Navy aims to tackle cross-domain data sharing in Project Overmatch

The Navy is hoping to clear network and data hurdles at the tactical edge with its answer to Joint All Domain Command and Control.

Naval Capital Region’s Ceremonial Guard parades the colors during the opening ceremony the Sea Air Space Exposition 2021.  Petty Officer 3rd Class Kyleigh Williams

The Naval Capital Region's Ceremonial Guard parades the colors during the opening ceremony of the Sea Air Space Exposition on Aug. 2, 2021. (Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kyleigh Williams)

The Navy is hoping to clear network and data hurdles at the tactical edge with its answer to Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2).

Kelly McCool, the acting director for the Digital Warfare Office, said Project Overmatch, the Navy's initiative to create an architecture to seamlessly send information across networks, platforms and domains, will first focus on understanding what data the tactical units need now and "stitch" it together.

"What we're really after is, much like our phones, having the ability to send information from point A to point B without caring about how it got to that place," McCool said during a Aug. 2 panel discussion at the 2021 Sea Air Space Conference. "Being able to walk and have different Wi-Fi networks pick up our cell phone towers ...that being seamless to us. That's really what we need in our networking capabilities across the fleet."

The Navy, like the other military branches, is trying to solve the problem of sending key data to decision makers fast enough and over contested networks. But there's the persistent challenge of getting the right information to the right individual, while having a backup plan.

"Conceptually, the idea of any sensor, any shooter, that's to me, nirvana. But I think more practically, we're looking at how do you ensure you have primary alternate paths, you have contingency paths, you have emergency paths. And having that flexibility [bound] in some way, is really what we need to go after, in addition to designing for the security upfront...that has to be a No. 1 design constraint as we're as we're going through this," McCool said.

"Let's start with what our tactical units need right now to coordinate across aviation, surface and subsurface, and how do we stitch that data together in a way that is meaningful. But then set the conditions so that we can scale rapidly as we learn more," she said.

Rear Adm. Douglas Small, the commander of Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, said JADC2 was less about connectivity and more about getting the right information to the right person fast enough to make a decision before the adversary can react, but with the caveat of some of that information being at the highest classification levels.

"Too often the discussion on JADC2 focuses on the lightning bolts, how are we going to connect everything to everybody ... that's not the problem we're trying to solve," Small said during a separate question and answer session following the JADC2 panel.

Small said the Navy wants to be able to separate data from applications and provide it "as-a-service."

"It's like Facebook ... all of your data stays the same, the app can be updated," he said. "The data that's in there is not touched because the data is provided as a service."

But from a warfighting perspective, a major challenge is making sure the data can be "hidden" -- something that a combat cloud platform could help with, according to Scott Stapp, the chief technology officer for Northrop Grumman.

"To share data shouldn't be that hard. What you really find out in the classification world, which is what makes it hard to share with allies, it's platform. So when unique data is coming from a unique platform, it is hard to hide that. When we get to a point where we can actually push data into a platform where it can all be combined together into a cloud environment, pushing that data to allies becomes easier, because you can hide it," Stapp said during the panel.

"Again, data is just data. So as long as it's nothing too unique, you should be able to push it out at a collateral level, which allows you to do both coalition allied," he said.