Soldier conducts a mission during a Joint Readiness Training Center exercise for the Integrated Tactical Network at Fort Polk, Louisiana, in March 2021.

Soldier conducts a mission during a Joint Readiness Training Center exercise for the Integrated Tactical Network at Fort Polk, Louisiana, in March 2021. U.S. Army photo/Nicholas Robertson

Pentagon’s Accelerating ‘Connect-Everything’ Effort Hinges on Uncertain Cloud Program

If the JEDI program collapses, JADC2 is going to need a replacement cloud.

The Pentagon’s ten-year connect-everything plan is shifting into a more active phase, but the lack of a Department-wide enterprise cloud solution will become a problem before too long, a top military official told reporters on Friday.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s May 13  signing of the JADC2 strategy document enables the Joint Chiefs to better orient the entire Defense Department around the Joint All Domain Command and Control, or JADC2,  concept, said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Dennis Crall, who heads the JADC2 effort for the Joint Chiefs. But the delay — and possible cancellation — of the giant cloud program known as JEDI raises questions.

“From where I sit today, I can get the work done. We need to get started. But make no mistake,” Crall said, “The delivery of JADC2 is dependent on a robust, purpose-built cloud for the environment we need to operate in.”

While the Army, Navy, and Air Force had all been pursuing their own joint-warfighting experiments, the document gives Crall more authority to ensure that each service’s effort matches up with the Pentagon’s overall vision. Before the signing, he said, “I could persuade individuals to adhere to a framework and a structure and if there was slow compliance or no compliance there was no teeth in the system to make that change. We had no Northern Star.” The signing of the strategy now allows Crall to  “take that JADC2 strategy and a specific line of effort and place it over the top of this experimentation and vet it and say, ‘What parts of those are in compliance today and what parts are not?’”

The Defense Department has an ambitious agenda for building out some of the key digital elements of JADC2 this year, said Crall. They include: Setting better (but not overly restrictive) data standards across the Defense Department; moving to more iterative and adaptable software development; and moving toward a zero-trust security environment that requires continuous authorizing, authenticating, and validating of everyone on the network.

That will make identity, credential, and access management, a key objective this year as well, he said. After all, you can’t have a network connecting everything on the battlefield if you don’t know who is on the network. But, said Crall, most of the identity-management solutions he’s seen from industry so far only work in places like the greater Washington, D.C. region. “We need to be able to do that in a deployed environment,” he said. “They don’t work really well in an austere environment, coming out of the back of an airplane or at sea.”

Without better identity management, it will be “impossible to have a cloud-based environment that brings…the right data to an authenticated person at the right time and place,” he said.

The Defense Department had a plan to move away from the kludge of small cloud providers toward an enterprise cloud that could much better handle big chunks of Defense Department data. That move is also seen as critical to employing next generation artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to Defense Department data. The plan was the JEDI contract, which the Department of Defense is considering scrapping due to ongoing legal challenges to how the Department awarded it.