Applying PACE methodology across the full spectrum of modern day operational deployments


Tim Williams – Business Development Manager, Strategic Communications

Over the last couple of blogs I have highlighted the complexity in deploying effective tactical communications in support of military tasks, these are not unique to the military environment and similar issues are experienced within the emergency services, crisis response, coast guard, search and rescue and border force protection.  The PACE (Primary, Alternate, Contingency, Emergency) methodology is applicable to all, as effective communications are the keystone to successfully delivering operations.

From the military perspective the well-known SAS Bravo Two Zero story is a very good example of where the failure to establish a communication link sees a military patrol rapidly move through the PACE process, where even the emergency system was ineffective.  The outcome of which resulted with an isolated patrol having to escape and evade through an extremely hostile environment.  In today’s world this type of event should be avoidable, in most part, as the advances in technology can offer robust and reliable PACE across voice communications, position location reporting and data functionality.  Allowing for collaboration, coordination and implementation of plans to navigate through the crisis.

Failure of communications can be driven by many factors but one I haven’t covered in great depth is denial or disruption of service through Electronic Warfare (EW).  Over the last two decades, there has been focus on major campaigns in the Middle East and Central/South Asia.  These operations were against adversaries with limited to no EW capability.  During this period other nations that could become adversaries (major state actors) in the future, whom have not been involved in the campaigns, will have continually developed EW capability (systems and operator skill sets).   The threat of effective EW adds to the complexity of deploying tactical communications and emphasises the need to have a robust PACE plan that incorporates diversity of bearer systems. 

In the case that a force comes up against an adversary that has superiority in the EW domain the level of disruption can be catastrophic to Command and Control and a unit/organisations ability to function.  When analysing the PACE methodology I have highlighted that the Primary system is the one that will provide the most capability (Secure voice, data transfer, position location information).  This therefore would be the primary target for an opposing force.   The second target will be the Alternative systems!  In this scenario a contingency system needs to be diverse and have some level of resilience, as does the Emergency solution.  It is also important to point out that in this type of warfare commercial services such as mobile phone networks and internet services are likely to be disrupted or denied.

Primary and Alternative systems are designed to be hardened against many threats and use varying technology, waveforms and techniques to operate in a EW hostile environment.   Features such as frequency hopping, Low probability of Intercept (LPI) and Low Probability of Detection (LPD).  This includes physical tactics techniques used by the operators.  However, I would suggest that the threat now posed from EW and Cyber is much greater than it was 20 years ago and many nations are still working on Primary and Alternate systems that are 15-20 years old.   Potential adversary nations are likely to have developed EW systems that can counter most counter measures that have been built into the existing Primary/Alternate systems and other counter technologies that have been recently introduced.  An example is frequency hopping which is designed to evade detection and jamming.  Modern day jamming equipment can detect and hop as quickly as the transmitting radio.

An analogy of this ‘cat and mouse game’ is to look at the ‘Virus’ and ‘Anti-Virus’ war in the cyber domain. Apart from this example being much more dynamic and rapidly changing, the aim of the game is still the same, denial of service verses the need to continue to operate.

As it takes many years to develop and bring a new core military Primary and Alternate system into service there will always be the challenge of moving and evolving with the rate of development in technology.  This means that it is difficult to evolve capability that can counter new threats brought about by the advancement of technology.  Change and adjustment of an existing system is expensive and slow.   This is further compounded by the fact that many military Primary and Alternate systems are built to last for 15-20 years from the outset.  In many cases by the time systems are put into service they are already behind the power curve.

The challenge is to develop a Primary and Alternate systems that remain versatile enough to counter the known threats of today and address the unknown threats yet to materialise.  It is difficult to see that through today’s approach of development this utopian solution is achievable.

This highlights that if versatility is difficult to achieve in the Primary and Alternative domain then investment in the Contingency and Emergency areas should be increased.  Utilisation of commercial solutions allows for rapid development of systems that can use the most current technology and techniques.  Although this approach could enhance the chances of achieving successful communication links in adverse conditions, it would require changes in policies, procedures in development and procurement and ultimately funding.  However, it would seem that the landscape is changing, which I will cover when I refer to the recent the speech by Sir General Nick Carter. 

This is about having diversity in equipment, techniques and radio frequency bearers.  Simply having an alternate frequency for a system is not enough.  Another way of describing the PACE methodology is the ‘Golf Bag’ approach, where a player has access to a number of different clubs to be able to navigate through a course.  As the course or shot requirement changes the club most suitable for purpose is selected.  The less clubs you have available, the less choice you have and you simply have to make do with what is at hand, but this impacts on performance!  If the main club breaks or is not fit for purpose you reduce your capability, if the second club is deemed not effective for the shot you may only be left with a putter!  Planning and taking the right systems is essential and this must also be weighed against size, weight and power constraints.  To do this you must have choice to be able to choose the right system for task, whilst balanced against security and the prevailing threat.  If there is no choice, your options are limited and you are stuck with what you have.

