The Air Force is ready to begin purchasing some of the technology that will make up the Advanced Combat Management System, taking the program from theory to development.
“Almost two years of rigorous development and experimentation has undoubtedly shown the promise of ABMS,” said Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. May 21 release. “We have demonstrated that our ABMS efforts can collect large amounts of data in the air, land, sea, space and cybernetics domains; process this information; and share it so you can make better decisions faster. “
The ABMS, which was designed to replace the canceled E-8 Joint STARS recapitalization program, is envisioned as a network of sensors and connected technologies to promote rapid data sharing between a plethora of weapon systems. ABMS is truly a new way of fighting that will provide the “backbone of a network-centric approach to combat management”.
Brig. Gen. Jeffery D. Valenzia is Director of Joint Force Integration and leader of the cross-functional team responsible for establishing manpower, resources and doctrinal infrastructure for the ABMS program. “Command and control is as timeless as war,” said Valenzia. “As the character of warfare changes, so does the art and science of C2. In a data-driven, data-saturated world, victory lies with the side with decision-making superiority – the ability to understand, comprehend a complex and adaptive environment, and to act smarter, faster, and better. “
As part of this next ABMS phase, the Air Force Department’s Rapid Capabilities Office will begin deploying and installing hardware and software on existing military aircraft, starting with new “modules” of communication for the KC-46 Pegasus tanker. Indeed, these will become an airborne hotspot connecting the USAF’s fifth generation F-22 and F-35 fighters so that they can communicate with each other in real time.
Will Roper, then the USAF Deputy Acquisition Secretary, predicted in December that the KC-46 pod was the most likely ABMS capability to be deployed in the near future. And, Air Mobility Command chief Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost hinted at a new concept of operations for tankers, now dubbed “Capability Release # 1,” at a virtual event held in March. April by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies at AFA. “Why don’t we change the math by doing different things, moving away from the outdated view that AMC just brings things in when called upon … to be a maneuvering force inside the ring of threat.” ? ” Van Ovost asked.
In addition to outfitting the KC-46 with the communications module, Randy Walden, program manager for the Rapid Capabilities Office, said the department was preparing a host of other new digital capabilities.
“To build ABMS, you must first build the digital structures and the pathways on which critical data is stored, calculated and moved,” he said in the statement. “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.”
The Air Force will invest $ 170 million this fiscal year in ABMS and wants to increase its funding over the next five years.
But lawmakers remain skeptical. “As the committee continues to support the Air Force’s new approach to command and control, the committee notes that ABMS requirements and procurement strategy remain unclear,” wrote members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. in November 2020.
The Air Force Department’s 2022 budget request, expected next week, could clarify its investment plans. Last year, Senate appropriations ordered the Air Force to “submit [with its 2022 budget request] a report summarizing all programs related to communications, command and control, battle management and sensors that fall under ABMS for the defense program for the coming years. ”
The Air Force has said the first phase of the ABMS program will last until the early 2020s, but Congress also wants a more specific timeline for when the program reaches initial operational capability.
Program managers stressed in the May 21 statement that “the goal is speed and utility” in line with Brown’s directive “to accelerate change or lose.” As such, whenever possible, ABMS components will be derived from commercially available technology, which will require a close working relationship with industry. At the end of last year, nearly 100 companies were participating in the program.
“This capability gives us a clear advantage, and it’s time to move ABMS forward so that we can realize and ultimately use the power and capability it will provide,” Brown said in the statement.