Imagine the battlespace of the future. Autonomous airplanes soar overhead, ever watching, sending vital intelligence back to ground stations on the other side of the world. Sailors and airmen offshore and in the air jam enemy signals to protect allied forces from land-based missiles. Further inland, soldiers use satellite communications to receive the latest orders as they muster into position while cyber units look for opportunities to exploit enemy networks. In this scenario, all services and coalition forces are working together across a common digital network to deter aggression or ensure the US and its allies prevail in a conflict should hostilities begin.
This is closer to the reality of today than you might realize. But what separates today’s high tech battlespace from the truly joint future of science fiction is how difficult it is for today’s cutting edge technologies to interact. As warfare leans more heavily on digital signals, often coming from multiple branches of the military operating in every military domain at once, it’s becoming increasingly important to find better ways to integrate these technologies into a seamless battlefield management system.
Speaking at the annual gathering of the Air Force Association in September 2019, then-Chief of Staff of the Air Force General David Goldfein illustrated the imperative of developing a system of Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2).
“Victory in future combat will depend less on individual capabilities and more on the integrated strengths of a connected network available for coalition leaders to employ,” said Goldfein. “What I’m talking about is a fully networked force where each platform’s sensors and operators are connected.”
In El Segundo, California, Northrop Grumman’s Distributed Autonomy/Responsive Control (DA/RC) team has been charged with engineering a solution that controls a wide range of the connected sensors and operators. Under the bright red lights of a command and control room known as The Toaster, the El Segundo team — along with their colleagues in San Diego — are showing just how to control a wide range of systems as part of an integrated battle management network. The DA/RC team’s working prototype can control systems, platforms and software across military services and domains (land, air, sea, space and cyber), and is part of the company-wide effort to provide JADC2 solutions to the US and its allies.
“We are working toward connecting the battlespace because we know our technology will help save lives,” said Bryan Lima, business lead for Northrop Grumman’s company-wide JADC2 efforts. “The women and men who work on Northrop Grumman’s enabling JADC2 technologies know how important this effort is and how challenging and important this work is. We’ve developed a mix of platforms and applications that enable us to uniquely address the threat called out in the National Defense Strategy. Connecting the battlespace and enabling battle management in the contested battlespace in ways nobody has thought of is what we are working to achieve.”
Enabling all existing and future systems to work together is critical. That powerful joint force will act as a deterrent against future conflicts with other powerful nations―often referred to as peer-to-peer conflict― and it will also help ensure victory if military action does eventuate. The question for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) right now is how it can leverage existing and emerging technology to connect dozens, or even hundreds, of autonomous and manned platforms across huge swaths of terrain and domains. And, how can those platforms be controlled to ensure 24/7 coverage of a highly contested battlespace?
Goldfein went on to say in his Air Force Association speech that, “The goal is to combine to produce multiple dilemmas for our adversaries in a way that will overwhelm them. An even better outcome is to refine to the point where it produces so many dilemmas for our adversaries that they choose not to take us on in the first place.”
Northrop Grumman’s DA/RC prototype demonstrates JADC2 in a range of battlefield environments and does so utilizing multi-domain systems to enable 24/7 battlespace control. By controlling a large number of manned and unmanned assets with an integrated battle management approach for prolonged periods of time, companies like Northrop Grumman are helping DoD realize their fully networked future.
Check out Northrop Grumman career opportunities to see how you can participate in this fascinating time of discovery in science, technology, and engineering.