DoD has a new plan to take JADC2 from concept to reality

DoD's new JADC2 implementation plan is still classified, but signs of it will start to appear in the forthcoming 2023 budget proposal.

The Pentagon has been talking about its vision for Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) for years. Now there’s a plan to make it real.

The formal implementation plan is still classified, but Defense officials said it describes in detail how DoD will get to work on JADC2’s five separate lines of effort, including via funding requests to start building discrete elements of the framework that will make their first appearance in next year’s budget.

DoD released a long-awaited unclassified version of its higher-level JADC2 strategy on the same day Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks signed the implementation plan.

That strategy said the purpose of JADC2 is to “sense, make sense, and act” on information on future battlefields, and breaks the mammoth project down into five lines of effort: creating a DoD-wide data enterprise, human performance and professional development; technical improvements, integrating nuclear command and control; and modernizing the Mission Partner Environment DoD uses to share data with allies.

But Lt. Gen. Dennis Crall, the Joint Staff’s director for Command, Control, Communications and Computers said the implementation plan is the “seminal” document that will tell the military services, Defense components, and various governing bodies how the department as a whole is supposed to achieve those objectives.

“The reason it’s important is that the department unfortunately has examples over the past couple of decades where we’ve gotten up to the culmination point of defining where we want to go, but we didn’t have a delivery mechanism,” he told reporters on Friday. “Who’s responsible? What order do we put these steps in? What are the prerequisites to make sure that we have an actionable plan that can be executed, with milestones and funding? If those are absent, what you end up with is a really neat story, but really nothing that comes off the conveyor belt at the other end.”

Crall said the plan sets up specific mechanisms for DoD to guide investments in the JADC2 framework. A cross functional team that’s setting priorities for the overall project will send them to the Joint Requirements Oversight Council to validate each requirement, and DoD’s Deputies Management Action Group will direct funding against those priorities.

Some of the outcomes of that process will start to appear in the Biden administration’s 2023 DoD budget proposal, he said.

“We’ve had placeholders in [the budget]. Even though the implementation plan was recently signed, we’ve been in constant battle rhythm events with our leadership on where we saw this forming up,” Crall said. “It’s not as though this was just dropped in the environment and we’re now trying to take a look at this for the first time.”

But it’s unlikely that the budget request itself will shed much additional light on the department’s JADC2 plans. The Pentagon has intentionally avoided standing up a dedicated program office for the endeavor. And the overall strategy explicitly embraces a “fail fast” mentality, making big-ticket systems specifically tagged as JADC2 efforts unlikely to appear in the budget.

Even before the implementation plan was fully developed, DoD got started on seven distinct projects aimed at achieving minimum viable products, Crall said. Those are largely focused on identity and access management, cloud computing, zero trust and other technology enablers.

One that’s received particular attention over the past year, he said, is a new DevSecOps pipeline for quickly developing and releasing applications that will contribute to JADC2.

“We’ve let the military services come forward with the ones that they want to create first. And this environment — on a common platform with a common developers toolkit — will create a secure application that comes directly out of the developmental environment, with an authority to operate, and placed directly on the network with a reciprocity agreement and shared by the other services, literally in minutes,” Crall said. “It’s going to be from start to finish, from developing, to publishing, to hosting, to using and then real-time patching. Pieces of that are already underway.”

Meanwhile, a second leg of that use case will involve redeveloping existing applications that already have a key role in command and control, but are “misbehaving” for various reasons.

“[Those applications] crush us in budgets, they don’t have APIs that let me exchange data, they’re almost impossible to manage on the network because they’re chatty or insecure, and forget about patching them,” Crall said. “So the second part is to put those through the redevelopment gauntlet and have them reformatted so that they can behave properly on the network and share data. This really came to light in some of the crisis actions that we went through for things like Afghanistan, and even what we’re seeing now in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, just simply trying to pull information out of systems that just do not behave right. We can’t live this way any longer. Every service has a viable means [of improvement], and we now we’re going to have a bake-off of sorts as they test drive each other’s products. And to be honest, I’ve never seen a level of cooperation between the services to get after what looks right.”

But moving DoD to what “looks right” will also require major changes to the policies that govern various aspects of the Defense workforce that are responsible for acquiring and developing IT systems, managing data, and cybersecurity.

Crall said JADC2’s people-focused line of effort will have its biggest impact on the IT-focused sectors of the workforce, but not exclusively. He said the department knows it needs to make big changes in how it recruits, retains, and employs talent.

“We’ve known about these problems for a long time and haven’t fixed them. This is something we should have done five, seven ten years ago, but what the implementation plan finally does is to put accountability and measurable steps against each one of those discrete parts,” he said. “When it comes to recruitment, people just don’t fall out of the sky and decide they’re going to join the government. It’s tough to find where those jobs are. It’s difficult to onboard … We just got to get better at it. And one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had is that there are certain career paths in these technical fields where it’s unclear how you advance: what schools you’re supposed to attend, how you progress, what the expectations are. These are reasonable things for people to want to know when they join an organization of our size. But we’ve committed to fixing this.”

Crall said the implementation plan, even though it was a big lift to produce in the first place, is a work in progress, and always will be. Unlike typical DoD strategy documents, a good deal of it is electronic and will remain “malleable,” based on what the department learns about the JADC2 effort over time.

“We’re going to leverage what we learn on the fly, and not lock ourselves into something that we can’t move,” he said. “[The plan] looks at who’s responsible so we can point to who has the lead and who is providing support. And the most important aspect is milestones for delivery. Have we satisfied the prerequisites? Have we even identified what they are? Is this the right order of march? Do we have a good, funded, delivery timetable that makes sense? Do we have a testing apparatus lined up with this so we can learn very quickly? And most importantly, do we have an eye to the threat, so that we don’t lock ourselves into something that we would eventually deliver that will not meet success on the battlefield? That’s why the implementation plan is so critical and important to what we do.”

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