The Pentagon’s realization of a basic form of Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control is a signal to China that the U.S. is making significant strides in military modernization, officials said.

The Defense Department this week announced it secured a so-called minimum viable capability for CJADC2, tying together some existing software applications and data feeds to connect troops across land, air, sea, space and cyber.

While officials did not disclose exactly where it is in use, they did say it’s now being applied by combatant commands.

Such real-world application “should show that the department is making paradigm-shifting changes at a scale and at a speed that is rivaling any potential competitor that we could have. This is just one example,” Air Force Col. Matthew Strohmeyer told reporters on the sidelines of the Defense Data and AI Symposium in Washington.

Strohmeyer leads the Global Information Dominance experiments, or GIDEs, that help shape CJADC2. The exercises were rebooted by the Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office last year. The next GIDE is scheduled to begin in a few days.

“We went from the deputy secretary telling us six months prior, ‘I want a minimum viable capability for CJADC2,’ and the department was able to deliver on that at scale, across combatant commands and the joint staff,” Strohmeyer said. “It’s showing that we are making very tangible, rapid progress with actual capabilities in the hands of warfighters.”

The Defense Department wants to digitally link Army, Air Force and Navy units to improve information-sharing and response to foreign aggression.

By more quickly receiving, parsing and disseminating information, defense officials hope to outwit and outshoot tech-savvy adversaries of the future. Lawmakers have pushed the Defense Department to prioritize long-range networking and intelligence-relaying needs in the Indo-Pacific, where the U.S. may clash with China.

“When you begin to aggregate the data, AI aside, you can start to discover the forest from the trees a little bit in things that competitors might be doing,” Strohmeyer said. “As we bring those data sets together, we’re starting to really gain insights that we didn’t know that were there originally, without having to create any new programs, without having to invest in new things.”

The Defense Department’s multibillion-dollar connectivity campaign comes as China pursues its own version — or a countermeasure — known as Multi-Domain Precision Warfare.

The MDPW construct relies on interlinked command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to quickly coordinate firepower and expose foreign weaknesses, according to the China Military Power Report, which the Defense Department delivers to Congress. Officials in Beijing have long pursued an information-fluent force capable of dominating networks and bombarding targets from a sprawl of locations with a cocktail of weaponry.

Craig Martell, the Defense Department’s chief digital and artificial intelligence officer, told reporters Thursday he took the job in part to solve complicated problems like CJADC2 and provide U.S. troops the tools they need to succeed. Martell was named CDAO in April 2022. He previously worked on machine learning at Lyft and served as an associate chairman of computer science at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Officer Craig Martell opens the Defense Data and AI Symposium in Washington, D.C., with a keynote speech Feb. 20, 2024.

“What is command and control in Napolean’s day? You’re a general standing on a hill, watching your troops, and you send messages to your generals. That was command and control,” he told reporters. “Now, command and control is highly digital with fast-flowing data, so commanders can make strategic decisions and get the results down to folks who can act on the decisions quickly.”

“That’s what we want to create,” he added. “We want to be able to help.”

The Defense Department’s fiscal 2024 budget blueprint allocated $1.4 billion for CJADC2. Budget documents described the endeavor as transformative to the way fights are fought, especially alongside other militaries.

Thwarting China’s increasingly global ambitions requires collaborating with other nations, including Australia, Japan and South Korea. A key component of CJADC2 is the mission-partner environment, where data from a range of foreign sources can be collected, secured and distributed.

“We are not going to be successful without our partners and allies,” Martell said. “Anything we’ve been building, we’ve been thinking about how our partners and allies will play with us, will fight with us, will train with us, from the beginning.”

Colin Demarest was a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covered military networks, cyber and IT. Colin had previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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