While JADC2 heralds a paradigm shift in how the US armed forces and allied services share information, its implementation faces distinct challenges.
On paper, the project seems simple enough. According to a 2021 US Congressional Research Service (CRS) report the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) concept connects ‘sensors from all of the military services’. This includes those used by the US Navy, Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Space Force. All these will be integrated into a single network.
Until now, America’s armed services used largely stove-piped Command and Control (C2) systems. These share information from the lowest tactical echelon up to the strategic level of command. This information comprises all manner of data from pictures and video to written and voice traffic. As the CRS report notes, it has not always been easy to share information from one service to another. JADC2 aims to merge these stovepipes.
“It has been an interesting show to watch,” says Stephen ‘Tango’ Tourangeau, dean of the RV Jones Institute. The institute is a centre of excellence for electromagnetic spectrum operations. Tourangeau says that JADC2 is “specifically ambitious because it is finally an attempt to bring everything under one control infrastructure. It is a great construct with some big challenges.”
The US Department of Defence (DoD) argues that the speed of conflict is making ponderous information sharing at best antiquated and at worst a glaring weak point. Evidence of war’s acceleration is ubiquitous. The advent of military hypersonics is seeing weapons hitting speeds of between Mach Five and Mach Ten. This translates into velocities of between 3,334 knots (6,174 kilometres-per-hour) to 6,667kts (12,348km/h). Russia’s NPO Mashinostrogeniya 3M22 Ziron (NATO reporting name SS-N-33) reportedly can attain 6,000kts (11,113km/h). Local reports say that the 3M22 is in the final stages of testing. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) too is getting in on the act. In October 2021 the New York Times reported that the PRC’s Xingkong-2 hypersonic uninhabited space plane has been undergoing testing. The Xingkong-2 is believed to be capable of speeds of up to 3,734kts (6,915km/h).
What is JADC2?
Cloud Computing is at the core of JADC2. The DoD envisages a cloud which will hold information. Let’s suppose that US forces are engaged in a large, theatre-level joint operation in the Middle East. All US forces supporting that operation would be able to upload information gathered by their sensors to the cloud. Likewise, those forces could download relevant information from the cloud. Imagine that the Red Force has deployed theatre ballistic missiles ready to strike key US theatre targets like a large joint C2 facility. A US Air Force Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II combat aircraft discovers the missile launchers. This information is immediately uploaded to the cloud. Realising that the launchers are priority targets, the joint force commander searches for kinetic assets to engage them. The optimum unit is an army artillery battery. The battery is equipped with Strategic Long-Range Cannons. It is immediately tasked by the command to strike the launchers.
The decision on which effects should be used, whether they be kinetic, cyber or electronic will fall to commanders. Nonetheless, they will be assisted by Artificial Intelligence (AI). Returning to the scenario above, consider this example. The joint force’s C2 software includes AI and Machine Learning (ML) algorithms. These continuously analyse intelligence and data shared by Blue Force sensors on the cloud. ML algorithms have learnt to associate specific radio waveforms with Red Force C2 centres. Communications intelligence sensors have detected these waveforms being transmitted from a building in a Red Force city. However, there is a problem. The AI usually correlates these waveforms with images of tents and vehicles in rural areas normally associated with Red Force deployed headquarters. This suggests that the city building is being used as a covert Red Force command post. The AI predicts that this is maybe the case. Nonetheless, as the building is in an urban area, it cautions against the use of kinetic effects, specifying a non-kinetic solution instead. The final decision on the effects to be used against the target will be down to the commander. Nonetheless, AI will clearly act as an important decision support tool. Put simply, JADC2 to be an important contribution to the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) loop aphorism at the heart of manoeuvre warfare philosophy. As argued by manoeuvre’s prophet, Colonel John Boyd, whoever navigates the OODA Loop the quickest in war is most likely to prevail.
While software plays a key part in JADC2 emerging communications technologies will also be embraced. These include so-called ‘5G’ or fifth-generation cellular communications protocols. 5G is an important improvement on the current 4G cellular protocols routinely used in the civilian world. It uses several low-band, mid-band and Millimetre Wave (MMW) segments of the radio spectrum. These cover frequencies of 400 megahertz/MHz to 3.4 gigahertz/GHz up to 72GHz. 5G promises major increases in data rates compared to current 4G protocols, potentially hitting speeds of 20 gigabits-per-second. Latency, the speed it takes for traffic to move from one place to another, could fall to under one millisecond. More subscribers can also be hosted on a single 5G node than is possible on a 4G node.
5G will be midwife to the Internet of Things (IOT). The IOT will connect systems which are not primarily communications devices to one another so that they can share data. For example, a person will be able to monitor the temperature of their oven or fridge from their smartphone while away from home. In the military sphere the IOT will give rise to the Internet of Military Things (IOMT). This will allow platforms, weapons and sensors to continually share data. By using a military 5G network an armoured vehicle could continually share details of its fuel load with maintainers back at base. They will be able to plan exactly how much fuel the vehicle will need when it returns from its mission. The CRS report says that 5G and the IMOT will “connect numerous sensors with weapons systems, using (AI) algorithms to help improve decision-making.” 5G links will be vital to ensuring that data flows to and from the combat cloud.
