October 11, 2022

The Pentagon’s Paradigm Shift: JADC2, industry, and the new reality of war

The changing nature of warfare is forcing the U.S. military to adapt fast. Industry must adapt faster.

The New Art and Science of War

For the last several years, the U.S. military has been forced to swallow a hard truth: America is no longer a peerless military power. After three decades of U.S. military hegemony, the era of American preeminence is quickly fading in the face of near-peer Chinese and Russian ascendancy. Their military, political, and economic modernization signals a new era of great power conflict that spans not only the traditional domains of land, sea, and air, but now also includes the realms of space and cyber. Additionally, the increasing use by adversaries of sophisticated Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities has severely restricted American military maneuvering abroad, constraining U.S. forces’ ability to project power.

Tomorrow’s conflicts will be murky, fluid, multidimensional, and quicker than ever before. Given that the U.S. military does not have the resources to be everywhere at once, superiority in this future battle environment will require accelerated decision making and rapid communication between dispersed forces across multiple domains. This realization is the impetus behind the DoD’s new operational strategy, Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2). JADC2 is one of four major priority areas articulated by the broader Joint Warfighting Concept (JWC), but it is by far the most consequential – and challenging. At the tactical level, JADC2 seeks to integrate sensors from all branches of the military – Air Force, Army, and Navy, as well as the Marines and the Space Force – into a single, joint network, enabling seamless information sharing and targeting between the services and across domains. Operationally, it aims to streamline and reinforce command-and-control processes to deliver a faster, more dynamic, and more lethal Joint force. The services’ embrace of JADC2 – and the broader JWC – reflects a recognition that traditional modes of warfighting are no longer viable. Outgunned by China, American victory in tomorrow’s conflict will require new ways of achieving mass and lethality at speed. Furthermore, federal budget constraints have made it increasingly clear that this transformation must occur using legacy platforms and existing technologies.

Yet while the U.S. military understands that tomorrow’s war will require new ways of thinking, fighting, and acquiring, it is not clear that industry has come to the same realization. Many established defense contractors struggle to comprehend the ubiquity of the DoD’s new warfighting concept, assuming that its funding can be traced to a particular office or program. But JADC2 is not a one-off initiative, nor can it be neatly captured by a single budget line. This is because JADC2 is not a program, but a paradigm. It proposes a new vision of warfare, one that relies on data, networks, and artificial intelligence to achieve an asymmetric advantage over sophisticated adversaries. Industry will need to see the world through this same paradigm if it is to stay relevant. For, just as JADC2 changes America’s method of warfighting, it will also change the method of acquisition. Already, prime contractors are facing competition from innovative firms poised to provide the data infrastructure and cybersecurity technologies required for JADC2. Therefore, just as the DoD is changing its strategy to maintain an edge over its adversaries, the traditional defense industry must undergo a similar change in thinking to defend its market share in the face of up-and-coming competitors. Understanding the universality of JADC2 – that it will be baked into every program and requirement – will be a critical first step.

Closing the Loop

The core elements of JADC2 are not necessarily new; the approach builds upon the famed ‘OODA loop’ concept developed by military strategist and Air Force Colonel John Boyd. According to his framework, military decisionmakers rely on continuous feedback from their surroundings (‘Observe’) to understand their position (‘Orient’) and then determine the proper course of action (‘Decide,’ ‘Act.’). In a conflict, both parties are simultaneously engaged in this cycle, and the advantage lies with whichever side can execute its OODA loop fastest. As explained by one senior officer at the Navy Warfare Development Command, “I want to be already retargeting before my enemy can shoot for the first time.”

However, the addition of innovative technologies and domains of warfare infinitely complicates this process. In tomorrow’s multi-dimensional conflict, commanders will need to observe the battlefield from its myriad angles, including space and cyber, analyze eye-watering volumes of data, make an informed decision of how to proceed, and finally, execute using an ever-extending range of strike options designed to achieve the maximum (while still proportionate) effect. Additionally, given the extensive Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) capabilities increasingly employed by China and Russia, U.S. commanders must anticipate that this entire process will occur in an environment where communications are degraded or denied entirely. To outpace their adversary, U.S. forces will need to leverage a combination of artificial intelligence, novel sensing inputs, resilient communications channels, and a cloud-compatible network that can knit everything together at speed. This is what JADC2 proposes.

In this way, JADC2 does not change the logic behind Boyd’s classic framework; it merely speeds it up. JADC2, as well as the broader Joint Warfighting Concept, seeks to achieve the strategic overmatch required to confront a sophisticated adversary by compressing the timeline from detection to engagement. Through data fusion and computer-assisted analysis, a JADC2 network would empower commanders to make better decisions faster, allowing them to accelerate the OODA loop. This focus on enhanced decision-making is key since America will no longer be able to outnumber its opponents in an active conflict. The ingenuity of JADC2 is that it gives the United States an asymmetric advantage over peer adversaries by granting U.S. forces decision – rather than numerical – superiority. In so doing, JADC2 enables America to outmaneuver its enemy and impose lethality without having to impose physical mass.

While such networks have been attempted in the past, they have been confined to the service level or single-domain programs, prohibiting data from being seamlessly passed to commanders, other services, and in other domains. Such siloed networks would be unable to perceive and respond to the kind of multi-domain threats that will be commonplace in the future. JADC2, therefore, is far more than an acronym or a program; it is a strategic imperative that has already shaped America’s warfighting approach. Indeed, thought leaders in the U.S. military have expressed – both in private conversations and public statements – that the services are fully committed to this networked vision. Service-level experiments – such as the Navy’s Project Overmatch and the Army’s Project Convergence – are already underway to see how such a network could be created from existing assets. In both word and deed, the U.S. military has recognized that fighting tomorrow’s war will require decision superiority in all domains, and that JADC2 will be key to securing this advantage.

