Defense Speak Interpreted: C4ISR

Only the U.S. Defense Department would lump together seven concepts—command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance—into a single acronym: C4ISR. But once you are conversant in “Defense Speak Interpreted,” you can easily convey C4ISR concepts to other defense employees.

In short, C4ISR has been called the “nervous system” of the military [1]. It truly is a collection of subsystems—all working together to accomplish the desired mission. Certainly, the brain has command of the human nervous system, but it depends on the senses of sight and hearing (surveillance and reconnaissance) for inputs. Likewise, control is the actions of human muscles and thought to accomplish tasks.

Let’s look at the command and control problem at three levels:

  1. The local level: Traditionally thought of as command posts for the Army.
  2. The regional level: Thought of as the theater level for the Army or the taskforce level for the Navy.
  3. The inter-service level: For integrated warfare campaigns.

All of these need huge data inputs and are becoming more problematic to sort out the bigger the geography. And perhaps even worse, the speed of decision making needs to be improved—based on modern electronic communications—and the nature of warfare is changing; much more is anticipated to be dependent on quick decisions on a local basis. And for good decisions, accurate instant information is needed—hence the growing emphasis on integrated information systems and C4ISR.

Recent columns have dealt with remotely controlled vehicles, hypersonics, and cybersecurity. Both remotely controlled vehicles and hypersonics will react to changing conditions detected by their own sensors, but they are initiated with the latest information that can be programmed in at the time of launch. A key aspect of cybersecurity is to prevent false information from reaching these artificial intelligence-driven weapons to jam or disrupt them.


Let’s take a look at some of the current debates concerning C4ISR. First is the 5G networking international conflict. The U.S. has implemented a boycott of all Huawei equipment with the contention that it was possible for hardware to recognize key information traveling over 5G networks and send that back to the Chinese military through the partial government ownership of Huawei. Next is the defense complaint that the FCC recently delegated some of the 1–2-gigahertz spectrum to Ligado Corporation and that those wavelengths will interfere with nearby channels used by the DoD for global positioning.

This brings us back to GPS—the system built into so many weapons and targeting systems. Suffice it to say that devious minds are thinking up new ways to jam or modify GPS in case of international conflict. That would render many weapons systems inoperable or cause weapons to strike non-existent targets. The concept is not new, as the British spoofed the German bomber targeting radars in WW2 to drop bombs far from their intended targets.

Another big current C4ISR issue is the granting of the $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud operation contract to Microsoft rather than Amazon. The appeal of this award has stopped (at least until August 17) the work at implementing this huge cloud information system as a core coordination effort for defense.

Finally, we have a new phrase—geospatial intelligence—in growing importance. That is, the U.S. has established the Space Force as a new service branch. That service will interact with the traditional Army, Navy, and Air Force with the information it can gather from satellites about activity on earth.

The information integration efforts have definitely been costly and controversial. The Army has historically used a Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A). One estimate from a Defense One article [1] pegged the effort at $28 billion already, and a new contract has been issued to Palantir Corporation after their successful lawsuit to block a previous contract award. At least, the Army is using a cross-functional team to try to sort this out. Reportedly, around 90% of any battlefield situations require improvisation—all the better to have an excellent C4ISR system on hand.


One of the downsides of cybersecurity is the permission required to access information in various networks. In a battle situation, there is no time to secure this permission. One help can be the use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) systems melded into defense. This is one of the reasons defense is pursuing 5G technology. Secure but unclassified (SBU) is the phrase for this meld.

Recent columns have talked about the speed that weapons can be brought to bear. This means that reaction times are reduced, and more inter-service data is needed called interoperability. The Army calls this the common operating environment, which is very dependent on C4ISR.

Historically, service branches could talk by radio with each other. However, voice is a horribly slow method of transferring information such as position, number, movement, etc. If this data is uploaded to the cloud, the transfer is much faster. And with data coming in from satellites or drones, there is no voice for transmission.

And to help speed up this data transfer by using interpretation, use AI. The Pentagon has established the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) to keep all the service branches on the same path. Just recently, the JAIC awarded Booz Allen Hamilton an $800 million task order to deliver AI-enabled products to support warfighting operations. This will be instrumental in embedding AI decision-making and analysis across the DoD.

In reviewing “information warfare”—a new term—it is obvious that U.S. adversaries are serious about catching up or surpassing America’s capabilities. It is estimated that within five years, Asia will be the largest market for AI-enabled C4ISR tools.

