Command and Control in U.S. Naval Competition with China

RAND – As China pursues its rise as a global power, it is incrementally orienting its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy toward power projection missions. At the same time, the U.S. Navy is working to enhance its capabilities to conduct counter-power projection missions. Command and control (C2) in naval competition presents one lens with which to view these evolving missions. Mission command, a pillar of the U.S. Navy’s culture for centuries, is central to its execution of power projection missions: leaders throughout the command chain are disciplined, apprised of their commander’s intent, and empowered to make decisions and execute actions. Historically, the PLA Navy has utilized a C2 system that reflects the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian rule and overall culture, which is fundamentally different from that of the U.S. Navy. The PLA Navy operates under tightly managed C2 — better described as control and command — that allows for little delegation of authority or independent action. The U.S. Navy and the PLA Navy are both likely to face challenges as they shift to new maritime missions unless they adapt their existing concepts of C2.