Skeptics of Services' JADC2 Plans Emerge
Considered the linchpin of future U.S. military operations, joint all-domain command and control, also known as JADC2, is the Pentagon’s effort to achieve information dominance across the services.
The Defense Department has mapped out a plan for JADC2’s implementation and begun delivering initial capabilities, but uncoordinated parallel efforts by the services, interoperability challenges and barriers preventing emerging technologies from contributing to its development are some of the many obstacles, according to industry and Pentagon officials.
JADC2 seeks to connect sensors and shooters from all domains — including air, land, sea, cyber and space — under one network. Data collected from the sensors in these domains will be processed and analyzed using artificial intelligence algorithms that are able to quickly identify targets and recommend best actions.
This type of command-and-control system has never been developed by the Pentagon. The singular network would allow tactical decisions to be made much quicker than the current multi-day process needed to issue some commands.
The need for a faster, integrated command-and-control system is underpinned by an emerging security environment much more complex than the United States has operated in for the last two decades, said Arsenio “Bong” Gumahad II, director of the command, control, communications, computers/intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4/ISR) division in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment.
He pointed to China’s military advancements and Russia’s recent full-scale invasion of Ukraine as the main threats to U.S. national security.
“Our adversaries are not waiting for us. Across all domains, they are constantly seeking to out-compete and out-innovate the United States,” Gumahad said in July during the JADC2: All Domain Warfare Symposium hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association.
Although the Pentagon’s goal is to have tactical network data hosted on one cloud-like environment, the Departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force each fund and manage their own projects that will eventually contribute to JADC2.
With each service in charge of separate programs, one of the biggest challenges facing JADC2’s implementation is interoperability between all three, said Doug Bush, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology.
“I think the challenge we’ll see is mostly one of joint coordination and design — bringing together the work the services are already doing and then integrating that in a way that is comprehensive rather than all of us running on our own,” Bush said.
However, each of the Army, Air Force and Navy’s respective projects prioritize different elements of command and control, said Sean Stackley, president of integrated mission systems at L3 Harris.
The Army hosts an annual exercise to assess capabilities known as Project Convergence. The Air Force is developing its Advanced Battle Management System. The Navy has its own version called Project Overmatch.
Stackley said the various directions each service is taking has led him to believe a clear concept of operations for how JADC2 will contribute to joint operations needs to be formed by the Pentagon.
“We’ve got to get the CONOPS right first,” he emphasized. “What are the CONOPS that can allow the department and industry to focus, target, build a little, test a little and deliver all in the right direction for JADC2?”
The Pentagon has stood up a JADC2 Cross-Functional Team dedicated to address interoperability concerns between the services. However, Bush noted that a more formal office dedicated to the effort “could be useful in terms of making sure requirements are actually stacked and prioritized and given to the services.”
As a way to keep the separate programs on track to meet the Pentagon’s vision, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks signed the JADC2 Implementation Plan in March. The classified document outlines how the department will address shortfalls and gaps within its strategy and streamline the delivery of capabilities by driving investments, Gumahad said.
In addition, the Air Force hosted all five service chiefs in June to share their advancements in developing JADC2 and discuss how they can find a common ground in the future, he said.
Part of that discussion covered how to achieve a more robust concept of operations for joint operations, “which is currently fraught with challenges when forces become disconnected from global communications networks,” according to an Air Force press release.
While the Pentagon works on mapping out a path to interoperability, industry believes it can play a decisive role in helping the government integrate all of the capabilities — including physical sensors, data storage and AI — that will enable the system.
Much of the technology needed to accomplish integration is available in the commercial sector, said Chris Brose, chief strategic officer at Anduril, a company that develops a variety of advanced defense technologies.
“What we’re ultimately trying to do is collect, process, use [and] move data to solve mission problems at scale,” Brose said during the symposium. “That technology exists, the government does not need to go out and try to create it itself. … I think the challenge comes to how we are actually integrating this capability — both hardware and software — to solve problems with deployment.”
But in order for industry to apply their technologies to the mission, the Pentagon must make their problems more transparent, he said. Having more access to sequences and activities would allow companies like Anduril to evaluate their technologies and determine the best ones for JADC2, he added.
