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 president of Advanced Concepts & Technology at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business.

 

Today, Meyer and many others at Raytheon Technologies are working in support of a massive 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, or 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.”

 

Here’s how experts across Raytheon Technologies – with their deep knowledge in areas including secure communications, resilient networks, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and effectors – are working together to bring JADC2 to life.

Secure communications

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.

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 already 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 and data communications systems and jam-resistant data links. The business is also building upon two decades of work in Link 16 – the tactical datalink network used by U.S. and NATO forces – to demonstrate its global connectivity from lower Earth orbit.

Raytheon Missiles & Defense, another Raytheon Technologies business, is working with research and development organizations across the military to use cutting-edge 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.

That type of work gives the company a broad view of communications systems across the military – and, with it, valuable knowledge of how to put JADC2 into action in the long term.

“Our competitive advantage is, we’re starting from that real estate. We’ve got capabilities deployed on all those platforms,” said Ryan Bunge, Collins’ vice president for Communications, Navigation and Guidance. “We’ve got that visibility across all the services’ efforts … that’s where we live and breathe every day.”

The key, he said, 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, for example, 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.

“We’re building it into the products we have today, and we’re investing into it for the future. It’s not just about aircraft and ships – it’s about UAS and attritables,” Bunge said, using military terms for expendable, uncrewed and remotely piloted vehicles. “We’re bringing connectivity to those platforms as well, where you can’t put a 200-pound rack-mounted computer in there.”

Ensuring the integrity of highly sensitive military transmissions is the work of the protected-communications experts at Raytheon Intelligence & Space. Their products include a line of Advanced Extremely High Frequency, or AEHF, satellite communications terminals, along with arrays of antennas, modems and cybersecurity tools that can be installed on many platforms and work in many domains.

“We produce the communication equipment the government uses when the message unambiguously has to go through – no ifs, ands or buts,” said Mark Hutchins, the business’ executive director for protected communications. “We supply already a good part of the DoD’s existing communications infrastructure for a lot of the highly encrypted missions. Part of JADC2 is trying to determine how to proliferate this level of encryption to a variety of different platforms.”

His team also has to ensure the equipment is rugged enough to work and survive in military missions, he said.

“If you have an aircraft doing Mach 1, and it’s tracking satellites that have a secure data link, the type of tracking that’s involved is very different from the type of tracking that’s required for a cell phone going 55 miles per hour down the interstate,” Hutchins said. “Military equipment has to be very robust.”

Not only that, it has to be undetectable; unlike commercial wireless modems, which are built to reveal themselves for anybody who is looking for them – think of connecting your phone to the wi-fi at a friend’s house – military communications equipment has to do exactly the opposite.

“If you’re saying ‘here I am,’ you’re declaring yourself a target,” Hutchins said. “We have to be very well encrypted and very low-probability-of-detect.”

But he’s far from saying the defense industry should build the network on its own. Rather, he said, he’s looking to strike up partnerships with commercial firms that have experience building at the speed and scale JADC2 requires.

“We understand the security ramifications, whereas they may not be as well equipped to do so. They, on the other hand, have a little bit more agility,” Hutchins said. “The combination of those two is a unique opportunity.”

Resilient networks

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.

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, exquisite, 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 including the RTIC, or Real-Time In the Cockpit system and the TTNT, or Tactical Targeting Network Technology mesh network, 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.

And in the bigger picture, Rehm said, it’s an early example of what his business can bring to bear – including intelligent sensing, autonomous technologies, artificial intelligence and machine learning – in the company’s collaborative development of the systems that will enable JADC2.

“This is really about what is in the world of the possible,” he said.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning

Raytheon Technologies is developing a prototype for the U.S. Army's Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node, or TITAN, ground station, which will find and track potential threats by quickly combing through immense amounts of sensor data.

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 the AI software company C3.ai 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, as part of an RI&S-led team developing that system, 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.

“This is simply going to be part of the culture change associated with this technology,” he said.

Effectors

Effectors – a term that encompasses missiles, mortars and non-kinetic weapons – have two main roles in JADC2: to defeat targets, and to create data of their own.

Much of the conversation about JADC2 focuses on the concept itself – the networking of disparate sensors and systems, the analysis of data, 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, he said: 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, Selby said – they’ve become flying sensors in their own right.

“There’s exquisite capability within our weapons,” he said. “We need to take advantage of that and feed the common operating picture.”

There are two main benefits to the types of data effectors can produce, Selby said. One is granularity – an up-close, real-time look at a mission theater or even a specific engagement. The other benefit is battle damage assessment – a confirmation that the weapon worked, which is often a cue for the next action in the battle plan.

“Say we’re going to strike a bridge. I need to know whether the bridge was destroyed, because that influences my need to reattack,” Selby said. “The bridge being destroyed is probably a trigger to some other event. It feeds into the overall plan.”