Breaking Defense

JADC2 May Be Built To Fight The Wrong War

Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Defense Concepts and Technology

Although it is one of the US military’s highest priorities, service and industry leaders remain confused about Joint All-Domain Command and Control, variously describing it as a communication architecture, a data-sharing approach, an operational concept, or a decision-making tool. Last week the Joint Staff J-6, Lt. Gen. Dennis Crall, provided much-needed clarity by characterizing JADC2 as a new decision-making approach to support the emerging Joint Warfighting Concept.

Reframing JADC2 as a decision-making approach is a welcome development. Most discussions of JADC2 reference the flawed goal of connecting every sensor with every shooter across a theater, which risks a massive misallocation of money and effort. The failure of Network-Centric Warfare during the 2000s should have dissuaded US military leaders from once again pursuing theater-wide situational awareness and control. Not only is perfect connectivity unlikely in the contested electromagnetic spectrum US forces will face against capable enemies, only a portion of the US military’s multiple generations of diverse equipment is useful in any given situation.

Instead of attempting to build networks that can support a fixed hierarchical command structure under all conditions, DoD should establish command relationships and capabilities that can adapt to changing communications availability. JADC2 should therefore focus on providing decision support that reduces the force’s reliance on wide-area networks and improves a commander’s options.

It’s All About “Optionality”

Unfortunately, Pentagon officials are coy regarding what JADC2’s approach is or how it supports the new Joint All-Domain Operations (JADO) warfighting concept. Recent mentions of JADO that emphasize fires and overwhelming enemy forces are not encouraging. Although well-suited for major combat operations, an attrition-based warfighting concept is a poor fit for an era when adversaries such as the People’s Liberation Army are achieving steady gains in territory and influence through actions below the level of war and are less likely to initiate a large-scale, high-intensity conflict.

DoD cannot depend on the PLA presenting US forces with targets to engage or escalating a confrontation to provide a rationale for long-range fires. To compete with China, DoD needs to focus on spoiling Chinese military and paramilitary success at lower levels on the escalation ladder. This is more closely aligned with maneuver warfare concepts like DARPA’s Mosaic Warfare, which seek to impose multiple overlapping dilemmas on enemy forces that disrupt their operations and thus prevent them from reaching their objectives in time.

Although it still employs attrition, maneuver warfare relies more on superior decision-making to succeed. US commanders could therefore gain an advantage by making faster and better choices or slowing down and degrading the opponent’s decision-making. The factor underlying each of these techniques is “optionality.” If a US force has more options compared to a PLA force, US commanders are more likely to choose better courses of action faster than PLA leaders.

On the other side, PLA commanders’ decision-making would be hindered by the need to assess and be prepared for a greater variety of US options.

In a decision-centric conflict, the US military could grow its options by deploying more distributed forces with sufficient communications and interoperability to compose themselves in a variety of ways. Decision-support systems like those being developed by DARPA or the services would help commanders package their forces to perform needed missions. US forces could constrain enemy options by confusing or disrupting adversary sensors, presenting a more complex posture, or degrading enemy communications.

Embracing Complexity Over Predictability

Which brings us to JADC2. A decision-centric warfighting concept stands in stark contrast to forecast-centric planning, which attempts to predict needs for future scenarios and build or compose the required forces as soon as practical to make unneeded capabilities available for other tasks. The apparent focus of JADO on efficiently delivering fires and managing forces reflects forecast-centric decision-making. In addition to the risk of predicting wrong, this approach narrows a commander’s options in the interest of efficiency.

A joint warfighting concept centered on attrition, coupled with predictive decision-making, would put the US military at a disadvantage in confrontations below the level of major power war. Thwarting Chinese military and paramilitary efforts will require adaptability and flexibility—not an optimized solution to deliver massed fires for a war that may never come.

Creating greater optionality for US forces will require that JADO focus on cutting off enemy paths to success, rather than simply destroying adversary forces. More significantly, the decision-making approach of JADC2 will need to maximize the courses of action and manage the complexity available to US commanders. Instead of building networks to support hierarchical command structures that use forecast-centric planning, JADC2 should prioritize decision support tools that assess the impact of certain courses of action on future optionality. US commanders could then execute an adaptable strategy to prevent opponents from achieving their objectives.

The US military needs new operational concepts like JADO to address an era in which opponents pursue paths other than large-scale war to reach their goals. DoD’s default planning approach of preparing for war and expecting that to deter aggression will not be valid. To enable new warfighting concepts, however, US forces will need JADC2 to move past the failure of network-centric warfare to prioritize optionality over predictability and adaptability over connectivity.

Read in Breaking Defense