JADC2 expected to embrace hardened 5G and edge computing

Viewpoint: JADC2 Should Embrace Hardened 5G and Edge Computing


By Robert Spaulding

Illustration from iStock

All Domains Joint Command and Control, or JADC2, is the latest buzzword in the military and one of the Defense Department’s stated priorities. Yet it’s a concept with no clear solution and one that risks languishing without the infrastructure to ensure its success.

One of the biggest challenges for JADC2 is interoperability. Today in nuclear command and control alone, which is a subset of JADC2, there are over 100 programs going on. Since these programs often involve technology that was not designed to be interoperable, reconciling information is a challenge. Data becomes trapped and cannot be used quickly to create a full picture for decision makers.

The question becomes, why not use the cloud? There, the focus is on data transport. If we could simply transfer the data to the cloud, we could solve many problems. But then that begs the question, what cloud? And of course, how do I move my data there?

There are many different clouds with different architectures, making it difficult to manage information across disparate platforms. And there is no easy way to integrate cloud service providers. The department attempted to do this through a competition called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure initiative. Doomed from the start, the program envisioned a win-win cloud services provisioning scenario. If that’s not a recipe for stagnant innovation, I don’t know what is.

So how does the military move data? There are many transport networks designed to transport bits and bytes from JADC2 to an all-knowing cloud – Starlink, OneWeb, Hughes Network Systems, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Iridium and so on. Who will win ?

Probably the whole thing one way or another since the cake is so big. And those are just the satellite providers. Let’s not forget the telecom service providers and the fiber optic companies, which also participate in this orchestra.

What is consistent in these technologies? They represent separate networks that need a gateway and location for access and egress data between and among them.

The answer the tech industry seems to offer is the cloud. The cloud, however, is not ubiquitous. The data centers that can be the gateways for moving, transferring, and processing data are often large and centralized. This presents an incredible juicy target for would-be attackers.

Even if it were a single network, we still wouldn’t have the bandwidth to move most of the data to the cloud. Often, by the time data arrives in the cloud, it’s too late to activate the processing necessary to make the gleaned insights actionable. Once again, combatants are stuck with islands of data.

Multiple independent networks and blocked data are proving to be two main challenges for the Department of Defense to address. How can the power of the commercial sector be harnessed to solve these problems? The answer lies in 5G and edge computing.

5G is best known for providing radio access technology in the latest generation of cellular networks, but it’s much more than that. 5G also represents the implementation of virtual networking, software-defined networking, and transport gateway functions for already interoperable wireless networks.

The industry standards body, 3rd Generation Partnership Project, or 3GPP, has taken up this challenge. A recent release envisions a set of interoperability standards that combines computers, networking, and storage across the various layers of business communication. It covers radio access network standards to include network-to-network links. Properly configured, a standalone 5G network anywhere in the world should be able to handoff a slice of the network to a device based on the customer’s resource requirements.

At the heart of 5G is edge computing. Without edge computing, trapped data will become a problem for commercial cellular networks as devices connected to 5G networks multiply with their use.

Autonomous systems and AI algorithms that seek to make sense of data at the edge will require edge computing.

There won’t be enough bandwidth to transport data to centralized clouds for processing. These edge nodes will bring the power of applications to data. Some of these applications will create the opportunity for edge wireless gateways that bring together fiber, telecommunications and satellite into a single seamless network. This network can be reconfigured on the fly, for any application, as it is built entirely in software.

It seems logical that adopting 5G business and edge computing standards for JADC2 would be a no-brainer. The problem is that 3GPP is not designed for the battlefield.

Commercial networks are built according to commercial standards. As a former B-2 pilot, commercial networks seem like an easy target, and judging by the bombing two years ago of an AT&T communications center in Nashville, you don’t even need to. plane to shoot them down.

How do you build a secure, hardened and hyperconverged 21st century network? First, it would be an enhanced electromagnetic pulse. Russia, China and North Korea – and soon perhaps Iran – have nuclear weapons. Depending on the altitude of the explosion, a single nuclear weapon detonating in the upper atmosphere over the United States could destroy the network, communications networks and data centers.

Second, the network would be resistant to physical tampering and ensure the provenance and security of hardware and software.

Third, the personnel working on this network would be controlled and more than one would be needed to perform any work of a critical nature on the hardware or software.

Finally, the network would be configured in such a way that classified systems could operate securely on the infrastructure, alongside business applications.

Retired Air Force Brig. General Robert Spalding is the founder and CEO of SEMPRE, a technology company. He has held senior positions in strategy and diplomacy in the Departments of Defense and State for more than 26 years.

Topics: Infotech

Sherry J. Basler