The biggest CJADC2 opportunity isn’t AI, it’s true interoperability

Defense is the ultimate collective effort. This is true for the U.S. military across branches, agencies, and echelons, but it is also increasingly true for working with our allies around the world.

The conflicts of the 21st century require unprecedented global coordination, as threats operate across geographies, borders and digital platforms – giving rise to a geopolitical complexity that grows with each micro-conflict. At this year’s AFA conference, Adm. Grady, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. echoed that urgency when discussing the latest version of Joint Warfighting Doctrine: “US military forces must ‘sense and understand’ their operational environments by fusing information from sensors across multiple domains — including space, air and land — and make that information quickly available to decision makers” .

To be successful in future peer-to-peer warfare, we must quickly recognize and appreciate that the “decision makers” to which the Admiral referred are actually within all possible permutations of allies and partners. If we don’t build Core Command and Control (C2) capabilities with this in mind now, we will lose when we approach a real threat.

The multinational nature of this report is an aspect that is often minimized when planning and executing Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control experiments. Decision advantage is driven by information supremacy, which is why CJADC2 is so critical – but currently, too much emphasis is placed on data analysis rather than collaboration.

Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning promise incredible insights for extracting mission intelligence, but to make those insights work we need to focus on a simple concept that’s incredibly difficult: seamless workflow interoperability. From planning to approvals to intelligence sharing to deconfliction – across different nations, industries, roles and functions – this is an incredibly complex task and has the greatest opportunity in terms of accelerating mission agility and thus real deterrence . There are three main pillars to realizing this new world of global alignment:

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Multinational connectivity

Global cooperation and disaggregation are essential components of comprehensive deterrence. We operate in an era where whole-of-government challenges from near-peer adversaries, asymmetric warfare from countless state and non-state actors, persistent misinformation and disinformation, and cyberterrorism coexist to create the most fluid and complex threat environment. The US and its allies have ever seen. If we can prove to our doubters that if we go to war, any coalition we form will be immediately and consistently interoperable among the stakeholders, even an overconfident colleague would think twice.

But the reality is that coordination across allies in multinational operations is still too onerous, even in exercises and experiments. When a coalition operation requires thousands of phone calls and emails over a few days to plan, approve, and execute, the inefficiencies become clear. The good news is that the biggest barriers aren’t technical – they’re cultural and policy-oriented. To boot, DOD continues to prioritize investment in expensive data visualization solutions that fail to address the fundamental workflow and interoperability challenges that impede progress in producing real deterrence.

Some current and upcoming initiatives promote progress toward multinational interoperability, such as the military Convergence Capstone Project and the new Indopacom Accelerator Mission Directorate (JMAD). These efforts are focused on building foundational data-centric processes, technical innovation, and working with allies and partners now, so we’re not scrambling once a crisis starts.

These efforts highlight the importance of ally-partner coordination and recognizing how a coalition can change rapidly as conflicts increase in intensity. Pave the way for data-centric workflows (in data-centric capabilities) that improve efficiency and coordination, ultimately leading organizations to better execute the C2 coalition. These initiatives are often overshadowed by innovation theater and nepotistic selection of commercial capabilities. Ironically, they solve our coalition’s core challenges in “boring ways” that will change the world.

Integrated workflows

The reality is that all C2 missions require similar capabilities and workflows. On average, 70-80 percent of C2 operations are the same – from planning to execution to approval and evaluation., regardless of country or function. Each function requires specific stakeholders and datasets at various levels of classification, but workflows are well established. The challenge is that divisions, branches, and countries procure and build their own Siled C2 systems, and when it’s time for joint operations, those systems don’t integrate well. They may share data, but they don’t really interoperate.

There is an opportunity to leverage existing rules and role-based systems with automated workflows that only need to be modified for specific missions rather than being created from scratch. The doctrinal and documented steps of military planning, approval, execution and evaluation are inherently role-based – and rule-driven – leveraging this in technology can empower personnel to focus on strategic thinking or decision-making rather than linking disparate processes manually.

To truly collaborate across departments, industries, and allies, stakeholders must operate from the same accurate information. The challenge in many joint ventures is that each organization makes decisions based on its narrow view of the information landscape and then shares that data with coalition partners using static elements such as slide decks.

The way forward is to bring partners and allies together within the same data-centric environment to empower teams to understand, collaborate and act together on authoritative and publicly available data. We must move toward a continuous posture of integrating the data of the U.S. military, adversaries, partners, and allies into a central framework that updates in real time alongside political and economic world events. Through this framework, teams benefit from increased security, seamless data sharing and improved collaboration between coalition partners.

Nick Woodruff is Chief Strategy Officer of Research Innovations Incorporated, charged with developing partnerships, both domestically and internationally, with the goal of pursuing global impact.

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