Since the earliest days of warfare, command and control have been vital elements to strategic success. We enter the third decade of the 21st century in a time where the world is mostly at peace. However, with growing rivalries, economic shifts and increasingly scarce resources, the future of this status quo is far from certain.

While peace is always preferable to conflict, pragmatic leaders recognize that being ready for a fight that never develops is better than facing a fight for which the nation is unprepared.

As the world becomes faster, more connected and more reliant on technology, the U.S. Department of Defense is preparing for the future battlefield — one that is more contested, automated, real-time and complex than has ever been seen before.

Already over the past decade, the Pentagon has invested significant capital into modernizing our military readiness. These investments have ranged from developing advanced robotics and augmented reality to securing high-powered cloud computing capabilities that support data analytics and artificial intelligence.

The next frontier of investment will be in technology to more effectively coordinate the still-siloed branches into a unified fighting force with the capability to make decisions about the fight in real-time.

Fighting as a unified force

JADC2, or Joint All-Domain Command & Control, is the emerging term senior DoD officials are using to describe linking military sensors to all war fighters — across all services and domains — and to provide decision makers with the most accurate situational awareness possible.

However, as one might imagine, this relatively simple notion is far from easy in execution. Achieving JADC2 involves connecting data from sensors in air, at sea, under sea, on land, in orbit and in cyberspace and then understanding what that data is saying. This involves knowing the who, when, where and how to deliver — enabling truly integrated command and control. And it all must happen in near-real time, including in contested or denied environments.

Though pathfinder programs exist that begin to model such a complex architecture, the majority of DoD data is still proprietary and locked away in silos. This makes it near-impossible to achieve the real-time information sharing necessary for command and control. And, as future battlefields grow increasingly congested and complex, so will this challenge.

To make JADC2 a reality, the Pentagon will first need to identify and leverage a highly flexible, scalable common data platform that can accommodate the DoD’s vast amounts and types of data from across the service branches. A successful JADC2 program will also infuse data across domains with AI and machine learning (ML) to allow machine-speed analysis and real-time situational awareness, helping funnel the right data to the right commanders or operators at mission speed.

While no company faces the same scale, scope, complexity or mission-critical nature as the DoD, organizations in highly regulated and competitive sectors like healthcare, oil and gas, and manufacturing can be leveraged as proof points for what is possible today with AI and ML. These are sectors that, like the DoD, have high personnel counts with varying skills, complex data, large capital assets, fast-paced business cycles and significant data protection and risk considerations.

Platforms already exist that are helping these organizations achieve similar real-time intelligence and interconnectedness. Starting with commercial solutions and building upon them will help DoD accelerate time to a fully fledged JADC2 capability and help DoD forecast challenges and problems of integrating their data along the way.

Pulling it together

Of course, leveraging a common data platform that can ingest, store and analyze cross-domain data is just the beginning. Equally important will be creating new business flows and decision making frameworks to guide how the Pentagon operates amid this more unified mindset. This shift in culture will not be easy and will itself require years of shakeout. Nevertheless, building a solid, reliable data foundation remains the first step toward achieving the JADC2 vision.

Building the initial data capability will allow the DoD to experiment with policy, controls, governance and procedures, and iterate on how a fully fledged JADC2 environment will function. During this time, new commanders will ascend the hierarchy with a joint-domain-first mindset that will help bring about this cultural change. The key is to get started now.

Frank Dimina is vice president, public sector, of big data analysis corporation Splunk. Prior to his current role, Dimina served as Splunk’s area vice president, federal civilian and director of the homeland security & law enforcement team. In his current role, Dimina is responsible for overseeing Splunk’s Federal, state and local government and higher education businesses. In addition to his time at Splunk, he has held senior sales leadership roles in high-growth technology companies such as Check Point Software and Symantec. He also has extensive experience building several successful cybersecurity startups. Dimina received his B.S from the University of Maryland.

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