Cover: Universal Command and Control Language Early System Engineering

Universal Command and Control Language Early System Engineering

Performance Effects of a Universal Command and Control Standard

Published Feb 21, 2023

by James Dimarogonas, Jasmin Léveillé, Jan Osburg, Shane Tierney, Bonnie L. Triezenberg, Graham Andrews, Bryce Downing, Muharrem Mane, Monica Rico


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Research Questions

  1. How can a conceptual framework be established to analyze system-of-systems performance of different sensor-to-shooter connections, combinations, and associated command and control constructs?
  2. How does performance depend on the characteristics of interfaces?
  3. How does performance vary with respect to the details of the technical implementation?

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) requires more efficient and timely methods to acquire, integrate, and interoperate systems, and perhaps more crucially systems-of-systems (SoSs), to deter near-peer adversaries in a rapidly evolving threat environment and prevail in combat should deterrence fail. Current practice for integration across systems generally relies on the development of interface control documents that describe in detail how the different systems and subsystems connect and interact.

In 2019, RAND researchers were asked to participate in a multiyear effort to help DoD understand the challenges of creating a universal command and control language (UCCL) to facilitate the evolution of systems and interoperability of SoSs. In this report, the authors establish a conceptual framework for analyzing SoS performance of different sensor-to-shooter connections, combinations, and associated command and control constructs. The analysis shows that implementation details of a standard interface may contribute to interface overhead that changes technical performance by orders of magnitude.

Overall, while the authors found that there are cases in which mission performance is mainly driven by operational parameters and not the interface design, there are also cases in which implementing a standard interface has the potential to adversely influence mission outcomes if designers do not apply in-depth engineering analysis and careful design practice. This research should not be viewed as a study of a specific standard interface, but as an early system engineering study of how such an interface could and should be designed.

Key Findings

  • Interface technical performance—as measured by throughput/bandwidth and latency of processing the data packets—is greatly affected by implementation; mission performance is mainly driven by operational concepts and not the interface design.
  • Features of the network in which the standard is installed—such as architecture, communications model, and number of participants—can have significant impact on system performance, even when the standard and its implementation are unchanged.
  • Higher complexity associated with processing of some messaging standards has a significant effect.
  • Nevertheless, a UCCL has the potential to adversely affect mission outcomes if designers do not apply in-depth engineering analysis and careful design practice.
  • The potential impact on mission performance may force designers to limit the amount of overhead they are willing to incur in implementing a new SoS.


  • Focus on achieving interoperability for SoSs with non-time-critical interfaces or missions with wide performance margins that allow the warfighter to reap the benefits of more or better sensor-shooter pairing.
  • When evaluating the risk of implementing a UCCL, specifically evaluate and design mitigation strategies for systems with severely restricted bandwidth links, systems with processors that have very little available processing power, algorithms that require large amounts of data operations per bit of data, and systems with submillisecond performance requirements.
  • For interfaces that have tight delay and timing requirements, optimize the interface prior to the mission, not dynamically during the mission.
  • Create multiple versions of the standard that are optimized to the performance constraints of the underlying networks and computing nodes.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary Defense and conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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