For tourists who need a ride to a restaurant in an unfamiliar city, patients who need a ride to the doctor when they’re sick, or revelers who need a ride home from the bar when they’re too drunk to drive, ridesharing is a small miracle. All they have to do is open an app on their smartphone, tap their screen, and—voilà—a driver appears in a modern-day chariot to take them to their destination. Even now, more than a decade after Uber was founded, it feels like magic.
But technologists know better. Ridesharing isn’t magic. It’s GEOINT: In their apps, ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft deploy algorithms that ingest the location of drivers and passengers from their respective devices, then determine the best match based on a combination of variables, such as distance and travel time. The apps then provide turn-by-turn directions to drivers so they can find their passenger and get them as quickly as possible to where they’re going. All of this is accomplished using geospatial data that’s transmitted through the cloud using cellular and Wi-Fi networks.
What ridesharing accomplishes for passengers—the automatic synthesis of real-time geospatial data from disparate sensors across time and space—the Department of Defense (DoD) wants to accomplish for warfighters. To achieve it, it’s in the midst of implementing a strategic concept known as Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or JADC2.
An effort to connect sensors from all of the military services into a single network that can also share data seamlessly with allied nations, JADC2 will create an “Internet of Military Things” that will fundamentally change the nature of military operations, a panel of industry and military experts said Thursday morning at GEOINT 2021.
Led by moderator Lewis Shepherd, senior director of research and emerging technologies at VMware and vice chair of AFCEA Intelligence, the panel included: Mark Andress, chief information officer and CIO-T director at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA); Dan Jablonsky, CEO of Maxar Technologies; Lauren Knausenberger, chief information officer at the U.S. Air Force; and Kelly McCool, director of the Digital Warfare Office at the U.S. Navy.
During a 40-minute discussion that ranged from the tactical to the strategic, Shepherd and the four panelists explored both the benefits of JADC2 and the challenges. Encompassing both, Shepherd said, are remarks delivered in May 2021 by Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten.
“The simple requirement will be: From this day forward, all data produced by the Department of Defense—all data produced by every weapon system in the Department of Defense—will be accessible. Period,” Hyten said of JADC2. “It has to be that way. There can be no other alternative.”
Currently, data has a hard time traveling between sensors in the air, on the ground, at sea, and in space; between the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Space Force; and between the United States and allied nations. All those various stovepipes must come down in order to accelerate military decision making, which in future conflicts might take place over the course of hours, minutes, and maybe even seconds as opposed to days.
“We’re not wired to just deal with mass amounts of data. We’re wired to try and make sense of that data,” said Jablonsky, who emphasized that JADC2 isn’t about improving technology for technology’s sake. Rather, it’s about improving technology to achieve and maintain a military advantage.
Echoed Knausenberger, “We need to be able to solve any problem right now. And that means not just solving it once … It means doing it at scale, and being able to do it at scale every time.”
Knausenberger and McCool shared how the Air Force and Navy, respectively, will leverage JADC2 and execute its requirements. Jablonsky and Andress, meanwhile, discussed the technical contributions of government and industry. The shared takeaway from all of them, however, was that JADC2 isn’t just a technical challenge and opportunity; it’s also a cultural one.
“JADC2 isn’t an output … It’s changing your operating model,” Andress said.
In that way, JADC2 really is like ridesharing: The underlying technology is an enabler; what’s most remarkable, however, are the geolocated things that users can do because of it.