For more than a decade, the Pentagon has been working vigorously on finding ways to expedite joint interoperability and warfare information sharing across the services and across multiple domains in real time. The concept of passing targeting information from surface ships, to fighter jets to advancing ground units as part of an integrated joint fight has been center stage on the Pentagon’s modernization plans. Moreover, it is a task that has increasingly become more complex in an age of artificial intelligence (AI), faster digital processing speeds and a growing sphere of data networks and communications systems.
This vision of seamless, yet secure information sharing amid joint warfare operations has, in several respects, remained somewhat elusive and unrealized. Until now? Maybe.
While many technical advances have in recent years greatly improved the speed, efficiency and range of cross-domain communications, there is reason to believe that the Pentagon is now approaching what could be called a major breakthrough. Engineering common IP protocol standards, building with open architecture and fostering a collaborative developmental process focused on interoperability have all been rapidly gaining traction in recent years. With rapid advances in drone communications, digital networking and sensor data aggregation, should otherwise stovepiped platforms be able to talk to each other? The answer is increasingly yes.
After all, the concept has been alive and well for decades, as many remember the original intent of the Pentagon’s Joint Tactical Radio Systems software programmable radio program which, among other things, sought to network air, ground, sea in one functional, data-sharing network. JTRS never fully realized its potential, yet the technical process and conceptual effort continues to inform current programs such as the Pentagon’s Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2).
The Army and the Air Force recently made progress with an agreement to forge new partnerships regarding JADC2, building upon a series of recent successful demonstrations of interoperability. There are far too many examples of rapid progress with JADC2 than can be cited, however during the Army’s Project Convergence 2020 ground soldiers were able to quickly send and receive targeting information from overhead Marine Corps F-35s. F-35s were also used in conjunction with the Army’s Integrated Battle Command System technology which networks otherwise disparate sets of radar nodes with a common data-sharing architecture. This enables ground-based radar to share targeting and threat information with air assets such as F-35s.
The Air Force is also breaking through with its own “combat” interoperability, as F-35s can now engage in two-way LINK 16 connectivity with F-22s and even 4th-Gen platforms.
The overall strategy, now increasingly coming to life, is to enable Navy surface destroyers, Air Force F-35s and Army ground based artillery and radar to pass targeting information and, as described by senior leaders, create a “kill web” that connects any sensor to any shooter. This is already being demonstrated to varying degrees as all the services are massively shortening the sensor-to-shooter decision cycle.
Kris Osborn is the new Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.