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News | April 20, 2022

Pentagon Needs Realistic Experimentation for Emerging Tech, Says Navy Scientist

By John Grady

The Pentagon needs a realistic experimentation program built in to evaluate emerging technologies like Joint All Domain Command and Control [JADC2] and hypersonic or directed energy weapons, a top Navy scientist said Wednesday.

Experimentation must be viewed as a necessary asset in mission planning and operations. Live, virtual and constructive experiments using existing platforms and systems and models are helping the Defense Department assess a way forward with JADC2 and other ambitious Pentagon programs needed soon, James Stewart, chief electro-magnetic warfare scientist at the Navy’s Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Ind., said on Wednesday.

“You can’t just assume things are going to work when you go out to the field,” Stewart said.

Speaking at the Hudson Institute online forum, Mark Lewis, head of the Emerging Technologies Institute at the National Defense Industrial Association, said constant experimentation at all levels “allows us to see what works and what doesn’t work.” He compared the level and rigor of the experimentation necessary to “test out pieces” for JADC2 to the Air Force’s Red Flag exercise — two weeks of advanced aerial combat training.

Both cited the need for operators to be involved before a system is sent to the field and told “now use it.”

“Digital engineering could be one of the tools” to avoid that practice, improve interoperability and smooth out the acquisition process for JADC2, said Lewis, who directed the Pentagon’s research and engineering modernization efforts.

Stewart said through digital engineering and experimentation on a global scale “we have some confidence with our [tactics, techniques and procedures]” will work as planned.

Both said that work the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and others are doing in data-sharing, communications and electro-magnetic spectrum need to be incorporated into JADC2, but exactly how remains open. As it is funded now, the diverse program is spread across the services in the Navy’s Project Overmatch, the Army’s Project Convergence and the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System, as well as the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

In weighing whether a top-down approach from the Pentagon and the services versus a bottom-up path meeting the needs of regional combatant commanders would work better for JADC2, Stewart said, “I feel like we’re going to have to do a little bit of both.”

Bryan Clark, a co-author of the recent Hudson report on JADC2, said the Pentagon is using a “kind of industrial model” with JADC2 in trying “to solve all problems” linking sensors, shooters and commands against an adversary like China. He called this a “decision-centric” approach to warfighting.

He added, so far, the technology challenges of JADC2 integration has “been where most of the focus has been.” That needs to be paired up with operational needs and integrated, Clark said.

Yet “China has the home team advantage” in any confrontation with the United States in the Indo-Pacific, a reality the Indo-Pacific commander would have to overcome that might be fully grasped by Pentagon planners, Clark said.

Clark’s report recommends, “The Joint Staff should abandon attempts to set unaffordable and unachievable universal requirements for JADC2 and instead work with combatant commanders—primarily EUCOM and INDOPACOM—to identify their key operational challenges, prioritize them across theaters, and help assess the most advantageous plays to address them.”

Lewis said, “users have to have a role is this” development of JADC2 because top-down approaches don’t always work. From his experience in the Pentagon, he said throwing around a phrases like artificial intelligence as how a problem would be solved was like “magic pixie dust.” He added that when he asked for a definition of “artificial intelligence,” the answer he received most often applied to machine learning.

Both said in considering JADC2 existing systems and platforms need to be taken into account. The Pentagon released its JADC2 implementation plan last month with near-term goals set for 2027.