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To Modernize Command and Control, Air Force Wants to Keep Things Simple

“Complexity…is going to kill us,” Brig. Gen. Luke Cropsey said. “The more complex your environment is, the simpler the rules of engagement need to be.”

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To Modernize Command And
Brig. Gen. Luke Cropsey gives the keynote address at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Dec. 17, 2021. Photo Credit: Jaima Fogg / DVIDS


To manage the complex architecture of delivering a system that connects a wide range of assets and advancing on developing the battle networks of the future, an Air Force official said the service needs to start simple instead of trying to “boil the ocean.”

Brig. Gen. Luke Cropsey, the Air Force’s integrating program executive officer for command, control, communications and battle management (C3BM), said that the core challenge the service is facing is the complexity of designing a system in which sensors and shooters are connected and data is available to successfully execute the mission.

“The number one problem that we’re trying to figure out how we keep our heads wrapped around when it comes to the C3BM job content is really, at the end of the day, this problem with complexity,” Cropsey said at the Life Cycle Industry Days conference in Dayton, Ohio, on Aug. 1.

“How do we, as an enterprise, and when I say the enterprise, I’m literally talking about everything from the requirements side of this business, what we do on the acquisition piece to this, how we budget… How do we keep our heads wrapped around all of the moving pieces that we have to be able to effectively manage and control for? Complexity in this space… it’s going to kill us if we don’t figure out how we’re going to deal with it. And we have to deal with it effectively,” Cropsey added.

Cropsey is responsible for executing the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), the Air Force’s contribution to the Defense Department’s joint all-domain command and control initiative (JADC2). He said that it is imperative to go to the basic rules of engagement in order for his office to build the architecture that addresses integrated kill chains and focus on command and control (C2) only, or the office will “collapse under its own weight.”

“Another doc by the name of John Gall…made this very famous statement…where he said, ‘look, every complex system that works is invariably a result of a simple system that worked. And a complex system that you try to design from scratch is never going to work,’” Cropsey said.

“How do we make a simple system that’ll work? And then once we have a simple system that will work, how do we build the complexity around that to the point where we can start layering that together and actually get to the end-to-end capability that we need to have?” he added.

Cropsey said that the first analysis of what the initial architecture of integrated killed chains was delivered to Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall in a June quarterly update and that the details will be delivered to “anybody with the right security clearance” this fall.

“I’m working right now with the Navy and the Army to see if we can collectively do something together on that front so that we are not…splitting you [industry] all up in different ways and in different places,” said Cropsey.

Given this complex environment, Cropsey said his office is following four basic rules to design an architecture required to implement the DOD’s JADC2 concept. The first rule is understanding the operational outcome that needs to be achieved and the C3BM team works closely with the ABMS cross-functional team in charge of defining the operational problem space.

“The first principle that we have on the C3BM front is that we have to have alignment around the operational outcome that we want to achieve. If we don’t have operational alignment on that problem, then we are not going to get to the point where any of the rest of this is going to matter because there’s just too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to how everybody sees the problem and all the different prospective ways that you can potentially solve it,” Cropsey said.

The second principle for Cropsey’s office is that they “do all of C2” and “don’t do any more than C2.”

“You have to have an end-to-end perspective across the entire C2 problem, you can’t cut it short. But if you allow all of that solution to creep further out into the rest of the enterprise, you’re going to collapse under your own weight,” said Cropsey.

The third rule is prioritizing architecture over a specific product, while the fourth principle is being able to continuously deploy capability over time.

“One of our basic tenets here is that a simple, incremental and iterative approach is the one that’s gonna win this one. Big bang acquisitions have proven to fail, historically, time and time again in this space,” said Cropsey.

“When we sit down with the ABMS CFT team, and I’m talking to the battle managers on that team, there is a very visceral real mission requirement when it comes to their ability to make enough magic happen on the floor of an AOC are out there in the CRC to make sure that our guys and gals were coming home from that engagement,” he added. “The amount of magic they have to do right now in their heads is ridiculous. And they’re just looking for some help with regards to how they manage that, how they actually affect those decisions in a way that doesn’t require them to do it all in their head.”

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