How to solve JADC2’s social engineering problem

Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2), the Defense Department’s initiative to synchronize the joint force across domains, is not a new idea.

Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2), the Defense Department’s initiative to synchronize the joint force across domains, is not a new idea. There have been many prior attempts such as Distributed Common Ground Stations (DCGS), Joint Command and Control (JC2), Net Enabled Command and Control (NECC), and NetCentricity/NCES, but these approaches did not address the long-standing cultural challenges of an institution like DoD. The uniformed services compete for resources and are not incentivized to operate at a DoD enterprise level and become joint through re-use and interoperability.

Earlier attempts at solving this challenge were also hampered by timing and shifts in priorities. For example, in the aftermath of 9/11, DoD’s strategy (rightfully so) pivoted toward fighting terrorism, which required specialized solutions to fight the counter insurgency war rather than focusing on implementation of a networked force.

But the way we have fought for the past two decades is not the way we’re going to fight for the next two decades against our near peers. Historically, the U.S. has enjoyed a military and technological advantage over adversaries, but this margin has narrowed significantly. Our near-peer adversaries are prepared to wage a new kind of war: sophisticated technological conflicts across multiple domains that employ denial of communications and information advantage capabilities. Networking the services together to gain information superiority has never been more crucial. But what will make the outcome different this time around, given the DoD faced major challenges with JADC2’s predecessors?

The answer lies in sparking a realistic cultural transition within the DoD.

Pivot to DoD-Wide governance

At its core, implementation of JADC2 presents a cultural social engineering problem that can only be solved with a DoD-wide governance approach that retains flexibility for the services. What we have now is industrial age acquisition for the information age; we know how to buy standalone kinetic platforms like ships, aircraft and tanks, but integration remains an afterthought as separate services make purchases individually and compete for resources. Under this model, technology and tools are stitched together after the fact.

What we need is an enterprise and joint force vision that centers on joint design, purchasing solutions that have integrated APIs. Rather than skepticism when it comes to risk and dependence on external systems, we must modernize our acquisition force to buy, build — and trust — joint systems.

Making integration a design paradigm, and not just an “IT effort,” will require a pivot in acquisition strategy. This won’t happen without top down, binding guidance from the secretary of defense that puts new API standards and governance in place. Success will also be dependent on having a DoD Mission/Solution architect, whose primary focus is ensuring the systems function seamlessly together across joint mission threads.

Develop a new API standard

One main reason predecessors to JADC2 weren’t successful is because it’s simply not possible to have a single, comprehensive standard that meets all service requirements at once. DoD has tried that before (e.g., DODi 8320.X) and we must avoid repeating history. The answer lies in embracing each services’ differentiators, while aligning on a viable standard of information exchange based on mission or functional areas.

The DoD must uncover the minimum viable data that must move between services, and then set the API standards for that. This would enable each branch to still operate separately but maintain the ability to plug in and retrieve data from the broader network, by leveraging an open set of APIs and a joint data layer.

A good comparison here is the home entertainment industry. While there are many different offerings and vendors, there is a standard HDMI that all vendors can plug into as the data exchange standard. This is the type of interoperability that is needed to join military systems and enable the free flow of information.

We need to be realistic about how much cultural change we can make all at once. This focus on the minimum viable standard allows each part of the military to maintain their own solutions for their unique needs, while still allowing connection for joint missions. A recent successful example of this is the Army’s Rainmaker Common Data Fabric prototype, which seamlessly connected the Air Force’s F-35 data with the Army’s tactical edge leveraging an API-driven connection.

Incentivize “thinking joint”

Changing the culture around IT acquisition and usage will require incentives. The DoD must incentivize joint exercises where the services come together to test these new integrations and give feedback. Incentivizing the services to prioritize this can be solved by providing financial support. For example, if $100-$200 million of RDT&E funding at the DoD level was dedicated to joint exercises, the services would be incentivized to test together and use this new minimum viable standard, because they wouldn’t have to deplete their own budgets. It’s also a matter of investing in joint acquisition training to help shift traditional mindsets around IT and acquisition spending. Again, this is not a net concept. When the internet was evolving, vendors would participate in TCP-Interop which gave them the certification to be network compliant.

Innovate to support the warfighter

In making these internal changes, it’s important to keep the “why” that underlies JADC2 front and center. The future fight transcends service and acquisition boundaries in the form of joint mission threads.  JADC2 is designed to aid the warfighter on the front lines, who is facing the “fog of war.” Armed with insights from JADC2, they would be more lethal, with improved chances of survival.

A top-down cultural transformation combined with a bottom up “internet-like” design, that in turn enables JADC2, is the only way to support those men and women fighting at the edge and dominate the digital battlespace.

Greg Wenzel is executive vice president at Booz Allen.


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