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By Kris Osborn, President, Center for Military Modernization

(Washington D.C.) 

Can fighter jets, drones, Navy-ships and ground-based weapons systems all receive, see and collaborate upon fast-incoming threat information and sensor-derived targeting all in real-time such as seconds or even milliseconds? The answer is yes. This reality, a long sought-after Pentagon ambition, is now breaking through to operational status.

Joint All Domain Command and Control Implementation Plan (JADC2)

Earlier this year Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks signed a breakthrough Joint All Domain Command and Control Implementation Plan, a text which specifies a series of steps necessary to bring joint, multi-domain warfare attack and connectivity to paradigm-changing levels of high-speed functionality.

The respective military service elements or contributions to this joint effort are just as vital as the joint operational picture they help bring to fruition.

“This isn't a single service, it's not just one program office, it's the entire DOD. So the -- the vastness of this. We also have DOD efforts underway, as -- as I'm sure most of you know -- Project Overmatch, Project Convergence, ABMS (Advanced Battle Management System),” Lieutenant General Dennis Crall, Director, Command, Control, Communications And Computers/Cyber; Chief Information Officer, Joint Staff, told reporters earlier this year in a JADC2 briefing, according to a Pentagon transcript.

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Dennis Crall, Joint Staff Chief Information Officer and Director for Command, Control and Computer/Cyber, gives opening remarks to press members during a briefing on the Joint All-Domain Command and Control implementation plan, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., March 18, 2022.

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Dennis Crall, Joint Staff Chief Information Officer and Director for Command, Control and Computer/Cyber, gives opening remarks to press members during a briefing on the Joint All-Domain Command and Control implementation plan, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., March 18, 2022.

The Pentagon’s Implementation Plan specifically calls for each of these respective service efforts to integrate and complement one another.

“Department development and implementation processes must be unified to deliver more effective cross-domain capability options,” the plan states.

For decades, the US military services have been experimenting with technologies designed to “network” the joint force in real time across multiple domains, using satellites, software programmable radios, datalinks and wireless computer interfaces. While there has been varying degrees of success over a period of many years, the Pentagon and the military services are now arguably at a breakthrough point in this long process with the Joint All Domain Command and Control program.

The initiative calls upon all of the military services to develop and integrate service-wide and multi-service networking and technical interfaces to enable the secure, yet seamless sharing of information across multiple combat nodes in real time. The idea, for instance, is to allow a Navy surface warship to share target specifics and intelligence information with Air Force fighter jets, unmanned systems and ground combat nodes through a common set of interoperable standards, all while maintaining critical security and information assurance. The Army’s contribution is through a series of breakthrough experiments called Project Convergence which uses AI-enabled computer algorithms to match sensors to shooters and massively reduce the time needed to find, verify and destroy an enemy target. The Navy effort, called Project Overmatch, is similar in concept and has been evolving for years through programs such as its Ghost Fleet effort in which groups of unmanned systems operate in close coordination with one another with growing levels of autonomy.

“You've heard a lot of talk across the department about JADC2. The Deputy Secretary of Defense is eager to make sure that we're pushing forward in the right way. It's a combination of a couple of different areas. First, it's making sure that each service understands their contribution to JADC2 capability as part of a joint force, and the Army is eager to support that,” Gabe Camarillo, Under Secretary of the Army, told Warrior in an interview.

Much of the speed of data processing, information organization and analysis is increasingly enabled by AI, yet connectivity needs to happen through common technical standards, sets of IP protocol and interfaces able to securely move data from one format to another across multiple domains. Much of this can be accomplished through “gateways,” systems which can in effect “translate” data from one format into another. Target data arriving through RF, for instance, can be converted into a format such that it could be transmitted through a different datalink, GPS or wireless computing technology. This kind of connectivity is critical to getting time-sensitive information to what Camarillo referred to as the “tactical edge.”

Video Above: Lieutenant General, Thomas Todd - Chief Innovation Officer of Army Futures Command sits down for an exclusive interview with Kris Osborn.

“We are working to share command and control data at the right echelon with our joint partners and our coalition partners, whether it's making sure that we provide the transport requirements that are needed all the way down to the tactical edge to ensure that the network is there to move the data around,” Camarillo said. “We want to ensure that we can demonstrate the interoperability of our weapon systems through multiple key nodes and at the correct right level to make sure that we do the right handoff with our joint partners and allies.”

“Department development and implementation processes must be unified to deliver more effective cross-domain capability options,” the plan states.

As the Pentagon now builds upon years of progress to accelerate its Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) program through its new Implementation Plan, each of the contributing US military services are drawing upon years of developmental effort. The Army, Navy and Air Force have been pursuing joint, multi-domain connectivity for nearly decades, both as individual services and a joint force.

"This step represents irreversible momentum toward implementing the JADC2 Strategy and concepts the Department announced earlier this year," said Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Warrior in a written statement. "This is about dramatically increasing the speed of information sharing and decision making in a contested environment to ensure we can quickly bring to bear all our capabilities to address specific threats."

