IN JULY, AMID the dunes of the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, a team of Army soldiers, Marines, and Air Force F-35 pilots gathered to accomplish a groundbreaking mission: stopping a cruise missile and overcoming an electronic attack.
In modern warfare, being able to counter physical weapons is no longer enough. Today, adversaries have the technology to mount electronic attacks that can jam communication systems, bypass defenses, and render us vulnerable to missiles and ground forces. Using devices that harness the electromagnetic spectrum—including infrared and radar—electronic warfare can disrupt and paralyze a country’s defenses on land, in the air, and at sea, as well as online, with devastating results. Electronic or cyberattacks could even take down the entire power grid of North America.
Fortunately, the United States military has launched an initiative to unite operations across all six branches, enhance resiliency, and stave off electronic attacks, along with traditional strikes on individual systems. This ambitious new operational concept is called Joint All Domain Command and Control, or JADC2.
For decades, the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force have developed and operated their own siloed systems. In modern warfare, however, interoperability among branches is critical. For example, a communications satellite in the Space Force that can quickly relay an incoming missile warning to a Navy carrier at sea—a threat that may have initially been detected by Army land-based radar—can be the difference between life and death for hundreds of Navy personnel.
To accomplish this, the military is partnering with various businesses, including the aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman, to deliver JADC2. Linking existing sensors and weapons systems within a new platform-agnostic infrastructure, JADC2 will enable secure connection across the entire armed forces, to immediately respond to—and neutralize—an extensive array of threats. “This is war-fighting business,” said Lt. Gen. Dennis Crall, the director of command, control, communications, and computers/cyber, and chief information officer at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about JADC2. “This is about fires and speedy engagement.”
Timely response is perhaps never more important than when dealing with electronic attacks, which are becoming ubiquitous and can paralyze entire units. So in July, at White Sands Missile Range, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines conducted a live test in which sensors and defense capabilities from each service combined to neutralize a cruise-missile threat while overcoming an electronic attack against sensors. As the missile flew over the desert, “enemy” jammers in the air and on the ground blinded defensive radar. But two F-35s, locked into the Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS), worked with the Marine Corps’s G/ATOR ground-based radar to track and then engage the incoming projectiles, circumventing the electronic attack and helping launch an interceptor missile to blow up the threat.
“In the internet age, JADC2 just makes sense, and the White Sands test was a great example of how it’s maturing,” says Scott Stapp, the chief technology officer at Northrop Grumman. “The platform connects data to enhance existing systems and protection—it’s the future of warfare.”
Security at the Speed of Innovation
For decades, adversaries of the United States could be counted on to utilize known areas of attack—land, sea, and air—and be met by corresponding traditional branches of the military. But now, along with the rapid advance of technology, the threat environment is constantly changing, and nation-states and other actors use online tools to enhance their reach and ability to surprise.
Consider, for instance, one of the latest frontiers of protection: the inside of a fighter jet.
Traditionally, fighter jets have been the apex predators of the sky, swooping in to fulfill a mission, then disappearing into the clouds again. Now enemy hackers have the tools to infiltrate an aircraft’s communication infrastructure, giving its targeting systems misleading information or disabling it altogether. Far-fetched? In 2019, ethical hackers hired by the Department of Defense broke into an F-15’s online system and shut down the Trusted Aircraft Download Station, a device that collects data from video cameras and sensors while in flight.
Siloed communication systems don’t just isolate branches of the military from one another; they also wall off various systems within each branch, making fighter jets—and countless other aspects of our nation’s defense—more vulnerable to attack. With JADC2, Northrop Grumman is helping link up those systems to create a globe-spanning infrastructure that is more resilient and secure. In this new world, a hacked jet fighter could draw upon information from alternate sources like satellites to trigger overrides and access additional layers of defense, with mission completion assured through a network capable of withstanding difficult conditions.
“You can never prevent 100 percent of cyberattacks,” Stapp says. “So the goal is to isolate those attacks and operate through them. Enemies try to shut down your links, but JADC2 gives you the ability to get the most important data through those restrictive pipes using secure mesh networking to complete the mission. This is incredibly important, because in the current environment, we don’t have that capability.”
Creating a Culture of Innovation
IBCS is the centerpiece of the Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense modernization strategy, and among the innovations in Northrop Grumman’s design is one that combats an age-old problem: vendor lock.
