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JADC2: An urgent requirement upon us now

A graphic illustrating the intended coverage of the JADC2 concept. (US Department of Defense/Released)
May 10, 2021

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Even before the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act, which reworked the military into a more cohesive command structure, Commanders have always wanted decisive information at the right place at the right time. But 36 years later, even as “jointness” has become the norm, it is still challenging for the Joint Task Force Commander to establish decisive information dominance and situational awareness in a contested environment. 

In the year 2021, Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) has arrived as essentially the Holy Grail to answer this long-sought-after capability. The JADC2 capability is about access to data, integration of data, and having the right data at the right time at the right place. JADC2 would also critically, foster the return of a U.S. Long Range Precision Fires capability, including hypersonic weapons. As an adventurist China works to de-stabilize the Indo-Pacific theater and Russia similarly does so in Europe, this capability will be vital to deter such aggression from our adversaries.

A vital step when introducing new technologies is the question of legacy system integration. This is always a vexing issue as platforms and capabilities, often which are successful and mature, must be identified for rank ordering of integration into a new program, such as JADC2. The simple question is, “Which Systems First?” 

For JADC2, several capabilities would be intuitively at the front of the line for integration into initial deployment spirals. One of the first would logically be position, navigation, and timing (PNT) integration. This should include resilience and alternatives to traditional PNT to ensure delivery of PNT in contested environments with Great Power competitors.                       

The full integration of data links is also important. This includes military tactical data links such as the current Link 16, impending Link 22, and legacy Link 11, all of which allow military aircraft as well as ships and ground forces may exchange their tactical picture in near-real time.   These are the critical data link environments that connect our platforms for information sharing.  

This data link integration should include American forces as well as allies, strategic partners, and informal partners such as the “Quad” forces that we will need to align with to deter and if necessary, defeat nations that seek to de-stabilize regional environments including invading neighboring countries.  

Newer programs that are in the early requirements phase of their acquisition lifecycle can relatively easily incorporate JADC2 compatibility into their programs. The reality is with existing programs that are past the requirements phase must review and address contractual structure to incorporate the ability to seamlessly share with JADC2.

But JADC2 is not just about robust capability to share and integrate data – it is about actioning the data – this is the essential core foundational “goodness” of JADC2. Not just data aggregation – we have plenty of that already and Joint Command Posts and staffs have plenty of data, which they must manually data mine and assess, not the optimal use of time. Advanced Artificial Intelligence is the critical JADC2 capability to ingest, decide, and action the data for the Joint Task Force Commander and staff. 

The recently released Final Report from the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence is overflowing with actionable recommendations relevant for the JADC2 initiative.  Closely related with AI is resilient cybersecurity – we must ensure the foundational elements of cyber hygiene are incorporated from the beginning. That is why it is also important that we ensure the right contractors for the job are chosen to implement this project from the start. While Silicon Valley firms – which are trying earnestly to become the newest players in the defense space – have thrown their hat into the ring, only core contractors in the defense industrial base like the ones currently being discussed – Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrup and Boeing – have the know-how and expertise to do the job right. 

Having spent nearly twenty years in the Pentagon in uniform and as a senior DoD Civilian, I have seen the triumph and tragedy of good program initiatives. Some manage to make it through the requirements, budget, and program wickets, but many languish and are smothered by the “help” applied by the inter-agency, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff, and Service Staffs. The United States is currently in a precarious Phase 0 and 1 of the Competition Continuum with Great Power competitors. The time is now for a rapid implementation of JADC2. We don’t have five or 10 years; we need capability now to start exercising as we may have to fight if deterrence falls short. We must get the right contractor in place, and then everyone must move with a purpose to ensure success for JADC2. 

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Colonel (Retired) John Mills is the Former Director for Cybersecurity Policy, Strategy, and International Affairs, Office of the Secretary of Defense.