Look Beyond the Program

The challenge with implementing JADC2 is that it runs contrary to the logic of the current military enterprise. Advocates of a flexible, cross-domain approach to warfighting are confronted with a stove-piped military bureaucracy that pursues capabilities at the program- or service-level. JADC2’s emphasis on data and networks clashes with procurement methods that are platform centric. And its quest for next-generation technologies is stymied by a cumbersome and procedural acquisition process that all but guarantees that technologies available today will be obsolete by the time they reach the field.

In response to these challenges, the DoD is searching for alternative ways to deliver innovative technologies into the hands of operators, faster. One notable example is the rise of Other Transaction Authorities, which offer the services more flexible methods of buying, testing, and integrating new capabilities. In circumventing traditional procurement processes, OTAs seek not only to accelerate innovation, but to empower small businesses outside of traditional industry. This embrace of innovative, non-traditional companies is visible in other service initiatives; Projects Overmatch and Convergence explicitly note that small businesses and Silicon-Valley-style firms will be critical in providing the next-generation technology and data management tools for JADC2. These efforts demonstrate not only the services’ commitment to this new warfighting concept, but a recognition that such a concept is incompatible with current DoD standards.

The nature of JADC2 is also anathema to the way the defense industry has traditionally operated. The program-centric nature of DoD acquisition has served contractors well for sixty years; once approved by Congress, a program of record develops a kind of stickiness that is sure to generate funding year after year. The same can be said for platforms: win a contract to build a submarine, and you will have guaranteed yourself a steady revenue stream for the next twenty years. Better yet, sell your proprietary software to that submarine’s weapons system, and you have made yourself an indispensable part of that vessel for as long as it is in service.

While siloed procurement methods and entrenched programs have historically defined the relationship between the government and the defense industry, traditional acquisition models are fundamentally at odds with the DoD’ s new vision for warfare. The cross-domain, service-agnostic nature of JADC2 defies programs and platforms. Its application requires a data-centric – not platform-centric – method of acquisition. Moreover, the common operating picture it seeks to create necessitates open software and standard modes of communication. Consequently, a capability supplied by industry will need to be seamlessly interoperable across domains and between assets. Given this need, the services are increasingly eschewing proprietary models and software. The Navy’s Rapid Autonomous Integration Lab, for example, seeks to define a standard interface for its growing unmanned fleet. Similar efforts underway across the force should serve as evidence that the days of ‘vendor lock-in’ are numbered. Suppliers witnessing these initiatives are understandably anxious. Long accustomed to competing for contracts and profiting from patented technologies, traditional industry hegemons are ill-prepared to meet the military’s need for universal and adaptable solutions.

JADC2, therefore, creates both risk and opportunity for traditional defense contractors. The risk is that, in this new paradigm of networks, standards, and artificial intelligence, only the most dynamic and agile of companies will succeed. Tellingly, large contractors are already losing market share to more innovative firms that can better adapt to provide cloud computing and intelligent software that will undergird the military’s future network. This competitive shakeup has been championed by Bill LaPlante, the recently appointed Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, who noted in his March nomination hearing that “the Pentagon must lower the barriers” keeping small, non-traditional companies from competing in the defense industrial base. Without the entry of these innovative upstarts, he warned, the traditional industrial base risks growing “complacent.” And if combat doctrine tells us anything, it’s that complacency kills.

To stay relevant in this new environment, then, traditional primes will need to radically rethink their business model. They must also change how they work with one another; major defense contractors will need to learn to collaborate amongst themselves while helping smaller, innovative firms bring their technologies to market. Finally, if LaPlante’s comments are any indication of broader Pentagon attitudes, traditional contractors must also rethink their approach to the customer.

Therein lies the opportunity. Despite its frequent headlines, JADC2 remains a nascent concept that the services still struggle to fully embrace or articulate. BCE’s conversations with thought leaders across the armed forces reveal a customer that knows what it wants but does not know how to get it. For all the reasons discussed above, the realization of a more connected, more agile force has proven difficult. Thus, for the moment, JADC2 is a noble vision whose practical applications remain elusive. The company – or companies – who can turn this vision into reality will be doing a service not only to American national security, but also to their shareholders, who can expect tremendous profits to follow.

To become a partner in this effort, however, industry will need to genuinely appreciate the ubiquity of JADC2 and embrace its implications for the acquisition process. Only by acknowledging the new reality of data, networks, open architectures, and standards can industry retain its edge over the up-and-coming competition. Retaining this edge will require a great deal of introspection on the part of large prime contractors, and it will certainly require new business practices. There will undoubtably be growing pains, but the need is real, and the potential rewards are enormous. Therefore, instead of viewing JADC2 as a threat to its business model, industry should recognize this paradigm as an opportunity for success. But first, it needs to listen – truly listen – to the needs of its customer. And what the customer needs now is not a new platform or a new widget; it needs the tissue to connect it all.

The military has signaled its intentions, and now it is up to industry to respond. But one of JADC2’s architects is skeptical that traditional Primes can deliver. “Big contractors,” he lamented, “only listen when it’s a program of record.” If industry wants to avoid getting left in the dust, it needs to perk up its ears.

To learn more about BCE’s management consulting practices, please visit www.bceconsulting.com.


Related team members

Craig Belanger
Senior Partner & Co-Founder Boston
Joe Giandomenico
Principal Boston
Mark Kipphut
Senior Advisor Dallas
Robyn Pirie
Manager Boston
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