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Command and control (C2)

Command and control (C2)

Command and control is a military exercise of authority by a commanding officer over assigned forces.


Command and control (also called C2) is a military term that refers to the exercise of authority by a designated commander over assigned forces in the accomplishment of a mission. The term represents the process by which the US Department of Defense (DoD) makes operational decisions. C2 encompasses all personnel, equipment, communications, facilities and procedures employed by a commander in the planning, direction, coordination, and control of forces and operations necessary in the accomplishment of a mission. Command and control can also refer to a C2 system within a military system and is commonly used within the computer security industry in the context of cyberwarfare.

In C2, commanding officers are aided by specialized staff officers and enlisted personnel in carrying out necessary tasks. Officers and other enlisted personnel make up a military staff that act as a bi-directional intermediary between a commanding officer and subordinate military units. The main purpose of military staff in C2 is to provide accurate and timely information for commanders to base their decisions on. These decisions are used to effectively manage resources of various military units. While information flow to commanding officers in C2 is a priority, lower staffs and units also receive information that is useful or conditional in nature.

The five variables that make up Command and Control. Source: Congressional Research Service

Command and control can also be thought of as depending on five variables: who, how, what, when, and where. The who and how in C2 refer to the designated authorities directing subordinates and the technological means that allow them to make decisions and transfer them to the field, respectively. The what variable refers to the force mix, meaning the distribution of military units between the active and reserve components of the armed forces. Finally, the when and how variables represent temporal and geographical information pertinent to the success of a specific mission.

Command and control centers

A command and control center is a secure room or building within a government, military, or prison facility that monitors communications, surveillance, alarms, and acts as a coordination office from which C2 decisions are carried out. Command and control centers are operated by either a government or municipal agency and can be found in various US Military facilities, such as the Coast Guard or Navy, as well as in correctional facilities. When being used by a military unit in a deployed location, command and control centers are often referred to as "command posts."


Within the context of computer security and cyberwarfare, command and control has a slightly different meaning than the one outlined above. Here, command and control refers to the authority an attacker has over a compromised computer system that they are in control of. In this context, it can be said that attackers use command and control infrastructure to issue directions to and exploit their victims. Advanced analysis of command and control techniques have been used to identify cyber attackers, associate attacks, and disrupt ongoing malicious activity.

Threats and Future

A 2021 report by the Congressional Research Service stated that disrupting command and control systems could be a beneficial and cost-effective way for the US's strategic competitors to mitigate US military operations and influence. The report noted that competitors identified in the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS), such as China and Russia, have observed US military operations for the past thirty years, with some of them having developed systems and strategies to reduce the effectiveness of US command and control systems.

In response to burgeoning threats, the DoD has stated that existing command and control architecture must be modernized in order to meet the demands of the NDS. The DoD has proposed the Joint All-Defense Command and Control (JADC2) concept as a method of countering C2 interference from potential adversaries. The JADC2 concept proposes connecting sensors from all branches of the military—Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Space Force—into a single network, which would prevent adversaries from weakening a US force by destroying a single, key sensor. Traditionally, each military service has had its own tactical network that is incompatible with those of other services.

Advocates of JADC2 claim that it will utilize cloud-like technology to allow joint forces to share intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data, and will facilitate faster decision making. By collecting data through numerous sensors and processing it using artificial intelligence algorithms, proponents argue that JADC2 will enable commanders to make better decisions more quickly. Detractors of JADC2 raise questions about the potential system's affordability and technical maturity, as well as concerns for how such a vast system would maintain its security.


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