Incoming: Toward a Stronger Military with Smartest Systems

November 1, 2020
By Maj. Gen. Jennnifer Napper, USA (Ret.)

In the book Bracketing the Enemy, John R. Walker writes about the World War II practice of having forward observers accompany infantrymen on the front lines to send targeting information back to artillery gunners. This innovation helped the United States win crucial battles because gunners benefited from timely and accurate information instead of guessing target locations.

This sensor-to-shooter concept evolved over the decades as leaders sought to integrate services, commands and units to develop a greater advantage. The Tri-Service Tactical Communications (TRITAC) program from several generations ago attempted to do just that. Although it provided interoperability between the military services’ tactical systems, it ultimately did not meet expectations because of a lack of adoption across all services.

Perhaps it was just a bit ahead of its time. The presence of many large weapons systems, each with their own separate networks, represents a pervasive siloed approach. Even on one airborne platform, multiple sensors may have their own downlinks on disparate networks to different locations and commands. This arrangement is the result of a legacy procurement structure built to support individual systems and their production schedules—and with many years left in some of their lifespans, moving away from this seems daunting.

Efforts to streamline procurement eventually will catch up and lead to more integrated systems, and when it does, the technology will be there to support them. Actually, it’s ready today with common standards and Internet protocols that make it easy to share and analyze data among commands. The U.S. Defense Department recognizes this need to field more cohesive systems, especially when it comes to threat analysis in a multidomain operations environment.

In fact, the department’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) concept was developed for this purpose. The JADC2 will strive to deploy synchronized technology, increase distribution of data flows and provide analysis quickly so that warfighters can make the most of their resources and achieve an operational advantage. At the core of the idea is a joint architecture that breaks down the barriers between the armed services and networks and leads to better decision-making.

For example, in a common operating platform with the right data flows, an Air Force command can be notified of the status of an isolated Army unit needing support. This overcomes the obstacle of interoperability among multiple systems and chains of command while allowing each service to bring its own uniqueness to the JADC2. The Army offers its missile defense and related capabilities from Project Convergence, and the Air Force has accumulated experience with diverse sensors that send data to a central repository. Leveraging artificial intelligence to process the data, the system can send information to the appropriate weapon system regardless of service—Army, Navy or Marine Corps.

But the JADC2’s greatest value lies in its ability to connect formerly disparate systems for better battlefield management without decommissioning each service’s systems. It represents an opportunity to embrace the reality that success in current and future warfighting requires the unique capabilities of individual service branches, as well as the near-simultaneous sharing of data, information and situational understanding across all domains.

To achieve this paradigm shift, the cyber and electronic warfare communities must participate in the JADC2’s development of standards, interfaces and tools for situational understanding along with the joint architecture. This will avoid a repeat of the TRITAC outcome.

The JADC2 is a reflection of the belief of the Army’s chief of staff who said, “Over time, the speed, scale and complexity of the fight will only increase, as emerging technologies including robotics, autonomy and artificial intelligence change the character of war.”

A joint architecture, built on commercial standards and interfaces, powered by artificial intelligence and allowing the military to fight as a unified force—could it be that its time has finally come?

Maj. Gen. Jennifer Napper, USA (Ret.), is a vice president in Perspecta Inc.’s defense group. She previously served as director of cybersecurity plans and policy for the U.S. Department of Defense Cyber Command, and she led the U.S. Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM).

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