U.S., U.K. building seamless command, control network

The United States has an unparalleled network of allies, and that’s a huge advantage in warfare.

But it isn’t that effective if allies can’t talk together, said Jenniffer F. Minks, a division chief with the Joint Staff working to make U.S. and United Kingdom command and control systems work together seamlessly.

The goal is called fully networked command, control and communication, or FNC3; it’s a “pathfinder” capability. The expectation is that FNC3 will allow the United States military to work even more efficiently with its closest ally.

Joint terminal attack controllers from the 274th Air Support Operations Squadron, control aircraft during Exercise Bold Quest 20.2 at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, Oct. 24, 2020. Led by the Joint Staff, Bold Quest is a multinational exercise that demonstrates a joint capability to link sensors to shooters across air, land, sea, space and cyberspace. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joel Pfiester)

If successful, the program can be scaled to include other nations.

The United States and the United Kingdom have been working for years to improve command and control efforts. In the U.S., this has become Joint All-Domain Command and Control óJADC2. In Britain, it’s the Multi-domain Integration Change Program, with the acronym MDI CP. Again, both nations worked in tandem on their systems.

“For us the question has been how do we make JADC2 work with our partners?” Minks said during an interview from her office in Suffolk, Virginia.

The United Kingdom and the United States also are capitalizing on other initiatives. Both nations are cooperating on building the coalition information-sharing capability called mission partner environment. “We’re just using the same standards and specifications, so it ensures interoperability from the beginning,” she said.

Speed is important for both nations. “We don’t want to slow the roll,” she said. “We’re moving out at speed, and we’re addressing things in both nations that, we haven’t done before in strategy, like zero trust architecture; [and] how are we going to do artificial intelligence in the cloud with coalition partners and things like that. We’re doing it together.”

Zero trust is a security model, a set of system design principles, and a coordinated cyber security and system management strategy based on an acknowledgement that threats exist both inside and outside traditional network boundaries.

Once the two nations have command and control interoperability, they’ll work with other nations to participate. Minks said Australia has already approached the nations with questions and proposals.

“So far, the nations that have approached us are all members of the Federated Mission Networking framework, an international organization that has agreed upon standards and specifications for connecting our mission networks with each other,” she said. “The U.S. and U.K. just happen to be a little bit further ahead on actually building an enterprise-wide capability.”

Right now, the other nations are at the tactical level, while the United States and United Kingdom are addressing the operational and strategic levels. “The other countries that want to participate would need to follow the same standards and specifications to ensure interoperability,” Minks said.

Airmen of the 28th Maintenance Squadron prepare a B-1B Lancer to support Operation Odyssey Dawn on Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., March 27, 2011. Their work was made especially difficult by severe weather, including four inches of snow; glare ice, and freezing fog. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Marc I. Lane)

The program is moving quickly. Minks said she believes that initial operational capability for the international network will be in time for Bold Quest 2024. The system that will be in place will not be a test or assessment network, but an operational network, Minks said.

Bold Quest is a multinational training demonstration to test a joint capability to link sensors to shooters across air, land, sea, space and cyberspace.

“What it means is when a user gets on a mission network and are working with partners, they will have access to all the information that they need, and it will be seamless to them,” Minks said.

Minks’ whole career has been dedicated to enhancing command and control. She remembers how hard it was for operators crafting an air-tasking order for Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011. Odyssey Dawn was to support a United Nations Security Council Resolution to establish a no-fly zone over Libya. A number of nations were involved in the effort.

The air-tasking order obviously included other nations, but the command-and-control computers couldn’t speak to each other.

“Operation Odyssey Dawn was when it hit home to me just how important this is,” she said. “When you’re trying to build an air-tasking order with your partners, and you can’t share the basics of building an [air tasking order], it’s horrible. We had to try and figure out how to just get data from one network to another. All this is happening when you have an operational mission ongoing with live fire always a possibility. It’s beyond frustrating.”

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