I must stress that during my military career I deployed on many operations, none of which came under the category of General or State on State warfare where the EW threat is at its greatest.  The closest was serving in Berlin during the late 80’s and early 90’s.  The biggest threat was deploying with communications systems that were not fit for purpose or having the depth in solutions to provide a robust PACE plan.

Most defence organisations are geared for large scale conflict and a large proportion of defence budget is aligned to equipment programmes continues on delivering capability designed to operate in this environment.  Herein lies the conundrum, although it is essential to prepare for this type of an event the simple fact is that the majority of military operations fall outside this bracket in an area below the threshold of war, which has differing and often specific operational requirements!  This drives a need for different type of equipment, which in turn needs additional funding.   Examples of these operations are peace keeping and stabilisation, disaster relief and assistance, capacity building in failing states/underdeveloped countries, counter narcotics, counter terrorism to mention a few.  All of which are generally carried out by small units of personnel, operating at reach in isolation.

From a tactical communications perspective the impact is that the Primary and Alternate systems are often not best suited to the tasks in hand and subsequently are less effective in enabling essential Command and Control.  My understanding from continued engagement with many international defence organisations is that this is a common thread.  This in my eyes is where change is required.  In almost 90% of the deployments I was sent on a system such as the QinetiQ Bracer capability would have bridged the capability gap, adding assurance to tactical communications and enhancing operational effectiveness.  Unfortunately, the luxury of such a capability was not available during my military career but even though these types of solutions are available the military system in many nations will challenge whether there is a requirement to adopt such an approach?  To be effective change must be driven from the top down.

In Sep 2020 General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of Defence Staff's delivered his very interesting speech on Integrated Operating Concept (IOC) where he maps out the complex threat landscape and highlights that defence needs to adapt to address this threat.  This will not just be defence and will require change and greater interoperability with all stakeholders in the National Security domain.  To achieve this Defence will need to be equipped accordingly.   He also identifies that the majority of military tasking today is outside the threshold of war.  This is really encouraging and is a signpost to future agility.  However, it will be interesting to observe how this actually pans out over the years and what level of investment is committed to developing such capability.  Forces need capability today to enhance their performance and likelihood of success so there is a need to compress the timelines for change but change is always difficult implement and can meet many hurdles.  This, combined with the impact on available funding post a global pandemic will, in itself, create its own challenges.

To summarise this series of Blogs on my interpretation of PACE and bring the topic back onto the PACE methodology.  To be truly effective on operations a military or organisation that relies on telecommunications to prosecute Command, Control and coordination requires robust and effective systems to be in place.  If the Primary and Alternate systems at hand are not designed for the particular purpose or indeed not fit for the requirement then the communications plan starts on a back foot and is open to failure from the outset. 

Currently it is assessed that there is a lack of investment into Contingency and Emergency systems across a multitude of international organisations that rely on tactical communications and in many cases could be construed as less important.   This is where risk acceptance is required.  An organisation must assess the impact and probability of the Primary and Alternate systems failing and whether suboptimal Contingency and Emergency solutions can mitigate the risk.  I can safely state, through experience, that the impact of getting this wrong can be catastrophic and life threatening! 

The reality is that budget availability is one of the major constraints in furnishing PACE with suitable solutions.  Commercially available solutions, that are in service today, such as Bracer, offer a cost effective option.  This can mitigate the risk whilst adding security, assurance, situational awareness and the ability to act as a primary system during the early phases of an operation whilst the main Primary system is planned, prepared, deployed and implemented.  Once in place the Bracer capability can be placed on standby in the Contingency/Emergency role.

The statements made by CDS is an insight to the views at the very top of defence.  Showing a need and will to push for the required changes to effectively resource and posture forces to counter modern day threats and introduce greater agility to responses.  My view would be that this is the same threat being experienced across NATO and wider afield.

Whilst writing this Blog it has given me time to reflect on the challenges that I faced 30 years ago with delivering communications.  In doing so it has made me look further back in history through the varying wars and campaigns, at today’ military commitments and take a view on what the future holds.  In so I have concluded that Primary Systems across the ages have been delivered through major development programmes that take time to design and bring to fruition.  These systems tend to be in service for decades before renewal.

In the modern world, the threat environment is changing at a higher tempo, certainly a higher rate than during the cold war era and before.  The impact of which is that protracted development programmes can often deliver, at great expense, capability for yesterday’s requirements.  The challenge to create agility and speed in development to produce a solution that is multirole and future proof will be difficult and in many cases unachievable.  In the meantime alternative options will need to be considered by those prosecuting tasks on operations in order to bring true PACE to their communications plan.  

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