Science & Tech

U.S. Military, Industry Discuss Improving High-Tech Battlefield Communication

The Texas A&M System hosted talks for experts and offered its research and testing help.
By Mike Reilly, Texas A&M University System Communications October 30, 2020

More than 400 defense industry executives, military commanders and other national security experts came together virtually this week to discuss an innovative plan for U.S. military communication and decision-making.

The Texas A&M University System hosted the virtual meeting sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), a group promoting dialogue on the shared goals of the military and industry.

In a series of lectures, question-and-answer sessions and panel discussions, the military and industry leaders explored the challenges associated with an ongoing Department of Defense initiative called “Joint All Domain Command and Control” or “JADC2.” Its goal is to connect information systems among all of the service branches in a single network.

Speakers on Tuesday and Wednesday included Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown and about two dozen other high-ranking officers and retired officers from every service branch.

Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp and M. Katherine Banks, Texas A&M Vice Chancellor of Engineering and National Laboratories and Dean of Engineering, also addressed the gathering. They offered the services of the Texas A&M System in helping with JADC2 and other NDIA initiatives.

“When you are looking for an innovation partner, think of us,” Sharp said. “We’ll make it easy for you.”

Proponents of JADC2 say a modern, joint network is needed to handle the speed, complexity and lethality of future warfare, which could include hypersonic and laser weaponry.

Participants discussed how the network will have to be fast, reliable and flexible for users with various levels of security clearance and for changing situations. It also must be resilient against cyberattacks from high-tech adversaries such as China and Russia.

“To confront our competitors, we have to focus on innovation,” said Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command. “We have to have the same sense of urgency we had during the Cold War.”

JADC2 is envisioned as a cloud-like environment for service branches to share intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data from sources across the globe. The network will analyze the data instantly using artificial intelligence and machine learning. That will help commanders make quicker, smarter decisions and to get critical information and orders to warfighters.

“Warfighters deserve every single advantage we can give them,” said David Spirk, a former Marine and chief data officer for the Defense Department.

Sharp and Banks explained some of the capabilities of the Texas A&M System that could help with JADC2 and other national defense initiatives.

Sharp presented a video on the RELLIS Campus:

Banks shared a video on the new George H.W. Bush Combat Development Complex (BCDC):

The BCDC is being built at RELLIS as part of a Texas A&M System partnership with Army Futures Command (AFC), which is the Army’s representative in developing JACD2.

“In a nutshell,” Banks said, “the BCDC will serve as the central hub for testing and demonstrating the newest and most innovative ideas related to the Army’s modernization mission.”

The BCDC will feature the biggest enclosed hypersonic testing range in the nation, the Ballistic Aero-Optics and Materials (BAM). It also will feature the Innovation Proving Ground (IPG), a highly-instrumented outdoor testing range.

Part of its initial mission will be to sync up autonomous vehicles and other Army battlefield assets through a single, secure, resilient communications system.

“So what we will sync up for one service branch, we could help do for all of the service branches,” Sharp told the group.

Conference discussion included the challenge of innovating rapidly in the midst of long-standing military practices, including very detailed procurement procedures.

Banks noted that Texas A&M researchers are using agile technology development to help AFC innovate at speeds closer to Silicon Valley. It is an iterative process of testing, feedback, refinement followed by more testing, more feedback and more refinement.

“The idea is to sprint to success or failure, not toil for years,” she said.

Other Texas A&M System speakers at the conference were:

  • Retired Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, former Air Force Chief of Staff, now Dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service
  • Retired Lt. Gen. J. Kevin McLaughlin, former Deputy Commander of U.S. Cyber Command, now Director of Cyber Security Policy, Strategy and Security at the Bush School
  • Stephen Cambone, a former senior Defense Department official, now Associate Vice Chancellor for Cybersecurity Initiatives.

Sharp also shared video on the Bush School’s new teaching site in Washington D.C., which will be geared toward mid-career professionals.

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