Gen. David Allvin helped frame the discussion about multi-domain operations beginning about 2014, with the publication of “America’s Future Air Force: A Call to the Future.” Now that future is here—and more “joint” than he could imagine at the time. Master Sgt. Jodi Martinez
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Q&A: Rocking the Joint: JADC2 is All About Speed

Jan. 20, 2023

Gen. David W. Allvin is Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, overseeing the Air Staff and serving on the Pentagon’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council and the Deputy’s Management Action Group. A former airlifter and test pilot, he helped write America’s Air Force: A Call to the Future in 2014 and the Air Force Future Operating Concept in 2015. Those were critical precursors to the multi-domain operations vision advanced by Gen. David L. Goldfein when he became Chief of Staff, a theme that evolved into a shared adoption among the services of the Joint All-Domain Command and Control operating concept. Air & Space Forces Magazine’s Editor in Chief Tobias Naegele caught up with him in December.

Q: You were sort of in on the early stages of conceiving of multi-domain operations and what has come to be known as joint all-domain command and control. How did that come about?

A: So for me, the journey starts in early 2013, when then-Chief of Staff [Gen. Mark] Welsh had made the statement, “I’m tired of orbiting around the flame of the POM [program objective memoranda], I want to look to be more strategic.” … I worked with Chief Welsh in writing sort of a strategic framework document, … “America’s Air Force: A Call to the Future.” And really, that was designed [in 2014] to set out what the Chief thinks the future of warfighting is going to look like and how the institution of the Air Force needs to be better prepared for that.

And the key phrase in that document is, the ability of the Air Force to continue to adapt faster than our adversaries. That is the key in the future. … The next thing was, how do you write the operating concept? How are we going to warfight in this future environment? So … then came the “Air Force Future Operating Concept” [in 2015], and that was really where we started breaking down what are the elements of the way the Air Force fights? And how do we perceive we’re going to do that in the future? … We understood we’re not going to have ubiquitous air supremacy like we have [had in the past], it’s going to be regional, it’s going to be local.

Q: And momentary?

A: Right, and momentary. The idea that you’re going to be able to do it at the time and place of your choosing—you couldn’t sustain it. … We didn’t have the resources and the environment wouldn’t allow that. So that’s when we started looking at multi-domain command and control within the context of this [Future Operating Concept]. … But to be truthful, we were thinking of the three domains that the Air Force is really focused on: air, space, and cyberspace. Only as we started to evolve the writing of this, did we understand it has to be able to move beyond just the domains that the Department of the Air Force was responsible for … that we had to be able to leverage the capabilities and the awareness that are resident in other domains, in order to be able to have the agility that we need to move from here to there. So it was the move from agility to having better awareness of sensors and shooters in all domains that started this multi-domain command and control idea. …

General Goldfein was really advocating and articulating, more eloquently than we did, that these things need to be joint … [to where] audiences were starting to internalize the idea that we really do need to have more multi-domain and cross-domain solutions. That’s how it got to where we had the service chiefs look at JADC2 as not only just an interesting thing to do, but something that was required to adapt to the changing character of war.

Q: In your view, what’s the difference between “multi-domain operations” and joint all-domain command and control?

A: What “joint all domain” does is it forces new people into the conversation. To my point earlier, when we said multi-domain, we thought of it as multiple domains within the Department of the Air Force. The Army could have looked at it and said, ‘Yes, multi-domain, I’m going to need things from space, so my multi-domain is leveraging space to do Army things.’ The Navy similarly. There’s a thought process and a perspective, that sort of shows, ‘I’m going to leverage the other domains to do my domain’s work.’ Whereas when you think of “joint all domain,” it puts you more in a frame of mind of joint force work. That allowed it to jump from multi-service for single-service purposes to actually directly supporting the joint force.

Q: Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has his seven Operational Imperatives, one of which is Operationalizing the Advanced Battle Management System. How is that advancing?

A: Within our Air Force, we were experimenting with ways that we could fuse data, doing these experiments that showed that you could actually cross domains and be able to get a better solution and do it faster. There was widening recognition of the changing character of war, that speed is a thing, and speed of decision could be one of the more impactful factors in joint warfighting in the future. … Then Chief [of Staff Gen. Charles Q.] Brown comes in and says, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get on the ball here and go a little faster’ with his Accelerate Change … or Lose. And then Secretary Kendall … says, ‘Okay, it’s time to actually build something.’ We have to put something together to operationalize this Advanced Battle Management System.

Q: To deliver “meaningful operational capability in the hands of the warfighter as soon as possible?”

