JADC2: Building the U.S. Military’s Internet of Things
For years, Paul Meyer’s job in the U.S. Air Force was to suppress enemy air defenses. To do that, he had to know where they were and what they were doing. And to do that, he and the pilot of his F-4 Phantom II had to get close enough to show up on their radars.
“My job was to play chicken — to put myself in that environment where I have to fire my missile before he fires his,” said Meyer, a retired weapon systems officer and now vice president of Space and C2 Systems at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business.
Today, Meyer and others at Raytheon Technologies are working in support of a U.S. Department of Defense initiative to give military personnel something much better than what he had — quick, seamless access to intelligence from any system in the battlefield.
Officially, that initiative is called Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2). Unofficially, it is a military Internet of Things — a way to connect traditionally separate networks, ingest and analyze data from sensors across the globe and in space, then serve it up to operators and commanders in context and with options on what to do next.
“Historically, when we communicate in a large battle, every service kind of takes their own approach — an air-centric approach, a ground-centric approach, a navy-centric approach,” said retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. John Dolan, a former director of operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and now a vice president at Raytheon Intelligence & Space. “JADC2 is all domains at once, and we’ve never had that.”
JADC2 will look a lot like a commercial network, with data clouds, lots of signal relays, and nodes all over the world both collecting and contributing information. But adapting that commercial approach to a military setting takes something more; namely, security and durability.
The data that will flow through JADC2 will enable the military to better plan and execute its movements on land, at sea, in the air, and in space. That makes the information a prime target for adversaries — not just to intercept it but to alter it and throw military operations off-course.
Raytheon Technologies has a strong presence in secure communications across the military services. Collins Aerospace, a Raytheon Technologies business, provides secure HF, VHF, and UHF radios; satellite voice; data communications systems; and jam-resistant data links. Raytheon Missiles & Defense is working with research and development organizations across the military to use approaches such as software-defined apertures, intelligent information distribution, and multi-level security — a way to ensure operators can access the right data on the right nets. Those methods would help link platforms and synchronize their actions across extremely long distances in contested environments.
The key, said Ryan Bunge, Collins’ vice president for Communications, Navigation, and Guidance, is making those systems adaptable, flexible, and easy to upgrade, so that they meet the services’ future needs — even those they haven’t yet defined. Collins has invested in software-defined radios, which can add capabilities through fast, frequent system updates; RF (radio frequency) products that perform multiple functions; and open-systems architecture, an approach to design that allows for quick, efficient modifications.
Ensuring the integrity of highly sensitive military transmissions is the work of Raytheon Intelligence & Space. Their products include Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite communications terminals and antennas, modems, and cybersecurity tools that can be installed on many platforms and work in many domains. The company supplies much of the DoD’s existing communications infrastructure for many highly encrypted missions. Part of JADC2 is trying to determine how to proliferate this level of encryption to a variety of different platforms.
Communications equipment must be robust and undetectable. Unlike commercial wireless modems that are built to reveal themselves for anybody who is looking for them, military communications equipment must do exactly the opposite.
Securing the network and its data is only one of the challenges facing JADC2. Another is to keep the network running even after it’s attacked. Just as modern communications systems are becoming more resilient by fielding multiple small satellites (as opposed to large, single-satellite systems), JADC2 calls for deliberate, built-in redundancy — an approach where sensors and platforms can not only create information but relay it, building bridges between the military services’ historically disparate networks.
In a 2021 demonstration at Wright Air National Guard base in Salt Lake City, for example, Collins Aerospace showed that a KC-135 aircraft — a plane traditionally used only for refueling bombers and tactical fighters — can double as a communications hub to the joint force. Using Collins technology, the KC-135 transmitted data from a ground unit including images and positioning data with different levels of classification a key concern in joint and coalition operations where commanders need to limit the detail of information they share.
