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.

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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.

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

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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.

DoD pilot programs demonstrate future potential

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.

  • In acquisition, faster, more lightweight procurement procedures like Other Transaction Authority (OTA) or Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) contracts help DoD do business with start-ups and other smaller, non-traditional defense contractors.
  • In recruiting, DoD has been given additional authorities to use streamlined processes and augmented salaries to attract highly qualified expert (HQE) candidates to key posts; and in training, the Army Future Command’s soldier software factory provides coding skills to a class of graduates each year.
  • In software development, all parts of the military have piloted and recognized the value of automated DevSecOps processes and the software factories they create.

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.

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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?

How to build JADC2 as a living system

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.

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1. Reconsider the risk equation

Ultimately, legacy can be a bigger risk than transformation.

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In the military, a 50 percent solution that arrives when needed is much better than a 95 percent solution that arrives after the battle’s been lost. While the quality of a solution is critical to its success, it’s important to also understand the risk of inaction. As timelines for programs or releases are extended, the likelihood increases that the solution may be delivered too late to be useful.

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2. Rebalance investments

In modern warfare, software and digital infrastructure are at least as decisive as hardware.

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DoD has traditionally been focused on buying “things”: Platforms, kinetic weapons systems, hardware. But the nature of warfare has been transformed in the 21st century, and future conflicts will ultimately be decided by superiority in information. That means software – including cyber effects, information operations, and decision support – becomes the determining capability, not kinetic platforms. The DoD can rebalance its investment strategies to reflect that.

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3. Focus on scale with experiments

We must learn to drive our (tactical) pilots and experiments to align with our (strategic) warfighter needs at scale.

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The DoD is skilled at experimenting and prototyping cutting edge technology. Now, it can focus more on driving scale — figuring out which experiments to transition into major programs and how. The software factories are a great example. They’ve delivered superbly, beating many alternatives “dollar-for-dollar," but now the question is – how can we scale these solutions? The key is to mature our experimental acquisitions processes so that they are thinking about scaling from the start.

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4. Embrace human-centered design (HCD)

HCD means “flipping the script” from a focus on requirements to a focus on the outcomes that our warfighters need.

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HCD means taking a step back to ensure we’re asking the right questions about how we collaborate, how we actualize, and how we succeed. For DoD, HCD means putting warfighters’ needs at the center of the decision-making process. We must focus on the need we are looking to meet, not the technology we want to buy. Is what I need a cloud instance with this app in it? Or is it better to think about the operational gap I have to fill?

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5. Recruit for urgent workforce needs

It’s time to expand enhanced hiring authorities to focus down on holistic designers and integrators.

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Below the executive levels, the DoD needs multi-talented front-line leaders able to take on large and complex problems, break them down into solvable parts, engage the warfighters in developing solutions, and then execute those solutions on a timeline. These are some of the roles for which the DoD has had the hardest time recruiting. There is an immediate need for these experts that can’t be met in a timely fashion through workforce development.

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6. Scale workforce development efforts

Human capital is the key to digital transformation and investments in workforce development must reflect that.

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DoD will never meet the human capital needs of its digital transformation solely through recruiting from industry. This is especially true as every role will soon have a larger digital component, requiring reskilling and upskilling throughout the force. It has started to grow its own talent, for instance through the Austin, Tx., soldier software factory. These efforts can be substantially expanded.

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.

Bill Marion

Managing Director – Accenture Federal Services, Growth & Strategy Lead, Defense

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