WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s effort to better connect sensors to shooters and shuttle data across the joint forces is inextricably linked with the high-stakes communication systems needed for nuclear warfare, and rightly so, the head of U.S. Strategic Command told Congress this week.

A “great extent” of overlap between Joint All-Domain Command and Control, JADC2, and Nuclear Command, Control and Communications, NC3, is necessary for integration and other reasons, Adm. Charles Richard said March 8.

“We don’t always try to keep separation between conventional and nuclear command and control. You can’t,” Richard said before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which met to discuss defense priorities. “We never have, and we will never be able to achieve that.”

Joint All-Domain Command and Control represents the Department of Defense’s overhaul of how military players talk to one another and how information is handled. Traditionally, the services have been siloed, relying on their own networks; JADC2 aims to break down those walls and grow connective tissue.

“I think a really important piece of work that we have to do together is figure out how to have our platforms be able to talk to each other,” U.S. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said March 9 at the Defense Programs Conference. “And that’s something that we’ve been working on a lot in Project Convergence: How do we share data from an F-35, for example, to our Army systems on the ground?”

Nuclear Command, Control and Communications underpins the U.S. nuclear arsenal, ensuring the devastating weapons are always available for use.

Richard on Tuesday said he was “very familiar with what JADC2 is doing in conventional command and control” and was “very pleased that a subset of what JADC2 is doing is for nuclear command and control.”

The conventional side of the coin, he added, can offer the nuclear side redundancy and resilience. Both communication systems continue to be the target of spending and attention.

Billions have been spent as the Pentagon refines and fosters JADC2, though exact numbers are not clear, as the effort spans many programs and agencies. Similarly, billions have been spent on modernizing NC3, as officials like Richard champion ongoing improvements.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that replacing legacy NC3 systems will cost $77 billion between 2019 and 2028.

“We are headed in the right path to make sure we take full advantage of the investments we’re making in conventional command and control,” the STRATCOM boss said, “while recognizing that certain portions of nuclear command and control have to serve at a higher standard than we ask regular command and control and making sure we identify those and meet those requirements.”

Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin 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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