CJADC2 – Enabling the Department of Defense to ‘Sense, Make Sense, and Act’

Advanced sensors and other new technologies introduced into modern battle spaces have significantly increased the amount of data flowing from warfighting environments back to key decision-makers. Although having as much information as possible about the status of an evolving battlefield is critical, the sheer volume of data that must be processed and analyzed creates challenges – especially when military leaders are under pressure to make sound, and sometimes irreversible, decisions at the speed of relevance.

In 2021, the DoD responded to this data challenge by releasing the [Combined] Joint All-Domain Command and Control (CJADC2) Strategy, a vision intended to enable military leaders to, “…keep pace with the volume and complexity of data in modern warfare and to defeat adversaries decisively.” This seminal document was quickly followed with a Posture Review (i.e. Gap Analysis) and Implementation Plan.

Government Technology Insider recently had the unique opportunity to gain insight into the CJADC2 initiative through a sit-down conversation with Marine LtGen (Ret) Dennis A. Crall. Through his service as the Director for Command, Control, Communications, and Computers/Cyber and Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, LtGen Crall has first-hand knowledge of the decisive roles cross-domain data and sensing capabilities play in achieving an advantage over adversarial threats in warfighting environments. Most importantly, he was directly responsible for the creation of the capstone documents defining CJADC2, highlighting resource and process shortfalls, and driving a detailed implementation plan for the Services to deliver objective results.

Government Technology Insider (GTI): What is CJADC2?

LtGen Dennis A. Crall: First and foremost, CJADC2 is about warfighting. It seeks to use the ever-increasing, disparate data flows across all domains, reveal non-intuitive insight via automated and AI-enabled processes, and deliver the results to the U.S. and Coalition warfighter at unprecedented speed. Make no mistake, the ultimate customer here is the warfighter. All others are in support.

Ultimately, it enables the DoD to sense, make sense, and then act.

GTI: Why has the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)prioritized this initiative?

LtGen Dennis A. Crall: If we think back a decade or two ago, a warfighter who could amalgamate information at speed would have decision advantage on a battlefield. Though data and sensor applications were limited 20 years ago, the fact remained that the actor who could quickly make sense of the environment had an advantage over near-peer threats.

If we look at today’s warfighting environment, there’s no question that what was once considered an advantage in years past is now an absolute necessity. To a degree, our adversaries either have integrated data and sensing capabilities or – in the least – are aggressively pursuing them. Like the U.S. military, our near-peer competitors understand the critical role these capability sets provide to modern warfighting.

GTI: What current CJADC2 challenges does the DoD need to solve?

LtGen Dennis A. Crall: Currently, the DoD and its partners, both U.S. and coalition, are awash in data, and the Department has heavily invested in sensors and platforms to report in near real-time. Historically, the primary challenge coming out of the battlefield stemmed from the mountains of incoming, full-motion video that needed timely processing. There was too much data flowing in for people to go through it all as it was a very time-consuming, manual process.

Fast forward to today, full motion video is the least of our worries. The DoD, and others who share data with us, hold so much rich information that can inform us about our locating and identifying threats, determining intent, and better understanding adversary readiness and lethality. The data we have today not only helps us determine what information we have but also helps us discover the information we are missing, which is a tremendous capability that assists us in reaching sound decision-making.

There is now a new element that has been added to today’s fight that makes CJADC2 a priority, and that is the speed of relevance. Today’s time demand isn’t measured in days or weeks. It’s measured in seconds, and, in some cases, microseconds. Now, the main challenge pertains to how we process these growing mountains of available data at speed.

When we, as combined partners, fight together, we shouldn’t have to take Herculean steps to make sure that we can fulfill the mission threads rehearsed in warfighting campaigns. Whether it is ensuring that we can deliver ordinance from one location to another, sharing intelligence across multi-domains, or collecting sensor data, being able to interact in real-time with our mission partners is critical.

If these systems that we’re using to prosecute our missions cannot natively share information, then every delay in that chain is a risk to mission success. This is where we find our current challenge, and that’s the importance of CJADC2 and why it’s such a high priority for the Department today.

GTI: What – in your opinion – has slowed adoption of this effort?

LtGen Dennis A. Crall: Progress on CJADC2 first begins with acknowledgment of the problem. For years we only talked about it. We didn’t internalize it, and – frankly – I don’t think we even believed it.

Over the years, there have been certain initiatives that have popped up within the DoD that I would consider to be fads. They arrive on the scene, drum up a lot of excitement, and get people talking. But after a year or two of toying with these ideas, we eventually rebrand them, give them new acronyms, get new leadership, get a new focus, get new funding, etc.

This sequence of events usually ends with theDepartment turning its attention to a new rabbit and chasing it down a different rabbit hole, which leads to the reset and repeat of this fad cycle.

As a result, the DoD has inadvertently conditioned our industry partners to be hesitant to invest in these emerging concepts and ideas. We’ve trained our partners to be slow to commit to finding out what sticks, which is completely understandable. By using very long-term, five-year Program Objective Memorandum (POM) cycles to put investment strategies down, we’ve also trained our acquisition side to be very patient with its delivery of the initiatives we’re trying to realize fully.

Both factors – combined – have fostered a level of hesitancy that is entirely untenable in this area of rapid change. Perhaps this way of thinking worked in the 50s and 60s, but today’s rate of change and pace is not even comparable.

GTI: What progress has been made within the DoD and its agencies in realizing the CJADC2 vision?

LtGen Dennis A. Crall: Where I have seen the DoD make progress forward isn’t so much in a particular piece of technology but rather in the acknowledgment that we have the problem. There has also been a fantastic movement toward the true internalization of CJADC2. I think that the internalization, adoption, and believability of CJADC2 is perhaps the linchpin and most exciting aspect that has happened in the past year.

Though our leaders may not be able to articulate all the tenets of it, they understand the concept well enough to know that old ways of business are not good enough. We need an iterative, developmental, quick-to-fail-and-fix process. “Not-built-here” is an attitude that cannot and will not survive. I am very encouraged to track the recent work directed by the Deputy Secretary of Defense. Specifically, there are ongoing actions to empower the Chief Data and Artificial Intelligence Officer (CDAO), CIO, and other key stakeholders to deliver results more consistently and faster. I am also impressed with the Global Information Dominance Exercises (GIDE) which serve as a COCOM-level experimental showcase to test CJADC2 solutions against highly defined Joint Warfighting

Concepts, all at the tactical edge. If we have the discipline to drive this process to the fullest, ruthlessly execute the Implementation Plan, and keep our focus on warfighting, there is sound reason to feel good about where we are headed.