Daniel Ragsdale, vice president of Department of Defense strategy at Two Six Technologies, also highlighted the need for more transparency between government and industry. The ability to work through specific mission threads would allow industry to find capability gaps for JADC2, he added.
“We’ve got to select specific mission threads and look for those complementary capabilities, those diverse needs across all the kill chains and kill webs,” Ragsdale said. “By identifying them, we’re going to identify those systems which need to interoperate.”
In the meantime, the Pentagon is looking to leverage industry’s innovations in digital engineering, Gumahad said. Digital engineering uses data and computer models to optimize tasks, such as design, analysis, prototyping and experimentation.
“Adherence to collective advancement of digital engineering standards will allow us to have a truly modular digital architecture that would advance our efforts in delivering interoperable capabilities to the joint warfighter,” he said.
Digital engineering has been a key tool for the Space Force, said Brig. Gen. John Olson, the Space Force’s lead for JADC2 and Advanced Battle Management System.
For example, the Space Warfighting Analysis Center is taking a digital engineering approach to create threat-based models and using those to inform system requirements, he added.
“No longer are we taking such a large volume of paper products, we’re taking models and we’re bringing those into the broader ecosystem,” Olson said during a panel at the symposium. “That helps accelerate what we’re doing through the planning, programming, budgeting and execution process. What that spells [is] a much more rapid, much more informed, much more iterative, much more agile approach.”
Olson pointed to the development of the Space Development Agency’s upcoming data transport layer of satellites, known as the tranche 1 transport layer, as examples of how digital engineering can speed up acquisition.
These space-based capabilities, which are slated to start launching in September 2024, are considered the foundation of JADC2, said Frank Turner, SDA’s technical director.
“Somebody’s got to move the data,” Turner said. “We’re putting that infrastructure in place to move that data from where it’s created to the tactical edge so the warfighter can get the value out of it.”
In order to quickly field the constellation layer, the agency has utilized alternative acquisition pathways like the department’s Adaptive Acquisition Framework, he said.
Rather than going through the traditional steps to acquire a new capability, which can take years and stymie modernization efforts, the framework was created in order to give program managers more flexibility when developing acquisition strategies for different technology types. The policy outlines six pathways that are tailored to the unique characteristics of the capability being acquired.
The pathways have been used to acquire other capabilities that are laying the foundations of JADC2, Gumahad said.
For example, the Army is utilizing the middle-tier acquisition pathway to deliver the capabilities for its network modernization effort called the integrated tactical network, he said.
The pathway is specifically designed to enable the rapid prototyping, demonstration and fielding of proven technology to warfighters. It has been key in the Army’s vision for the integrated tactical network, which focuses on incremental development and delivery of new capability sets every two years, with each one informing the future capabilities of the next, Gumahad said.
The upcoming third capability set, known as Capability Set ‘25, will be crucial in building up Army technologies for JADC2, according to the service.
While there is value to acquiring technology through these types of rapid prototype demonstrations, doing them without considering warfighter needs or an implementation plan “is likely to build a bridge to nowhere,” Gumahad said.
Software acquisition is another pathway in the framework and is designed to enable continuous delivery of updates, he added. Given its significance in JADC2, the department needs to utilize these pathways to acquire software at faster rates, he said.
Even with these alternative strategies, successful acquisition of capabilities for JADC2 requires the entire Joint Force to be on the same page, Gumahad said.
“A holistic approach to enterprise acquisition is necessary. It’s an absolute — one that integrates policies and processes at the micro level and allies other key aspects of defense acquisition at the macro level,” he said.
Olson also stressed the importance of constant communication among Pentagon officials, industry and academia.
“It takes a team sport. We’ve got to have dialogue on what’s working and what’s not,” he said. “That’s got to be frequent, regular communication where we actually do something on the government side and become action oriented.”
In the end, having an incremental and buildable approach to acquisition of technologies for JADC2 still hinges on a strong concept of operations, Stackley said.
“CONOPS are critical for defining … the way we fight, and then you can prioritize and sequence the build-out of this capability,” he said. “It’s a very fundamental question, and I don’t think it has been answered yet.”