“Those tankers are in a prime position to be closer to the target environment, to support joint efforts and be an effective tool that’s not been realized,” said Braxton Rehm, a retired U.S. Air Force F-16 pilot and the director of JADC2 requirements and demonstrations at Collins. “They have available space, available power, and available time on station while they’re doing their refueling mission. They can be a part and a player in all of that.”
The demonstration also showed that sensors from across that force can warn the tanker of potential threats, helping it re-route accordingly and survive its own missions.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Another method to build in that resiliency is the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to achieve what’s known as “cognitive data management.” Basically, that would mean a smart system, built on a lattice of connected information nodes, that optimizes the flow of data, dedicating bandwidth to high-priority tasks and moving essential mission data despite low-quality or disrupted networks.
“By automatically adapting to mission contexts, the right data is available at the right time to the right person or machine,” said Jim Wright, technical director for the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems organization at Raytheon Intelligence & Space. “There is no alternative in the future high-tempo fight.”
Directing the flow of data — and redirecting it when parts of the network fail — is just one way JADC2 would use artificial intelligence and machine learning. The others fall into two main categories: “sense-making,” or the aggregation and analysis of data, and then using that analysis to advise military commanders about their next moves.
The JADC2 network, with its hundreds or even thousands of data sources, would produce far more information than any person could possibly compute — at least not at the speed of battle. But AI software and powerful processors are up to the task. That is part of why Raytheon Intelligence & Space is working with C3.ai, an AI software company, to provide AI technologies for government customers including the intelligence community and the U.S. Air Force, which has been at the fore of JADC2 with its part of the concept known as the Advanced Battle Management System.
“The U.S. military’s Internet of Things will consist of millions of intelligent nodes — satellites, autonomous aircraft, self-driving ground vehicles, unmanned submarines — that continuously collect and share data,” said Ed Abbo, C3.ai’s president and chief technology officer. “AI and machine learning will play a critical role to interpret and optimize battlespace operations in milliseconds rather than minutes, hours, and days.”
Also in the works at Raytheon Technologies: a prototype for the U.S. Army’s Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node, a ground station that can find and track potential threats by quickly combing through immense amounts of sensor data. Collins will contribute its expertise in the use of open systems architecture for communications — a key to meeting the military’s desire for fast and efficient upgrades.
Although AI can enable sensors to work autonomously, interpret the data they create, and make recommendations on how to meet a mission’s objectives, the actual decisions will be left to human commanders. The key to making that work is to show those commanders, throughout the development and implementation of new technologies, that AI is interpreting the battlefield correctly and generating good advice, Wright said.
Much of the conversation about JADC2 focuses on the concept itself — the networking of disparate sensors and systems, the analysis of data, and the creation of critical, real-time intelligence. But there’s even more to it than that, said Jonathan Selby, a retired U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot who now works for Raytheon Missiles & Defense. “JADC2 is a means to an end,” he said. “The end is effective warfighting.”
Selby’s role in supporting JADC2 focuses on the use of effectors — a term that encompasses missiles, mortars, and essentially anything else that can be used to defeat or degrade a target. “JADC2 is all about the deployment of effectors,” he said. “Whether that’s a rifleman shooting a bullet, a missile shooting an airplane, or a tank shooting another tank, this is all about effecting change in the adversary.”
Effectors have two main roles in JADC2: to defeat targets and to create data of their own. Just as the sensors that have traditionally cued effectors undergo fundamental changes themselves — such as the Office of Naval Research’s Flexible Distributed Array Radar — effectors, too, are evolving. Missiles with sophisticated computer processors and two-way data links, for example, are far more than weapons — they’ve become flying sensors.
There are two main benefits to the types of data effectors can produce, Selby said. One is granularity — an up-close, realtime look at a mission theater or even a specific engagement; the other is battle damage assessment — a confirmation that the weapon worked, which is often a cue for the next action in the battle plan.
This article was contributed by Raytheon Technologies Corp., Waltham, MA. For more information, visit here .