The success of JADC2 requires a living systems approach
November 17, 2021
The Department of Defense has traditionally referred to America’s great power competitors as “near-peer,” because the U.S. military still enjoys superiority over potential adversaries. But earlier this year, Lt. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote, USAF deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration, and requirements, warned that key adversaries were already pulling ahead. "In a few important areas, we're behind — tonight. This is not a tomorrow problem. This is today,” he told the Air Force Association’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference.
This is a transformational moment. To maintain U.S. superiority and help keep the peace, the Department of Defense outlined in 2019 an ambitious vision for a seamlessly connected and totally networked military: Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or JADC2.
JADC2 envisages a future force capable of truly integrating troops on the ground not just with forces at sea and in the air, but with new capabilities in space and cyberspace, and with mission partners like allied forces. Such integrated operations would be enabled by resilient meshed cloud architectures, with human commanders’ decision-making augmented by artificial intelligence. With these advancements, operations could be conducted at a speed and scale that would overwhelm any threat in a fashion impossible to achieve through a solely kinetic approach.
To enact that vision, though, the DoD must accept that JADC2 is a living system — something that will never be “finished,” but will remain adaptable and iterative, integrating new improvements as they are developed. This will ensure JADC2 can quickly evolve with mission needs and ever-changing threats.
The DoD must accept that JADC2 is a living system — something that will never be “finished,” but will remain adaptable and iterative, integrating new improvements as they are developed.
The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.
While the focus is often on next-generation technologies operating in the cloud, leaders must accommodate and integrate the legacy technologies, as well as procurement and technology policies, that provide the foundation for JADC2. The networked force that JADC2 signals will be accomplished not in a single bound, but by a long and carefully planned series of iterative improvements to, and connections between, existing systems.
To deliver on the promise of JADC2, DoD leaders will need to reimagine nearly all aspects of how we build, enable, and interact with these systems. To their credit, DoD, with congressional support and new legislative authorities, have launched a series of pilot projects — in acquisition, recruiting and software development — to bring cutting edge technologies and their practitioners to bear. This digital transformation is essential to realizing the vision of JADC2 as a living system.
Scaling these pilots across its huge enterprise will require DoD to align its leadership attention and budget resourcing to this digital transformation; recruit and train the digital-ready workforce it needs; and sequence its transformation, building out a cloud-based data foundation to support the innovations which accelerate change — such as AI-based analytic and decision support tools, or autonomous vehicles.
JADC2 will be the litmus test of DoD’s digital transformation — the crucible in which we will learn if these small-scale efforts can be broadly and seamlessly integrated. How can we ensure this outcome?
Balancing the right priorities, embracing human-centered design, and skilling up the workforce will be essential to ensuring JADC2 can adapt and evolve with the mission.
Ultimately, the vision of JADC2 is one of a fighting force that is agile, adaptable, and able to stay ahead of our adversaries, no matter how fast they move.
Already, the DoD has demonstrated its ability to support new approaches to acquisition, recruiting, and software development that are critical to fulfilling this vision. The long-term success of JADC2 will be dependent on integrating and scaling these approaches to ensure DoD architects a living system – one that evolves with threats at the speed and scale the mission demands.