C4ISR: A “Growth Stock”

As pressure on Discretionary Federal spending – the largest chunk of which resides in the Defense budget – mounts under the impact of recession-related deficits, wartime spending, and the Obama Administration’s ambitious social spending agendas, DoD planners are looking for ways to get more combat capability out of the military services’ existing weapons inventories.  One answer, likely to come in for enhanced DoD spending even in a challenging budget environment, is the entire field of C4ISR.

Every aspect of this somewhat opaque acronym is bound to be a near-term priority for the military services and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD).  The ISR part – intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance – is what our forces overseas rely on to find and target a stealthy enemy moving within a civilian population.  It’s a set of capabilities critical to avoiding or minimizing collateral damage to innocent civilians from strikes against enemy, terrorist targets.  And it’s critical to detecting and foiling the most successful weapons of terrorist adversaries: improvised explosive devices (IEDs), planted to target U.S. or friendly forces on the move or civilians in marketplaces or other gatherings.

And the C4 part – command, control, communications, and computers – is key to maximizing the combat potential and lethality of the services’ existing panoply of weapons systems, as well as new acquisitions.  In today’s environment, OSD will be looking increasingly for solutions in the C4 domain that enable weapons systems and forces to work together more effectively – across system or service lines – to achieve greater combat lethality, to improve situational awareness, and to deliver prompt support to embattled units.  Whether it’s C4 capabilities to break down the traditional “stovepipes” of air defense systems so they can interoperate more effectively in defending against a wider range of incoming targets or capabilities like Blue Force Tracking that simultaneously enhance combat effectiveness while minimizing casualties, the DoD market for these C4ISR capabilities is only going to grow – even with constrained budgets.

The trouble is: these systems and capabilities are often not well known to – and, indeed are opaque to – many combat commanders, and to many Senators and Congressmen.  Moreover, innovative offerings in this domain run the constant risk of “treading on toes” – either of individual military services who may see threats to their future programmatic aspirations from a C4ISR innovation that enables existing hardware to address the treat more effectively, or from incumbent contractors who have vested interests in marketing their own system-specific solutions to a new combat challenge.

The upshot is that C4ISR innovations often have to be sold more creatively than major combat systems.  This requires focused advocacy that effectively addresses the audiences who will be key to deciding the fate of a new program or innovation.  If it’s a combat soldier in a senior command position, this will require discussing and advocating the initiative in terms that he can relate to in his command responsibilities – not just in technical or performance terms.  If it’s a Member of Congress or their staff, it will sometimes require “breakthrough” data or arguments that command their attention despite the looming, attention-absorbing importance of major new weapons systems acquisition programs.  Failure to effectively advocate for your latest C4ISR “force multiplier” can easily lead to a still-born project.

Philip Hughes G. Philip Hughes draws on a wealth of high-level foreign policy experience in developing and managing message campaigns for international companies.

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