WASHINGTON — The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan prompted Pentagon officials working on the Joint All-Domain Command and Control concept to ask: Do troops have access to data they need on the ground, absent of an adversary capable of disrupting that access?
The answer was “no.”
“What we learned as a department and the joint force is we’ve grossly underestimated the scope of this problem,” said Brig. Gen. Rob Parker, deputy director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s J6 directorate and chairman of the JADC2 Cross-Functional Team.
“We have some real work to do on some big challenges that are out there, [such as] getting access to authoritative data sources [and] having the right policy in place to allow us to share that with our partners — not just international partners, but our own federal partners,” Parker said during the Defense News Conference on Sept. 8.
The two-week operation in which the U.S military evacuated more than 124,000 people provided the Pentagon’s JADC2 leadership new lessons learned and identified areas in need of improvement. That included ensuring data is populated and easily visible on programs of record.
Data access is central to JADC2, which aims to provide unprecedented amounts of data to war fighters to make informed decisions in battle.
Senior leaders at the Pentagon, starting with Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, are making a major push on ensuring the department harnesses its gobs of data to make better decisions. In the last year, the department released a data strategy, and earlier this year Hicks published five “data decrees” as the department sought to elevate the importance of data across the force.
The Afghanistan withdrawal also reinforced the Pentagon’s need to ensure its workforce has the data skills to understand incoming information, produce computer code and develop algorithms. Ultimately, the withdrawal has “given us a lot to look at,” Parker said.
”Twelve to 14 days to get your data all together and looking at it may sound very good by traditional bureaucratic measures in the Pentagon, but it’s absolutely failure in the future fight,” he said.
As the department moves forward with JADC2, Parker also said the concept’s implementation plan is under review by senior staff. He added that it’s “weeks away” from being released.
The plan, which is classified, will outline seven minimal viable products that the military needs in order to enable JADC2:
- A DevSecOps software development environment.
- Zero-trust cybersecurity.
- Cloud technology.
- A transport layer.
- Identity, credential and access management, or ICAM.
- Assault Breaker II (a tool to counter anti-access, area-denial capabilities of adversaries).
- The mission partner environment.
The mission partner environment — a common platform that allows the U.S. military and allies to share information — will have an initial operating capability within 90 days: one for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and the other for U.S. Central Command.
Parker said the Defense Information Systems Agency also had a “viable” ICAM solution that could be ready in the next year. And he added that he’s “excited” about the the department’s announcement of a new multivendor enterprise cloud capability, the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability, which is set to replace the controversial Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud.
Multivendor cloud capabilities combined with low-Earth orbit satellites is another area in which the JADC2 CFT is interested.
“Some of the partners out there who are putting multi-cloud vendor solutions on some of their early LEO capabilities — we think that not only helps us in terms of moving this data globally at speed with high bandwidth [and] gets after some communication issues, ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], PNT [positioning, navigation and timing], but importantly we think that’s going to be a critical step to getting some of the processing at the edge,” Parker said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin signed off on the JADC2 strategy in May, which is also classified. Parker said an unclassified version of the strategy should be released in the next few weeks.
Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.