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DISA’s C2 Modernization Plan for JADC2 Includes AI, Automation

Data and cyber leaders detailed challenges with C2 modernization and how it will be the foundation for JADC2 implementation.

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image of Sharon Woods with the Defense Digital Service provides remarks during the Defense Innovation Board (DIB) quarterly public meeting.
Sharon Woods with the Defense Digital Service provides remarks during the Defense Innovation Board (DIB) quarterly public meeting. Photo Credit: Commander Patrick Evans/DVIDS

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) is focused on breaking down data silos to improve interoperability of its command-and-control (C2) operations, which will anchor all “C2” operations for the Defense Department’s Joint All Domain Command-and-Control (JADC2) initiative.

Sharon Woods, executive director for DISA’s Cloud Computing Program Office, said the agency provides “the underlying foundation that C2 systems have to run on” at AFCEA TechNet Cyber 2022 last month.

“C2 systems are really stuck in silos as opposed to being able to flex across location levels, … When it comes to C2, we’re not delivering C2 systems, but we are delivering the foundational capability those things sit on top of,” she said.

JADC2 is “another way of modernizing C2,” said Jim Fowler, DISA’s chief engineer for C2.

“Data is very important,” he said at TechNet. “Instead of being independent systems with their own data they’re looking at how can we share data and transform to a platform that everyone can use, how can we transform things into APIs so everyone can use it, how do we transport that information across the globe, how do we support enterprise systems and zero trust and ICAM (identity, credential and access management) and make sure access to those environments (are for the right people)?”

Zero trust and ICAM solutions can help reach the goal of a secure, interoperable C2, but first DISA must improve data interoperability and shift its cloud strategy.

“JADC2 is about, how do we transition from the current to the future? We look at it starting with the data perspective,” Fowler said. “Moving away from application-specific architectures to data that can be used across multiple applications.”

Col. Mike Reeder, commander of Global Field Command at DISA, thinks robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can improve C2 data interoperability and streamline data-driven decision-making because his command still does “a lot of stuff manually.”

Moving away from paper-based analysis is also critical, he said.

“I’ve been doing a lot of C2 through the ‘Bullet Journal,’” Reeder said at TechNet. “The way I can tell if something is askew is flip back and say, ‘Wait a minute — that’s higher than it was three weeks ago.’ It would be great to take that data, we have plenty of data, and bring it all together [with RPA, AI and ML]. We need to use analytics quickly and we need the network to be self-healing, we need tools to be easy to use.”

Woods echoed Reeder’s comments, adding that data interoperability efforts for C2 modernization will largely depend upon the DISA center directors maintaining open lines of communication.

“We’re hosting all these workloads and data, so the infrastructure and workloads themselves are generating all kinds of information,” she said at TechNet. “How do we better automate and stitch together and correlate the data and deliver it in a way that is actually useful? That’s something we determine based on a demand signal coming from the other center directors.”

Caroline Kuharske, acting chief data officer for DISA, said siloed data is one of the biggest roadblocks to C2 modernization and JADC2 implementation at DOD.

“We’ve got to be able to get better with our tools, finding those cookie trails, and taking action natively with machine learning and AI and RPA,” she said during a TechNet keynote.

Common data standards, consistent communication and shared data platforms will not only help make JADC2 a reality, but also improve mission delivery in the long run.

“In 10 years I want to see the data silos broken down,” Kuharske said. “As of now, they (DOD components, services, etc.) have their own big data platforms and repositories and their own data language. I’m hoping we see a more holistic and ingrained data pipeline and complement each other with the data we know and give data insights to make actionable decisions.”

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