Recently, I had the opportunity to moderate a discussion with defense leaders working toward the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) initiative. The panelists discussed the challenges of implementing JADC2 and providing warfighters with information when and where they need it most. During the discussion, Preston Dunlap, chief architect of the U.S. Air Force and Space Force, posed perhaps the most pressing question facing the United States when it comes to setting the stage for future battle: “Will we be ready, when the time comes, for the uncertainty that we most certainly will face?”
Intriguing question, right? As the panelists ruminated over Mr. Dunlap’s question, they arrived at the short answer: There is still much work to be done. As Dr. George Ka’iliwai III, director of Requirements and Resources (J8) at U.S. Indo Pacific Command, so adeptly summarized, there is hard work being done within service-centric silos, and they are accomplishing tremendous things individually, but there hasn’t been a united vision to bring everything together. A united vision is crucial to ensuring the Department of Defense (DOD) is ready for future battle, as it will help improve interoperability and information sharing, all while reducing the cost and time it takes to make vital decisions on the battlefield. But first, DOD needs to answer another question: What is needed to achieve this united, joint force solution?
- Modular Open Architectures: The government is moving toward open architectures, and for good reason. Adopting an open architecture approach allows the flexibility to integrate technology from various systems and suppliers, making it easier for different services to work together to rapidly upgrade systems as needed. To achieve the vision of a united, joint force solution, the government needs to fully embrace these open architectures and rise to the challenge of bringing everything together in a standardized, federated manner.
- Industry Innovation: DOD must innovate and adapt to changing needs, which means that industry should play a central role in providing software across DOD. How can it guarantee it’s on track? Col. Matt “Nomad” Strohmeyer, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a panelist at the event, said industry should make sure it is conforming to open architecture requirements. Companies should keep a close eye on the information, requirements, and parameters being set forth to ensure what they’re building will work with the rest of the department.
- A Common Data Fabric: Perhaps most importantly, DOD needs a common data fabric that will bring together a pool of data from a variety of sources, allowing combatant commands to view the same information from the start and find attainable solutions quickly. As Dr. Ka’iliwai noted, DOD must find a minimum viable solution rapidly, rather than waiting until tomorrow for a solution that meets the full set of requirements. The consequences of not delivering a capability are severe. A common dataset will allow DOD to better curate its data and allow the department to get to a minimum viable solution sooner rather than later.
- A Paradigm Shift: Col. Strohmeyer closed out the discussion by coming back to a pertinent theme he raised at the beginning: DOD needs “a willingness to challenge [the] paradigms that we operate under; some of those paradigms don’t necessarily translate well into building, developing, and delivering the capability that we need at the speeds that we need.” He noted that DOD often gets stuck in the way that they operate at the tactical, strategic, and operational levels, which hinders interoperability. He said that DOD needs to create a culture that forces them to think differently about the way that they operate and challenges old ways of thinking to fully develop joint capabilities.
To achieve a united, joint force solution and maintain a decision advantage, DOD must be proactive when it comes to adapting its digital infrastructure to changing needs. Carrying out these key steps will bring disparate data systems together and create a united front for the digital battlespace, ensuring the joint forces are prepared for the uncertainty they will most certainly face.