The goal of the effort is something which could be described as a paradox, as it is both complex and extremely simple at the same time. It is about “speed,” enabled by information dominance, networking, high-speed data processing, common standards, AI-enabled computing and high-speed targeting to attack.

“If the clock wasn't on us, this might be a different -- a different pursuit, meaning you could take your time, you could make a lot of mistakes, you'll eventually get to the answer. And if it didn't matter when you got to the answer, then I guess that process would be good enough but a -- an answer good enough or a perfect answer delivered too late isn't good enough, and that's really our dilemma,” Crall said.

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The Pentagon not only wants to achieve paradigm-changing levels of “speed” in warfare, but also wants to use developmental “speed” to get there as well.

“Department development and implementation processes must execute at faster speeds…..Information Sharing capability improvements are designed and scaled at the enterprise level,” the Implementation Plan states.

The Department of Defense is now beginning to achieve long sought after networking, connectivity and cross-domain warfare goals envisioned and pursued for decades.

Fortified by measured progress from each of the individual services, air-ground-sea-cyberspace are approaching paradigm-changing levels of information sharing and information processing, massively increasing the speed of warfare and truncating the crucial sensor-to-shooter time curve essential to survival and victory in war.

Crall described JADC2 as operating within the conceptual framework of retired Air Force Col. John Boyd’s famous OODA loop.

The Navy's Project Overmatch not only seeks to connect with the other services but is also enabling its own service wide multi-domain connectivity with its submarines, surface ships and fixed wing aircrafts.

Therefore, the Navy itself need to connect air-sea-undersea domains itself, while then also extending connectivity to Army units on the ground and Air Force units above.

The Navy’s contribution to JADC2 has for years been making rapid progress with what’s called Project Overmatch, an AI-enabled system of multi-domain, multi-platform integration aligning surface, undersea and air assets to operate in close coordination with one another. This means information sharing between overhead drones, ship-launched fighter jets, surface ships, a fast-growing fleet of autonomous and semi-autonomous unmanned platforms and even submarines to a certain extent.

The idea is to engineer and execute multi-domain data sharing, which could for instance immediately link mine countermeasures with surface and undersea platforms in support of an air-surface amphibious assault.

Drones in the air and 5th-Generation aircraft could find threats from beyond the horizon, minefields could be found and neutralized ahead of incoming surface attacks and unmanned systems could survey enemy coastline to test defenses … all simultaneously in real time.

The intended cumulative battlefield effect is made manifest through sensors
“The speed of -- first of all, the volume of information is only growing exponentially. And we have the ability -- with the sensors…. the unblinking, all-seeing eye is everywhere. So we're awash in sensor data,” Crall said.

That is the idea, and the Navy has been making progress with this for many years now, in part through a project called Ghost Fleet or Operation Overlord which began years ago with the Office of Naval Research.

Progress with the effort has led to its migration to the service as a program, which has already demonstrated an ability for multiple unmanned systems to operate autonomously and semi-autonomously in close coordination with one another. The concept is to not only optimize point to point connectivity and command and control but a “networked” system of multiple “meshed” nodes operating in relation to one another, often without requiring human intervention.

These kinds of breakthroughs are exactly what are being harnessed with Project Overmatch, the foundation of the Navy’s contribution to JADC2.

Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action (OODA Loop)

Identified as Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action (OODA), the loop refers to the significance and speed of crucial time-sensitive war-engagement decision making.

“So we've talked about, you know, in a lot of our war colleges, this idea of Boyd's OODA Loop, being able to operate in a decision cycle faster than your adversary. What you described in that multi-domain, multi-battle -- the power of information has never been stronger, the machine-human interface, the need has never been greater, and JADC2 is attempting to leverage that so that we can deliver that -- the best decision to the warfighter in the fastest time. Crall told reporters in a briefing on JADC2, according to a Pentagon transcript.

The three guiding concepts woven into the Implementation Plan align closely with Boyd’s OODA loop concept, yet advance the idea in strategic, tactical and technological respects. The Implementation Plan identifies the three guiding C2 (Command and Control) functions of ‘sense,’ ‘make sense,’ and ‘act.’”

Building upon this, the text of the Implementation Plan outlines five Lines of Effort fundamental to bringing JADC2 to a fully operational level. According to the document they are “Establish the JADC2 Data Enterprise, Establish the JADC2 Human Enterprise, Establish the JADC2 Technical Enterprise, integrate Nuclear C2 and Communications with JADC2 and Modernize Mission Partner Information Sharing.”

Each of these LOEs, as they are called, is supported with implementation guidance in the document, which calls for the continued establishment and modernization of new interfaces and common technical IP protocol standards, radio waveform integration and stronger satellite connectivity with air, sea and ground platforms and “nodes.”

Speed of information flow, described not long ago by Air Force Europe Commander Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian as fighting at the “speed of relevance,” getting ahead of an enemy's decision cycle with integrated, high-speed targeting and attack.

Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.