The Role of Multi-path Communications at the Tactical Edge: Q&A with Sigma Defense and Cradlepoint

SIGNAL Magazine recently conducted a video interview with Jamie Beere, vice president of technology and innovation at Sigma Defense, and Mark DeVol, vice president of federal sales for Cradlepoint, about the importance of multi-path communications at the tactical edge as part of the vision of the Department of Defense’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) initiative. Since the strategic initiative was introduced, DoD has renamed it Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or CJADC2. If you have not watched the interview, here’s an excerpt, edited for length and clarity.

How are you delivering communications across Services, across partners and allies, and how is that an enabler of decision dominance?

DeVol: From a Cradlepoint perspective our solutions have always been purpose-built to work out at the network edge. Historically we’ve relied on commercial cellular as the transport, but we can really utilize any IP-based link, and this can be configured for condition-based land selection where the router automatically chooses the most optimal path for transport. Our solutions also will utilize technologies such as software-defined networking, which allows for intelligent routing decisions to be made by the device based on parameters that have been defined by the network administrator. This built-in intelligence allows the network to ingest different types of data from different sources. With these types of capabilities, the end user is no longer restricted to only one or two types of network transport, giving them more options to deliver that information where and when it is needed in order to make those life or death decisions at a moment’s notice.

Beere: It’s not only using cellular solutions like Cradlepoint, but other topologies now available and using them in such a way that they cognitively apply different routing protocols depending on the environment. We’re working with a variety of partners such as Mark and his team to integrate purpose-built, resilient, and robust communication solutions into a modular, vendor-agnostic platform because it’s going to require all of industry to connect the myriad of edge sensors, other data-producing devices, and even warfighters that are wearing smart devices that transmit and receive data. These edge compute platforms can be deployed across that operational environment to include the lowest-level warfighting elements.

The vision of [C]JADC2 is not an easy one, so how do multi-path inter-communications address some of the challenges that DoD is facing in implementing it?

Beere: Multi-path communications give military end-users more options than ever, and more options means not having single points of failure if you’re in a contested environment. Having multiple communications paths reduces the chance that the end-user would be completely isolated; at least they would still be able to communicate amongst the team, even if they didn’t have a backhaul connection. I would say that is the most critical challenge and the most critical link in the entire JADC2 strategy. We can develop and deploy the most novel sensors ever imagined, the fastest vehicles, and the most advanced weapon systems ever seen, but if the systems can’t transmit, receive, and share that data across the joint and partner forces to rapidly coordinate and execute operations, then we’ll always be in a state of reaction versus having a strategic overmatch against our adversaries. With that being said, we all know that our adversaries are looking hard at our communication pathways, especially the critical links and circuits so we must have immediately available alternative solutions.

Can you provide some perspective on how JADC2 will play out over time?

DeVol: We’re not going to solve this overnight. This is a long-term effort, and I kind of look at it like software development. It used to be you had the approach where you created your software, you got it to a point where it was perfect, and then you were done with it. Now they’ve really got more of this waterfall or agile approach where everything is always a beta because it’s always being developed, it’s never perfect. I think with JADC2 and everything that we’re looking to do, I look at it in that framework. It’s never going to be 100 percent complete, there’s always going to be something new that’s being added or removed to make the network what the military needs it to be at that given time.

Beere: In the next contested space, we need to achieve seamless ‘sense and make sense’ at the edge, instead of information coming back a single or couple centralized global points. Senior commanders are the ultimate decision makers, and in the contested environment lower-level commanders will have to be prepared to sense and make sense at below-echelon and all the way down to a platoon level or the smallest organizational unit. The process of ‘Sense, make sense and act’ needs to be done as close to the edge as possible to be highly competitive. That’s why multi-path communication is extremely important. The last point I’ll make is not only critical to the DoD, but to for the defense industry: we’ve got to work together because it’s not going to be a single stovepipe solution that the DoD requires. I’ve never seen a company that can produce all the critical links in the “kill chain” autonomously, so let’s band together, work with our DoD partners, and figure this out.