Commentary: New Fund Could Help Services Achieve JADC2 Goals
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks last summer announced plans to create the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve fund.
The objective of RDER — pronounced “raider” — is to create an “innovation ecosystem” within the Defense Department. The fund will allow different organizations to introduce innovative concepts while competing for resources to field promising technologies faster.
The Army, Air Force and Navy are pursuing separate programs that fall under the joint all-domain command and control (JADC2) umbrella that has a goal to connect sensors to shooters on the battlefield across the U.S. military. The Pentagon plans to leverage programs, such as RDER, to field the technology necessary to close capability gaps and accomplish the joint integration needed to achieve this vision.
Modernization goals set in the Army’s Project Convergence are to deploy tanks, field artillery and cavalry units in a joint, interconnected movement with infantry to utilize the latest technology on the modern battlefield, such as long-range precision fires and Future Vertical Lift aircraft. This strategy will embed more technology such as unmanned systems to initiate contact with the adversary and open avenues of approach for ground troops to outmaneuver enemy forces.
The Air Force’s modernization efforts will focus on advanced munitions, including the development of hypersonic missiles and the next generation of cruise missiles. The Advanced Battle Management System will help field these capabilities and lay the groundwork for modern technology priorities such as new software development, cloud computing and centralizing cybersecurity.
The Navy will need to integrate its undersea forces by utilizing artificial intelligence capabilities. Project Overmatch looks to develop communications between undersea vessels — manned or unmanned — featuring antennas, advanced sonar technology, and a secure platform capable of delivering messages between maneuvering Naval elements — both undersea and above sea — to operate with maximum lethality.
The idea of integrating the services’ capabilities is akin to solving a puzzle, each piece playing a unique role in the bigger picture.
Unfortunately, some of those pieces are missing. While the efforts of the service’s JADC2 programs — Project Convergence, ABMS and Project Overmatch — to modernize and integrate are the proper approach, implementation has experienced issues fielding the “missing pieces.”
Given the intricate nature of each service’s respective battle networks and their different needs in areas ranging from contested logistics to long-range precision fires, modernization efforts are experiencing delays caused by capabilities gaps between the services.
RDER can help close these gaps to achieve joint integration. What separates it from other initiatives is that competition, while important, is not the main idea for awarding the funding.
The deciding factor in whether a project will receive funding is how well the product can function jointly and across multiple platforms to close capabilities gaps. This concept will allow the RDER’s “innovation ecosystem” objective to remain fluent and support the services’ modernization efforts with funds appropriated from Capitol Hill.
Hicks formed the Innovation Steering Group to further assist with efforts to transition innovative technologies to programs of record. The group, chaired by Undersecretary for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu, will chart the department’s innovative organizations, strengthen joint experimentation efforts and enhance research laboratories. It will also oversee the continued development of the RDER fund.
Currently, Shyu is working with the services to get modernization efforts from the three services’ integration projects off the ground. The RDER fund’s emphasis on joint concepts will allow the initiative to naturally fill the gaps between the service’s modernization programs and directly contribute to the Pentagon’s overarching JADC2 efforts.
Skeptics of JADC2 have raised concerns regarding its technical maturity, return on investment, and whether it is feasible to field a network on such a large scale to support command-and-control efforts in modern warfare. The RDER fund is uniquely positioned to help quell these concerns. Shyu’s office has received over 200 white papers from across the departments. It has made recommendations to Hicks on 32 programs that best meet the needs of the combatant commands and will have the most immediate impact in closing capabilities gaps.
The 32 classified programs reportedly focus on command and control and integrated long-range fires. They are “on the cusp” of delivering prototypes in areas such as laser systems for missile defense.
With the momentum generated from the 32 programs, Shyu looks to expand the RDER program to the private sector by as early as 2023. The RDER fund will be critical for the Defense Department to adopt best practices from industry to field the right technology quickly from a concept to a program of record.
The programs necessary to modernize and equip the military, such as RDER, are ready and set. They are currently waiting on Congress to say “go.”
However, the federal government’s current funding is under a continuing resolution as of press time. Even more alarming is the possibility of a full-year CR.
Now is the time to use available resources to develop and field technologies capable of modernizing and filling capabilities gaps. A yearlong CR would cripple modernization, readiness, and all current efforts to compete with near-peer adversaries, including the RDER fund.
Inadequate funding from lawmakers would halt momentum and prevent the fund from expanding outside the Defense Department into the highly innovative private sector, and beyond.
Congress must avert a yearlong CR.
Heath Taylor is a legislative policy associate at NDIA.