issues for emergent situations need to address how to represent complexity to the user, development of configurable systems that are responsive to the enterprise and, generative and extensible telecommunications.