While improving C4ISR may seem easy, unfortunately, it is not. First is the acquisition process for nebulous, information-based technologies. They do not lend themselves well to the “specific weapon” acquisition process of the Defense Federal Acquisition Requirement’s (DFAR’s) process. Secondly, traditionally the specific weapons systems are called out in the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed every year by Congress and effective with the new fiscal year starting October 1. Again, concepts like C4ISR are not easy to budget.

In conclusion, don’t be afraid of the term C4ISR; just think of it as the central nervous system for the DoD.


  1. Defense One, “C4ISR: The Military’s Nervous System.”


Defense Speak Interpreted: C4ISR


Only the U.S. Defense Department would lump together seven concepts—command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance—into a single acronym: C4ISR. Denny Fritz explains how C4ISR has been called the “nervous system” of the military.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: What’s an RCV, and What Do Electronics Have to Do With It?


In "Defense Speak," RCV does not stand for ranked-choice voting, a remote control vehicle, a riot control vehicle, or a refuse collection vehicle, although the second one is close; it stands for a remote combat vehicle. Denny Fritz explores this concept and its defense applications.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: Why Is Defense Hyper Over Hypersonics?


Perhaps you have noticed that the term “hypersonics” is now a buzz phrase in a big part of the Department of Defense research effort. What does hypersonic mean, and why is so much work needed in this weapons field? Dennis Fritz explains.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: Be Prepared for CMMC


If you are a current or future Defense Department contractor or subcontractor, you need to be prepared for the next cybersecurity requirements coming online during 2020. This is the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification, or CMMC, in Defense speak. Dennis Fritz explains how there will be five levels of cybersecurity requirements for various amounts of Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) you handle, with increasing requirements from one (least) to five (most).

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: The Missile Defense Agency


The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has its roots in the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), known as 'Star Wars' in the 1980s as proposed by President Ronald Reagan. In this column, Denny Fritz provides an overview of how the MDA operates and describes types of missiles and phases.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: What in the World Is MINSEC?


The Defense program designated MINSEC (Microelectronics Innovation for National Security and Economic Competitiveness) is probably one that you have never heard of but will likely gather more headlines in the future. Dennis Fritz explains.

View Story


Defense Speak Interpreted: The Continuing Resolution


The topic of the continuing resolution (CR) has been sneaking past other hot Washington topics, such as impeachment, candidate debates, and why the Redskins are so bad. Dennis Fritz provides an update concerning a CR and the 2020 fiscal year.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: Executive Agent


After reading my previous column, you may have realized that electronics packaging technology development came from the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana. One of its core responsibilities is the assignment of “executive agent” for PCBs and electronic interconnects. But what is this “executive agent” thing, frequently shortened to EA? Dennis Fritz explains.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: PCB-related OTAs from NAVSEA Crane


In my previous column, I described how Other Transaction Authority (OTA) projects were speeding up the development of new technology for the Defense Department. Much of this improvement has to do with the speed of contracting and the less restrictive selection and payment process involved. Specifically, I would like to call out projects under the National Security Technology Accelerator (NSTXL).

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: Other Transaction Authority


DIU grants contracts under a joint OTA and a parallel process called commercial solutions opening. Most of the five DIU focus areas depend on electronics: artificial intelligence (AI), autonomy, cyber, human systems, and space. At the end of 2018, DIU had funded 104 contracts with a total value of $354 million and brought in 87 non-traditional DoD vendors, including 43 contracting with DoD for the first time.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: DARPA ERI


DARPA ERI stands for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Electronics Resurgence Initiative. This tongue-twisting acronym is the latest Department of Defense (DoD) effort to catch up and surpass world semiconductor technology for the secure IC chips needed by advanced defense electronics systems.

View Story


Defense Speak Interpreted: PERM—Pb-free Electronics Risk Management


In this column, we explore PERM—the Pb-free Electronics Risk Management Consortium. No, the group members do not all have curly hair! The name was chosen around 2008 by a group of engineers from aerospace, defense, and harsh environment (ADHE) organizations.

View Story

Defense Speak Interpreted: Defense Electronic Supply Chain Issues


On October 5, 2018, the Department of Defense (DoD) highlighted issues with the release of the 146-page report “Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States” from President Donald J. Trump

View Story
Copyright © 2020 I-Connect007. All rights reserved.