DOD's Plan to Counter Small Drones Hinges on Interoperability

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Pentagon officials told media it is taking a system-of-systems approach unified under a common command and control for countering small drones. 

The Pentagon’s strategy for countering small drones aims to establish common command and control standards early on and will consider the Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or JADC2, concept as a potential pathway for C2 in the future, officials said. 

The Defense Department’s Counter Small-Unmanned Aircraft Systems Strategy, released last month, is the first document to outline challenges associated with small drones across the department rather than for specific services or combatant commands. The strategy emphasizes achieving its objectives will require “interoperability, integration, and information sharing,” and during a Tuesday media roundtable, officials from the Joint Counter-sUAS Office, or JCO, said establishing common C2 standards in support of these concepts is one of the organization’s early priorities. 

Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey, the JCO director, said his team does not see the problem set associated with small drones as one that can be treated with a single, enduring solution. Though the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act calls for the JCO to get going on creating a C-sUAS capability as early as this year, Gainey said this initial capability will ultimately be one in a suite of options unified under a common command and control. 

“We see it as a range of capabilities, integrated to a common C2 that gives you the ability to address threats across the range … and have the ability to keep up with the pace of this threat,” Gainey said. 

Col. Marc Pelini, the division chief for capabilities and requirements, called command and control the “center of gravity” for interoperability. Pelini suggested Universal Command and Control and JADC2 as pathways for C2 applications in the future. 

“The department has a glide path I think at the end of the day we're going towards [Universal Command and Control] as a common data set, or common language, and then you're looking at JADC2 which would provide that overarching command and control architecture,” Pelini said. 

In an email to Nextgov, an Army spokesperson clarified the C-sUAS requirements document already implements approved DOD standards around C2. But it also provides direction to pursue UC2 as a potential data standard and JADC2 as a way to create future C2 applications “that would increase speed and empower decision-makers at multiple echelons.” The JCO will continue to work with the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering on these efforts. The Army secretary is the designated executive agent for C-sUAS. 

JADC2 is DOD’s concept for connecting the military services into a single network of sensors in order to speed up the decision cycle. It’s also meant to improve decisions by unifying various sources of data and employ artificial intelligence technologies to help humans sort through this data.

Pelini also confirmed AI will not be making decisions to employ lethal force independent of humans with regard to C-sUAS despite the speed with which machines can operate. Pelini said he and his team wrote the C-sUAS operational requirements, which have now been approved by the vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, to leverage AI and machine learning technologies to speed up the decision loop, but existing DOD policy still requires humans to be in that loop. 

Another piece of the C-sUAS puzzle—the implementation plan—is still under review. Originally the implementation plan was set for finalization by the end of January, but the document will now be released internally by the middle of this month.