At the core of the JADC2 architecture is the US Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS). The ABMS is the air force’s new C2 system. Official USAF documents say that the ABMS will use cloud computing and new communications protocols. AI will be incorporated into the ABMS to help human decision-making. Work is forging ahead on ABMS implementation. Demonstrations of its architecture commenced in December 2019. The US Army is, meanwhile, moving forward with Project Convergence. Like ABMS, this aims to accelerate “speed, range and decision dominance to achieve overmatch,” according to an official army statement. At the core of Project Convergence is the integration of the army’s C2 architecture into JADC2. Project Convergence is in fact a series of annual army experiments focusing on five elements. These are troops, weapons, C2, information and terrain. The experiments are designed to take the army’s ideas on future warfare and trial them in the real world. This will help determine how the army will organise and equip for future conflicts. In turn it will help determine army C2 architectures and how these can be connected to the joint force via JADC2. Finally, the US Navy is working on Project Overmatch. Like army and air force efforts this will develop approaches to connecting platforms, personnel, sensors and weapons; influencing the development of naval C2 architectures which dovetail with JADC2.
To date, two major JADC2 exercises have been held. One in December 2019 focused on networking USAF and US Navy platforms and sensors. The ABMS knitted together USAF Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor and F-35A fighters. A US Navy Arleigh Burke class destroyer participated in the exercise along with a US Army Raytheon AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel ground-based air surveillance radar. Commercial sensors were also used to collect, analyse and share data on a simulated cruise missile attack against Florida. The simulated missile was engaged and destroyed using an army howitzer. A similar experiment was performed in July 2020. This tied together USAF aircraft, US Navy vessels and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) warships in the Black Sea to counter a simulated Russian threat.
Implementation is major task implicit in the JADC2 undertaking: “The huge problem is that we know what we need to do but implementing the ideas has become a huge challenge,” says Tourangeau. As noted above, JADC2 will use existing and emerging communications protocols for smooth information flows. The array of communications protocols used by the US military and NATO is truly bewildering. Very/Ultra High Frequency (V/UHF) radio networks are joined by satellite communications (SATCOM). Add emerging protocols like 5G and laser communications to this and things get more complicated. What causes headaches is that these different links do not always ‘play nice’ with each other. For example, V/UHF bandwidths maybe noticeably narrower than those offered on MMW frequencies. Moreover, the format of the data and voice traffic carried by each link will be different. Like a person conversing in Serbo-Croat to a fluent Mongolian speaker, traffic will have to be translated so it can move from one user to another via the cloud. What is more, this voice and data traffic will have to remain as secure as possible. The amount of data now moving around the battlefield has grown exponentially since the advent of the silicon chip. Tourangeau says that this will increase with AI and ML being used in computers supporting personnel and materiel.
He believes that one potential solution to this crosslink challenge is to develop NATO-wide standards for any system linking into the overall JADC2 architecture. These could be enshrined in NATO Standardisation Agreements (STANAGS) or equivalent DoD Military Standards. This would ensure that any and all materiel is JADC2 ready and help avoid data sharing problems. Having NATO STANAGS to this effect would also help US allies easily plug into the JADC2 architecture during future operations. NATO’s Link-11/22 and Link-16 tactical data links are integral to coalition operations. This is almost certain to be the case for JADC2 in the future. One potential answer to this challenge is STITCHES (System-of-Systems Technology Integration Tool Chain for Heterogenous Electronics Systems). This is a Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) initiative. It is developing software to integrate any communications system in any domain to enable low-latency, high data rate communications. STITCHES will achieve this without recourse to modifying a system’s existing software.
Allied to this challenge is ensuring that enough of the electromagnetic spectrum, where the radio waves that V/UHF, 5G and SATCOM rely on reside, is available in theatre to carry this burden: “There needs to be a focus on ensuring that enough of the requisite spectrum is available and secure,” says Tourangeau. “Is the DoD putting enough effort into ensuring the transportation network is available and secure?” Not only does this mean guaranteeing enough spectrum is available, but that spectrum is protected from attack. This rests on US forces and their allies winning Electromagnetic Superiority and Supremacy (E2S). Electromagnetic superiority means that the Blue Force can operate in the spectrum without prohibitive interference from the Red Force. Electromagnetic supremacy means that the Red Force is incapable of effective interference in the Blue Force’s use of the spectrum. In October 2020, the DOD launched its Electromagnetic Spectrum Superiority Strategy to address the need to secure E2S in future conflicts. While Tourangeau broadly welcomes both JADC2 and the strategy, he worries the recommendations and requirements of the latter have been insufficiently tied to the former. “There is a need at senior DoD levels to put a focus on that,” he urges. “How are we going to ensure that the data flows uninterruptedly?”
JADC2 is not without its detractors. Given its reliance on cloud computing, the obvious concern is the cloud’s vulnerability to cyberattack. On the one hand, JADC2 heralds a step change in the speed and efficiency at which the US armed forces share information. On the other hand, this benefit could become a vulnerability if cyberattacks disrupt, degrade, destroy or deceive the data stored on the cloud.
The extent to which AI will support decision-making is a further concern. As one of the CRS reports warns “some question how much a human would be needed for JADC2 to make decisions in real time, and whether it is appropriate to reduce the amount of human involvement in military-related decisions.” War is accelerating as shown by hypersonic threats, and the need to navigate the OODA loop faster than one’s adversary. At the same time, the buck should always stop at the commander’s laptop. It is them and their human subordinates who should always be responsible for the use of lethal force. Letting AI have the final say on the use of force potentially opens a legal and ethical minefield.
JADC2 is on the horizon. It promises to revolutionise operations by accelerating US and allied decision making and information sharing. It could become one of the most important contributions to the evolution of manoeuvre warfare since the German Army pioneered Blitzkrieg (Lightning War) over 80 years ago. Yet the road to JADC2 has obstacles. Challenges regarding communications protocols, spectrum availability and protection, and ethical questions regarding AI and ML remain. Answering these challenges is unavoidable if JADC2 is to work as advertised. “We have some time” to think about these challenges, says Tourangeau but think about them we must.
by Dr. Thomas Withington