A: Exactly. That’s ingrained in our brains now—which is great, the Secretary is really driving that home—but what Secretary Kendall has done is forced us from the conceptual (because we haven’t had a shortage of imagination) to design the architecture, build the pieces, synchronize those in order to get discrete functions in warfare. That’s where this Operationalizing Advanced Battle Management System Operational Imperative has come into play. And I think, that’s where we’re now starting to take all of the ideas, having a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t, and [are] starting to put the architecture together.

Q: Each of the services is doing this on their own—the Army with Project Convergence, the Navy with Project Overmatch. How do you make sure that you’re actually speaking the same language and connecting? 

A: There always is the tendency, absent any other intervention, that the services think first of how [something] is going to help support what they believe they’re supposed to do. … But when you come to recognize that what I’m supposed to do is help my fellow other service in the joint force, then you can start to change that perspective. Between the Advanced Battle Management System, Project Convergence for the Army, and Project Overmatch for the Navy there really was a different fundamental approach. It was starting off to be able to help us service our own kill chains, for lack of a better term. …

In the Air Force, we leverage that in order to be able to complete our kill chain, the F2T2EA [find, fix, track, target, engage, and assess] construct. There’s no denying that was the starting point. But the awareness [among] the Joint Chiefs—I think the relationship between them—is why Chief Brown felt comfortable to call that meeting in June, where he asked the other service chiefs to all come together, to make sure that … we don’t give into our service-centric tendencies, and make sure that all of these efforts have a convergence point, to where we’re going to build something that is usable by all the services.

There was some discovery there: some great areas of alignment, and [also] some other areas where there was divergence. … [But] the more experiments that we do, and participate in each other’s experiments, [the more they become]… validations to create capability. It just requires reps and sets with each other. … But we need to be honest with ourselves. This is going to take constant vigilance, because—we don’t do it out of malice, but we aren’t in practice of doing this sort of thing, of developing something that is fundamentally transformational—I believe—in the way one can conduct joint warfare. And doing that with the joint lens on, first, before the service lens on? I don’t know that that’s actually achievable—to start from joint.

So where I think we’re going now, which is useful, is that, while we are creating it to ensure we’re doing the things that they expect Airmen to do, you always have to look over and make sure that it’s compatible, that they can connect. Because you’re going to be suboptimal without it. And I think one of the great things that we’ve noticed is space. You can’t do any of this without space, none of it.

Q: Do you think that, as you get better at this, you can begin to break down service walls?

A: I do think that there’s a possibility to do that. And here’s why. … As we’re developing our support to the National Defense Strategy, and developing a joint warfighting concept, one of the things we’re understanding is if the pacing challenge … is China, and if one is envisioning the types of conflicts that one might get engaged in with China, the Army has a different role. Because in that particular case—the scenarios in which we envision—it’s not all about seizing and holding territory. There is a different role for the Army to play, maybe more along the lines of fires rather than maneuver. …

In fact, if you can envision the nirvana of joint all-domain command and control … there would be joint command and control at the operational level. With the proper sensors, and decision- making, and fusion of intelligence and context, you might be doing cross-domain solutions in real time. … So if you think about it that way, then everybody has skin in the game in making sure that we’re sharing the right information.

Q: We still have air operation centers and ground operation centers. Do you see us getting to a joint operations center rather than domain-centered centers?

A: When you look at what the future of operational command and control is, it’s almost domain agnostic as to where those centers sit—if they have the right individuals in there, receiving the right type of data. And so, if you have an operations center, and I’m trying to keep it from the AOC, or TOC, or JOC—just an operations center—that is receiving fused data from all domains—from space, all-source information, publicly available information—fused to provide situational awareness—that data can come from anywhere.

If the architecture is there, it doesn’t matter whether that particular operations center is on a capital ship, is in a fixed location in the rear, is in an aircraft, or is in a surface trailer. [Getting] the data to the right place where the right decision-makers are making that call starts to make you see, hey, maybe if I’m looking to be more resilient, and survivable, maybe I focus more on different places where I can have that data, rather than robusting a fixed, massive piece of infrastructure.

Q: So does that mean that whether airborne or shipborne or on land that everybody has everything? Or that you become more centralized, so the Joint Task Force Commander is actually pulling all the strings and calling all the shots for everyone? There are already a lot of people in an AOC, so when you start multiplying that, it seems mind-boggling.

A: The question really is, are some of the things that some of those people are doing automatable? How many of those [jobs could be automated to do] the collection, aggregation and fusion, to where it keeps the humans doing what only humans can do? That’s sort of an open question. But to your earlier point, can it be all aggregated and homogenized? I think you need to build it with the opportunity for that to happen, but not necessarily as your first goal.

The first thing needs to be to have something that’s meaningful that can do what you’re expected to do, what you know how to do now. But as you build that, you make sure you build in the modularity and the interoperability to where that [future joint vision] could become a possibility. Because we don’t want to have to build this thing twice. We don’t want to a joint all-domain command and control structure designed with the service silos hardened in it, because then you will find it will be easier to regress. You enable yourself to do that [higher-level jointness] now.

