Aug 31 2021

How to Make the Joint All-Domain Command and Control Actionable for Defense

There are many benefits to the JADC2 approach, but the Pentagon will need to deploy cross-domain technologies.

The Defense Department is on a mission. Each branch of the military, from the Air Force to the Army, and their mission partners collect a tremendous amount of sensor data — data that would be much more valuable on a single network.

Such connectivity is one of the central goals of Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2). In May, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin officially signed off on a comprehensive JADC2 strategy to connect its weapons systems and sensors.

If the DOD can safely and securely unify its collective military infospheres under one umbrella, it will have better intel. After the signoff, however, DOD leaders made it clear that their vision is not just collecting and sharing data across domains but enabling real-time analysis_._ Put another way, the goal is not only better intelligence but actionable intelligence.

To reach this goal, each service and mission partner will have to align and integrate with the JADC2 framework and provide an appropriate way for its respective office of primary responsibility (in concert with its respective program executive office acquisitions roadmap) to meet multidomain command and control requirements. Because the DOD runs at multiple security levels, this cannot be achieved without cross-domain technologies.

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JADC2 Enables Centralized Command and Control

With more devices connected to the internet, the DOD has data coming in from a growing number of sources. The JADC2 strategy is meant to create a combined domain and control system for all those data sources, based not just on connectivity but on advanced technologies such as zero-trust architecture, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

As a simplified example, consider the Uber app as a command-and-control center for allocating cars to users, combining GPS data, routing data, information on closed roads, resource availability and so on. JADC2 is built on a similar principle, but with far higher complexity and stakes.

The military naturally requires far more sophistication than consumer apps, as its data is being used to navigate battlefields and is much more sensitive. In a press conference last month, Lt. Gen. Dennis Crall said the secret to JADC2 success is balancing the need for security with the need for speed.

A war fighter must be able to track a target’s real-time location, for example, but that comes with risks. Data could become compromised in transit, or information could be accessed by the wrong people. For war fighters to detect potential threats and improve decision-making capabilities at the tactical edge, both connectivity and security must be ensured.

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The Role of Cross-Domain Security

The Defense Department operates across multiple security levels: unclassified, secret and top-secret, along with many partners’ classified networks. In order to create a truly centralized command and control, information must be able to move safely and seamlessly between these different domains — whether that means downgrading information from top-secret to secret, moving unclassified information up or interfacing with a partner country’s classified network.

This is where cross-domain solutions are important; they permit secure communication between networks that would otherwise be siloed. This is not to be confused with Multi-Domain Operations, a model that “describes how the U.S. Army, as part of the joint force, can counter and defeat a near-peer adversary capable of contesting the U.S. in all domains, in both competition and armed conflict.”

Cross-domain is a key enabler of MDO that allows information to be securely shared and exchanged between classification levels.

Cross-domain technologies also transform, inspect and validate data in transit to make sure the right information at the right classification level (and not malware) is being shared. The concept of linking all military data networks is simple in principle, but it comes with a lot of challenges regarding security.

By integrating cross-domain solutions, the DOD can balance the need for speed with the need for security. War fighters can share and analyze information from various domains without potentially compromising the mission. Additionally, as data continues to grow exponentially with faster compute platforms, the growing dependence on the cloud and “smarter” tactical systems, the need to share data between classification levels continues to grow.

With a centralized command and control, members of the military can use sensor data to make real-time decisions, whether that means processing data with AI to correctly identify targets or using that centralized data to decide on the proper weapon for the mission.

As the military uses JADC2 to connect its weapons systems, it needs cross-domain solutions in place to protect data that’s being shared. Without this step, sensor data cannot be actionable.

In 2019, the DOD held its first major JADC2 exercise, simulating a cruise missile threat. Data was connected from devices ranging from an F-22 fighter jet to a mobile artillery system, in addition to commercial space and ground sensors. According to a congressional briefing, the exercise “demonstrated being able to collect, analyze, and share data in real time,” the Congressional Research Service notes.

As JADC2 continues to evolve from strategy to reality, cross-domain solutions will be nonnegotiable for turning sensor data into actionable intelligence.

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