Defense Speak Interpreted: So, What’s a JADC2?

I am sure you do not read as much news about defense as I do, but the term JADC2 was so prevalent in the late 2020 debate about the National Defense Authorization Act that I had to look it up. It is a new way defense is using electronics to shape battle strategy. JADC2 is Defense Speak for “Joint All Domain Command and Control.”  Sounds impressive, doesn’t it, but what does that mean?

We need to break Defense Speak into bite-size chunks that we can understand. “Joint” may not be too hard because we have the “Joint Chiefs of Staff” to operate the various branches of our military. So, we already have the concept that JADC2 must be between the service branches. Congress is very sensitive to duplication between the service branches, as well as keeping the services working together optimally in this age of electronically interconnected warfare.

Next is “domain,” a bit tougher to explain in Defense Speak. Our first impulse is that domain is synonymous with “kingdom” and that is a good start. We might start by guessing that is land, air, and sea surface (and undersea) implying Army, Air Force, and Navy—which is partially correct. Of course, we just established the Space Force as another service branch. But what about Marines, Coast Guard, Reserves, National Guard, etc.?

The military also has the “intelligence domain” that obtains and stores all the information about battle management. Just as this is the Internet of Things (IoT) age for us individually, this is the Internet of Information age for Defense. One of the key players for information is the organization that handles all the data from satellites—NGA, or National Geospatial intelligence Agency. It is defined in this way:

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) is a combat support agency under the United States Department of Defense and a member of the United States Intelligence Community, with the primary mission of collecting, analyzing, and distributing geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) in support of national security. [1]

The NGA is one of the “domains” that needs the command-and-control function, too. My June 2020 column on C4ISR had two of the four “Cs,” including those two. I have heard the JADC2 described as the “data to everything” concept. A factor that occurs in Defense, but not so much elsewhere, is levels of security. How does JADC2 integrate public information, sensor data, classified information, etc.? A special challenge to JADC2 is to share that data without compromising security. Gone are the days of a few top-secret individuals sitting in a “war room” with glass boards and grease pencils—at least they make good movie backdrops. Oh, if we just had a war room back in Hurricane Katrina, and I am unaware of a war room in the battle with COVID-19!

Perhaps it would help to list the starting points for each of the service branches.

The Army has its Distributed Common Ground System–Army (DCGS-A):

“The Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A) is the Army's premier intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) enterprise for the tasking of sensors, analysis and processing of data, exploitation of data, and dissemination of intelligence (TPED) across all echelons. It is the Army component of the larger Defense Intelligence Information Enterprise (DI2E) and interoperable with other Service DCGS programs. Under the DI2E framework, USD (I) hopes to provide COCOM Joint Intelligence Operations Centers (JIOCs) capabilities interoperable with DCGS-A through a Cloud/widget approach.” [2]

However, some in the Army have criticized the DCGS-A, preferring a newer, less well-developed version from Palantir Technologies.

The DCGS-Army…went through a controversial period when Palantir sued the Army to be allowed to bid on the system with its commercialtechnology. Palantir won that suit and the Army changed its approach from wanting only a custom-built system to also considering a commercial solution.”[3]

Palantir was awarded the contract along with Raytheon and recently won the first competitive task order under DCGS-A.

The Navy looks like it's trying to avoid the Army’s stumble and is asking for a commercial product. The requirements are restricted, since respondents need to register and have the Navy send them the details. But the notice does broadly describe the Navy’s goal for DCGS-N Increment 2—shorten targeting timelines and improve information fidelity through “automated aggregation, correlation, fusion and predictive analytics of all source intelligence.” [4] The Navy wants the system to produce predictive situational awareness and earlier identification of threats and intent. The Navy also wants its technical team to meet with industry to learn about software solutions for both afloat and ashore applications. “The ultimate outcome of these meetings is to provide a crosswalk of the solutions’ capabilities to the DCGS-N Inc 2 requirements provided,” the Navy wrote.[4]

The Air Force Distributed Common Ground System (AF DCGS), also referred to as the AN/GSQ-272 SENTINEL system, is the Air Force’s primary intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) collection, processing, exploitation, analysis and dissemination (CPAD) system.[5] On January 13, the Air Force awarded an additional 36 spots on a potential $950 million contract to build and operate systems across the ground, sea, air, cyber, electromagnetic spectrum and cyber domains as part of their JADC2 program.

Some other topics compounding JADC2 deployment:

  • The shift from counter insurgency (fighting terrorists) to near-peer conflict (planning against China and Russia). That is, a transition from tactical to strategic information use, and hoping data fusion will carry over. 
  • Sensor output comes in a wide variety of functions and formats. Many traditional sensors output proportional signals—considered analog. Image censors, based on CMOS technology, inherently output digital information, just like the on/off state of CMOS memory devices. So, there is always a lot of buffering and signal conditioning to get sensors to communicate in a common way, let alone feed into a common program for JADC2 use.  
  • Dissemination of strategic guidance with unit-level planning; communication of commander’s intent with the warfighter’s understanding and tactical execution; fusion of national information passed to the tactical edge; successful collaboration across domains leading to actionable intelligence for the warfighter; and providing them with all-domain access to sensors and effects when and where needed.[6]
  • While JADC2 is about centralizing and better coordinating command and control of the battlefield, it largely depends on edge computing, a relatively recent concept in distributed IT aimed at improving response times and saving bandwidth by locating data closer to where it’s needed. In practical terms, it means placing highly advanced sensors in the ships, planes, tanks, and Humvees on the front lines, sending critical, real-time information back to headquarters, then deploying state-of-the-art AI and machine learning tools to analyze multiple points of data and quickly arrive at an optimal solution.[7]
  • Although it is one of the U.S. military’s highest priorities, service and industry leaders remain confused about Joint All-Domain Command and Control, variously describing it as a communication architecture, a data-sharing approach, an operational concept, or a decision-making tool.
  • Control of the electromagnetic spectrum is key to its success, says Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten. And that means setting spectrum requirements will be key to All Domain Operations. This implies superiority in electronic warfare.

Here’s a good, current challenge to close with. On Feb. 5, 2021, Breaking Defense magazine asked:

There are places where jointness, that still sometimes elusive character, is on full display in the US military and one of those is where close air support meets the Army. The Army’s Joint Support Team trains 4,200 Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Special Operations Command students in joint air-ground operations education, training and command-and-control systems integration. Few organizations will be so central to the future of All Domain Operations. What’s the prescription for JADC2 and All Domain Operations?” [8]  


  1. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency - Wikipedia

Dennis Fritz was a 20-year direct employee of MacDermid Inc. and is retired after 12 years as a senior engineer at (SAIC) supporting the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana. He was elected to the IPC Hall of Fame in 2012.





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