Q: As Vice Chief, you have some joint roles in which you get to look at the other services, their requirements, their capabilities. Are you all singing from the same choir book on this? Or is it a continuous effort just to try to stay on key?

A: As we look at the JROC, or the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, to ensure that those things are JADC2 friendly, they have to have the attributes that will enable a more robust JADC2. I also sit in and attend some of the principal meetings at the DMAG, the Deputies Management Action Group, which is chaired by the Deputy Secretary of Defense. And I will tell you, the Deputy Secretary of Defense and the Department of Defense has really embraced getting after and accelerating the maturation of JADC2.

Because when you think about JADC2 beyond just operational and tactical battle management, and you think about it in the context of combatant commanders either making decisions or preparing potential decisions for the Secretary of Defense or the President, you find that there’s an interesting cross section of data. You may need the same types of data that you are using, or you may need to leverage the same sensors to get different data. … So there’s an effort underway that really synchronizes how we gather that data and use it with the different attributes that it has to have. … [Again], it’s about decision speed.

Q: Another one of the Secretary’s Operational Imperatives, one of Chief Brown’s priorities as well, is Agile Combat Employment. JADC2 may be a bit wonky for some Airmen to understand, but ACE is something that they’re actually doing. How do you tie JADC2 to ACE?

A: If you attempt to do agile combat employment, without a responsive and dynamic all-domain command and control, you can be moving a lot of places and have no idea whether they are the right places or not, right? Agile combat employment is sort of disaggregating to survive and aggregating to create effects. So in order to know to where one might need to rapidly move, where you take that agility, and leverage that to go to some of these hubs and spokes—well, which spokes do I go to? I don’t know unless I understand the context of the environment, how the rest of the operational plan is going. Without operational command and control that leverages all domains … you may be dropping into exactly the wrong place. So in order for agile combat employment to work, you have to have this joint all-domain command and control.

The other piece is to understand … the idea that we can no longer assume that communication will be continuous and reliable. So leveraging [JADC2] to get all the information that you can when you can get it because there may be periods when you’re disconnected. … Without a functioning joint all-domain command and control, it would be very difficult to be able to stay ahead of the adversary, to keep that decision advantage.

Q: The attacks on communications and energy clearly relate here. How has the war in Ukraine informed this discussion?

A: It’s actually reinforcing that we’re headed the right direction. Because traditionally, one could say the way you do resilience is you harden the heck out of it. How we used to defend our networks: Well, we just need to make sure we had a better firewall, a bigger firewall, a thicker firewall, a taller firewall. When, in fact, what that means is if they ever get inside, you’re still just as dead. And you haven’t done anything to defend the inside, because you spent all your time building up the wall. So, as we move to things like zero trust, you have the assumption [that the network is] going to be penetrated.

It’s the same sort of thing with this proliferated architecture in space. That’s the way of doing resilience, rather than spend a lot of money on a few more satellites. … Now you can do it totally differently. Now, you can proliferate it, and you can actually regenerate a lot faster. … You think about kill chains—links in the chain—and now you hear, of course, “kill webs.” What does that mean? It means I have more than one way to get to the destination. There is your resilience.

Q: The Air Force just rolled out the B-21, which is typically discussed as “a family of systems.” But there’s not a lot of clarity about exactly what that means—traditional hardware or maybe some associated capabilities. How does the B-21 family tie into the joint warfighting discussion?

A: So the B-21 could be the delivery platform or there could be other roles that it could play, whether it be sensor, or whether it be accompanied with different types of collaborative combat aircraft. It has the capability to do some very unique things, and those unique things may not fall into the traditional “put bombs in the bomb bay, go as deep as you can, and drop bombs” [playbook]. There are other things that it can be a part of that could help leverage the agility and the speed that we need to stay ahead of the adversary.

It is a system that was designed before we came up with this construct, which is why when the Secretary came in and said, let’s think about this a little bit differently, not as just the next B-2, but as a part of a family of systems, that allowed us to use our imaginations. … Doing that really allows you to re-imagine, taking the attributes that it has, and seeing where it can best operate and how it can best operate as part of another system. Between that and where we’re heading with Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD), it really is a re-imagining. There’s no longer a single platform that just matters.

Q: How much will those two systems, B-21 and NGAD, overlap and integrate?

A: As much as possible. … We look at things in terms of fires and targets. And so how one combines to hit the right targets at the right time in the conflict … that doesn’t necessarily have to mean, this platform is going to go after all those assets, and this platform is going to [do something else]. There is a mixing of these that will enable you to leverage all the capabilities. You have to focus in on the targets—joint targets, mind you—in a way we really hadn’t imagined when you just had command and control by domain.