WASHINGTON — Seeking clarity on price and progress made on the Pentagon’s plan for seamless communications and rapid decision-making across military services, House lawmakers are seeking an audit of Joint All-Domain Command and Control as well as in-depth reports from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
In its draft for the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, the House Armed Services cyber and innovative technologies subcommittee requested a Government Accountability Office review of JADC2 and inventories of related efforts, timelines, goals and potential shortfalls.
The language was made public June 7.
Committee staff said the evaluations would help lawmakers gauge “the state of play” of the Department of Defense’s marquee effort. The oversight initiative will inform future support, they added, and is not meant to be punitive.
“JADC2 is a very complex undertaking, and there are a lot of pieces that all need to come out together in order to create this capability that the department is depending on,” said a staff member, who spoke to reporters and asked not to be identified. “The services have their specific efforts that may be succeeding or encountering challenges, each on their own merits, and they’re supposed to net together into this cohesive whole.”
The Army, Air Force and Navy have their own contributions to JADC2, the Pentagon’s vision for unimpeded information sharing across air, land, sea, space and cyber. The Army has Project Convergence, the Air Force has the Advanced Battle Management System and the Navy has Project Overmatch, the most hush-hush of the bunch.
Concerns abound about JADC2 costs and complexities — how, exactly, the disparate investments and systems will eventually interface. Congress expressed skepticism in the past, slashing funding and questioning trajectories.
“This isn’t new. You go back to last year’s NDAA, they marked down a bunch of the JADC2 things, in particular the Air Force’s ABMS,” Chris Dougherty, a senior fellow for the defense program at the Center for a New American Security, said in an interview Tuesday. “And the reason they marked it down was that they were like, ‘This isn’t a program.’”
The Defense Department this year published a public version of its JADC2 strategy. The eight-page document shared definitions, principles and targets, promoting the communications end-game as more of a philosophy and less of a product. No costs were disclosed.
Exactly how the strategy is implemented falls to the JADC2 Cross-Functional Team, chartered by the deputy secretary of defense. No overall cost estimate for JADC2 had been formulated as of mid-March, according to Director for Command, Control and Communications for the Joint Staff Lt. Gen. Dennis Crall.
The inclusion of the JADC2 audit in the cyber and innovative tech subcommittee’s draft was no mistake, according to Dougherty, who worked on the 2018 National Defense Strategy.
“I think DoD went too far in trying to build the sort of one ring to rule them all, rather than building, in a piecemeal fashion, toward what you might call minimum viable kill chains,” he said, adding: “There’s more to it than just making two aircraft talk to each other.”
The panel is scheduled to mark up its NDAA language June 8. A half-dozen other markups will follow that day and the next.
A full committee markup is set for June 22. The Military Times reported on June 5 that leaders in the House and Senate hope to pass their versions of the NDAA by mid-summer, with an eye on a final compromise ahead of November elections.
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.