February 27, 2024

Command and Control for Replicator and Beyond

Most of the public discourse around Replicator has focused on which platforms will be selected, which missions they will serve, and how they will be funded and procured. However, implementing thousands of attritable, autonomous or semi-autonomous drones will also present challenges for existing command and control structures as they adapt to a new model of warfighting. These challenges will vary by theater, domain, and mission. BCE has identified several challenges.

Across Theaters

Across theaters, C2 systems must handle hundreds, if not thousands, of unmanned systems operating concurrently across multiple domains. They also must handle multiple missions, with an initial emphasis on ISR, electronic warfare, and kinetic attacks. C2 systems will therefore have to seamlessly integrate between tactical and operational levels, crossing operational boundaries between formations and services. This will become increasingly challenging as the depth and the breadth of the battlefield increases, as formations become larger, and as the battle becomes more mobile.

Pacific Theater

The Pacific Theater will primarily operate in the air and sea domains. Given the breadth of the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, the services will require systems that can operate and be commanded and controlled across longer distances. These systems can also be employed across a range of missions from ISR to deep strike to mine hunting and integrated air and missile defense.

In an air-sea battle, even in relatively closer battles (i.e. the littoral environment), there will be a premium on the ability to share real-time between services. For example, hundreds of unmanned airborne systems could be operating within multiple battle formations (e.g., Marines operating from islands, unmanned surface vessels engaging enemy surface vessels, unmanned aircraft conducting deep strikes on enemy missile launchers). This is further complicated by the large number of civilian and cargo vessels. An effective common operating picture must show the red (enemy) and blue (friendly) forces, but also the gray (noncombatant, nonaligned) systems. This combination of domains, distances, and missions poses a series of questions on which command and control architectures are most effective. DoD and industry must work together to determine the most effective architectures and systems.

European and Middle Eastern Theaters

The European and Middle Eastern theaters will use a mix of air, land, and sea assets. However, it will have a greater focus on air and land assets. Unlike the Pacific Theater, conflicts in these theaters will be Army-led. Therefore, existing Army doctrine and tactics, techniques, and procedures can be applied to drone swarms. Further, lessons learned from the Ukrainian conflict can be applied directly to any future conflicts in these theaters. Drones will likely conduct ISR missions or deliver effects using “hunter-killer” tactics. This allows for proven command and control architectures like Kill Boxes to be applied to future conflicts, where drone operators are given geographically defined boxes with altitude limitations and localized control is delegated to the tactical ground commander.

In these theaters, a real time common operating picture becomes essential. Latency will be a critical issue because future operations will depend on knowing where forces will be and how enemies are employing both personnel and drones. This becomes further complicated in urban environments for two primary reasons. First, there are fewer options for terminal control to clear the target. Second, an operator’s ability to apply the rules of engagement and understand collateral damage consequences becomes even more challenging.


In many ways, Replicator is not the final solution but an effort to build the foundation, in terms of both technology and manufacturing capability, for a manned-unmanned military. Building a drone arsenal that can complete multiple missions across domains and establishing the command-and-control architectures and systems to execute these missions will be difficult. Vendors have the opportunity to leverage existing C2 capabilities like open-architectures, encrypted communications, and hierarchical task nominations to meet near term needs. However, in the long-term the DoD must develop new systems to monitor, command, and control large drone swarms in real-time while minimizing manpower requirements. These open questions provide industry with an opportunity to work side by side with DoD to shape the future of the unmanned systems’ command-and-control.


Aerospace and Defense

Ben Osterholtz
Manager Boston
Craig Belanger
Senior Partner & Co-Founder Boston
Joe Giandomenico
Principal Boston
Anirudh Suneel
Principal London
Mark Kipphut
Senior Advisor Dallas
Robyn Pirie
Manager Boston
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