By Charles Pope, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
/ Published May 21, 2021
A communications pod installed in a KC-46 Pegasus will allow the F-35 Lightning II and F-22 Raptor to connect and instantly receive and transmit the most up-to-date information to ensure the warfighters maintain decision superiority. This concept is known as Capability Release #1 under the Advanced Battle Management System framework. The ABMS is the Department of the Air Force’s contribution to Joint All Domain Command and Control, or CJADC2, a DoD effort to digitally connect all elements of the U.S. military – from sensors to shooters – across all five warfighting domains: air, land, sea, space and cyberspace. (U.S. Air Force graphic)
With senior Air and Space Force officials satisfied that the ambitious Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) has met key benchmarks, they are pushing the novel program into a new and more operational phase, bringing the system’s tools and technology one step closer to being available for use in the “real world.”
After 18 months exploring new ways to better connect the joint force alongside a growing cadre of industry partners, the Department of the Air Force is ready to move ABMS from the drawing board into the hands of warfighters.
“Nearly two years of rigorous development and experimentation have shown beyond doubt the promise of ABMS,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. “We’ve demonstrated that our ABMS efforts can collect vast amounts of data from air, land, sea, space and cyber domains, process that information and share it in a way that allows for faster and better decisions.”
“This ability gives us a clear advantage, and it’s time to move ABMS forward so we can realize and ultimately use the power and capability it will provide,” he said.
In moving ABMS from a largely theoretical and development status to one involving the acquisition of specialized equipment and more real-world testing, officials say this transition demonstrates the benefits of pairing operators and engineers in the development of cutting-edge warfighting technologies under an agile acquisition process.
ABMS is the service’s overarching effort encompassing a new set of technologies, operational requirements and warfighter integration efforts that will allow commanders and warfighters to share more and better information faster and that has the potential to change the future of combat much the way radar did nearly a century ago.
A critical step in the progress of any military program, including ABMS, is the establishment of the manpower, resources and doctrinal infrastructure that underpin the program. Charged with this task for ABMS, Air Force leaders stood up a cross functional team and tapped Brig. Gen. Jeffery Valenzia to lead the requirements and warfighter integration effort.
“Command and Control is as timeless as warfare — as the character of war changes, so too does the art and science of C2,” Valenzia said. “In a data-dependent and data-saturated world, victory belongs to the side with decision superiority — the ability to sense, make sense of a complex and adaptive environment, and act smarter, faster, and better.
“ABMS will enable decision superiority by delivering that data — the digital lifeblood of modern warfare — to warfighters when and where they need it.”
A top modernization priority for the Department of the Air Force, ABMS will be the backbone of a network-centric approach to battle management in partnership with all the services across the Department of Defense.
That broader effort is known as Joint All-Domain Command and Control. As envisioned, JADC2 will allow U.S. forces from all services — as well as allies and partners — to sense, make sense and act upon a vast array of data and information faster than adversaries can detect and respond.
When fully realized, senior leaders say JADC2 will not only underpin operations but will also provide deterrence and the foundation for joint operations. When deployed, JADC2 will allow U.S. forces from all services, plus allies and partners, to orchestrate military operations across all domains, such as sea, land, air, space and cyber operations.
The requirements, technology and integration efforts in development under ABMS will enable this concept by simultaneously sensing, making sense of and acting upon a vast array of data and information from each of these domains, fusing and analyzing the data with the help of machine learning and artificial intelligence and providing warfighters with preferred options at speeds not seen before. The Department of the Air Force received $170 million this fiscal year for this effort and intends to bolster these resources over the next five years, underscoring both its importance and potential.
While the new phase in the life of ABMS might seem unglamorous and incremental, officials stress that it is significant for several reasons. In addition to moving the program from largely developmental to one where equipment, software and other components are purchased and installed on aircraft and other hardware under the guiding hand of the Department of the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, this latest effort allows Air Force and Space Force program officials to test a cornerstone element of ABMS — the ability to transfer data from a central source to a diverse joint force.
As an initial step in this new phase, communications “pods” will be designed and purchased and installed on a select number of KC-46 Pegasus tankers. Designers liken the “pods” to internet hotspots that will allow, in this case, F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II aircraft to “log on” and easily — instantly — receive and transmit a wealth of data and information that previously was not available or, at best, hard to receive.
Randy Walden, Rapid Capabilities Office program executive officer, said that in addition to outfitting KC-46s, which is known as Capability Release #1, “we’re also gearing up for major investments in digital infrastructure to shore up the foundation of the Advanced Battle Management System.”
“To build ABMS, you must first build the digital structures and pathways over which critical data is stored, computed, and moved. The Department of the Air Force needs a smart, fast and resilient ‘system of systems’ to establish information and decision superiority, and ABMS will be that solution,” he said.
Aside from the system’s embrace of a different warfighting philosophy and practice, ABMS is utilizing an approach to developing the complex system that breaks with traditional defense approaches and practices.
Program managers say the goal is speed and utility, which means that some ABMS components are being developed from products that can be derived from commercially available technology when applicable. It requires a close working relationship with industry partners and a willingness to push experimentation of innovative ideas in order to learn what works and what doesn’t on short time horizons.
The impacts of ABMS extend far beyond just the Department of the Air Force. Officials have billed it as the Air and Space Force’s contribution to the DoD’s vision for JADC2. In partnership with the Army’s Project Convergence and the Navy’s Project Overmatch, ABMS is intended to replace legacy stove-piped command and control and ultimately deliver joint force decision superiority.