Vendor lock is a trap that many services find themselves in as a result of purchasing multiple proprietary systems, each of which can only operate with, or be upgraded by, the company it was sourced from. Northrop Grumman’s IBCS architecture, by contrast, integrates systems from diverse defense contractors. This enables Northrop Grumman to combine systems without having to modify individual weapons or architectures, creating a next-generation, network-centric approach. The sensors and weapons of each standalone system are connected by IBCS command and control, enabling the use of any sensor’s data across all domains.
Take the Patriot weapon, for example. For decades, the U.S Army has operated the weapon system with its own Patriot-specific radars and interceptor missiles. The radars would detect incoming enemy aircraft or missiles and relay information to its collocated Patriot missiles to shoot down the threat. The system worked well unless the threat disappeared from radar (behind mountains, say), the radar became compromised, or multiple systems had to be coordinated to neutralize several incoming threats without wasting shots.
To solve these issues, the IBCS integrated the Patriot with other systems like the Marine Corps’s G/ATOR and the Air Force’s F-35 sensors. As a result, the Patriot’s sensor resiliency was enhanced and expanded, and now seamlessly collaborates with other systems.
Going forward, Northrop Grumman is extending the architectural approach of IBCS to address the JADC2 initiative, the benefits of which go beyond just communication. Currently, weapons in the Department of Defense usually run at about 50 percent of their kinematic range, or maximum distance, due to limitations of siloed systems. “The Army only uses 50 percent of the Patriot missile’s range because their eyes can’t see that far,” Stapp says. “But by fusing sensors in missiles that can communicate with sensors in aircraft and satellites, your vision is limitless, enabling you to reach 100 percent of your range.”
This also saves money. Traditionally, military branches have had to replace existing weapons for new ones with sensors that allow them to see greater distances. But by maximizing the range of existing weapons in a new universal infrastructure, the Department of Defense can continue to use ordnance it already owns. In addition, the different branches can communicate together in real time for the first time, ensuring they all don’t independently fire on the same target. “Enhancing existing systems with more data gives the U.S. military a huge advantage, in terms of both cost savings and effectiveness,” Stapp says.
Perhaps most important, JADC2 exercises like Valiant Shield ( a training program held every two years between all branches of the armed forces) are transforming the culture of the U.S. military through the shared experience of this new infrastructure—building trust and creating a culture of change and innovation for the future. “By enabling the Army to collaborate with the Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force, we’re crossing huge barriers,” Stapp says. “From a cultural standpoint, getting them to play together is unbelievably significant.”
Building for the Future of Defense
Going forward, the U.S. military is using lessons learned in exercises around the globe to innovate and deploy JADC2 across all branches—ensuring it can be used by anyone. “This is an open-architecture system,” Stapp says. “If you look at the internet, nobody really owns it. So JADC2—and the Internet of Military Things—is being designed the same way. The data will all be owned and used by the government.”
Already, the JADC2 concept is expanding. For the July exercise, for example, Northrop Grumman worked with the Navy’s Aegis Combat System to demonstrate how Navy weapons could be engaged using alternate sensor feeds integrated into the Joint-All Domain fight—and efforts are underway to integrate other sensor, weapons, and command and control systems. “The ultimate goal of JADC2 is to continue to grow connected systems across all branches of the military,” Stapp says. “Once we get the data and sensors connected from sea to space, then we can truly start to build out.”
For the military of the future, JADC2 will enhance and expand the utility of every ship, aircraft, satellite, and vehicle, enabling them to fulfill multiple missions in collaboration with the full range of military systems. Aircraft, for example, will still have their primary role of surveillance or strike, but in addition, they’ll perform secondary functions like edge computing and hosting communications capabilities for soldiers and operators in remote areas. In those cases, they could orchestrate the activities of a joint all-domain team while operating in the forward battle space, moving data among numerous sensors, hosting edge processing to glean key information from that data, and working in concert with algorithms to make critical decisions. Harnessing artificial intelligence and machine learning, Space Force satellites will identify potential threats and relay the information to the closest military branch—quickly and efficiently—enabling the commander to determine the correct response.
“In a JADC2 environment, where information comes from is less relevant, but it must be timely, accurate, and shareable,” Stapp says. “The more data we can infuse into our systems, the more effective they’ll be, so we’re all safer. Ultimately, enabling a universal flow of information from boots on the ground to satellites in space will make the U.S. and our allied military more resilient—and all of us more secure.”