Over the course of one year, the Air Force has planned to invest billions more in its Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) effort in the next five years, compared to the projection made this time last year.

Service budget documents for the fiscal year 2021 presidential request released Feb. 10 reveal the Air Force plans to spend about $3.2 billion in research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) funds on the ABMS program over the five-year Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP) period.

In the FY ’20 budget request, the Air Force stated its intent to spend about $648 million between FY ’20 and FY ’24. Expected requests jumped exponentially for each year of the FY ’21 FYDP. To break it down, the FY ’21 justification book shows the service requesting $302 million in 2021, $449 million in 2022, $590 million in 2023, $1.08 billion in 2024 and $832 million in 2025. The 2020 enacted funding for FY ’20 was $143.6 million.

The budget reflects service officials plans to significantly ramp up ABMS efforts in FY ’21 and beyond, beginning with the continuation of four-month sprint demonstrations that first took place in December 2019 to network various platforms together. The December demonstration involved connecting a radio gateway system to an F-22 Raptor and an F-35B Joint Strike Fighter and all three then syncing into an operating station aboard the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer the USS Thomas Hudner (Defense Daily, Jan. 22).

Maj. Gen. John Pletcher, Air Force deputy assistant budget secretary, told reporters during a Monday briefing that the FY ’21 budget will develop the ABMS network “on multiple fronts through rapid iterations, creating a system of systems as we go and conducting operational demos every four months to rapidly integrate lessons learned.”

“Eventually, what you see us doing in ‘21 is continuing those on-ramps,” he added. The next two tests will take place in April and August 2020, with smaller-scale tests expected in the meantime.

The Air Force has a variety of ABMS-related goals planned for FY ’21, including the installation of an airborne gateway system on a Kratos [KTOS]-developed XQ-58 Valkyrie unmanned aerial system, which has been used in the service’s Skyborg program to demonstrate the validity of an unmanned attritable “Loyal Wingman” system. The service also plans to start development of gateway hardware on the new KC-46A Pegasus tanker, in development by Boeing [BA], per service budget documents.

Other FY ’21 plans include the first test of radar testbed, the expansion of a multi-level secure tablet to additional security levels, the first operational test of edge processing hardware for disconnected/disadvantaged operations, a laboratory test of wideband radios and apertures, the initial design of sensor payloads for attritable aircraft, and additional technology development and integration based on emerging technology and warfighter needs.

The service also wants to continue the development, small-scale deployment, and test of cloud-based tools for data processing, data fusion, common operating pictures. It plans to begin using digital systems engineering model to evaluate trades across multiple systems, and continue gateway testing to include new waveform upgrades. Additional software development, deployment, test and scaling is expected to take place but is dependent on emerging technology and warfighter needs, the documents said.

The Air Force emphasized that ABMS does not have a “pre-defined or realized” objective system. “Capabilities are introduced in a rapid fashion building on previous development sprints and events with consistent transition to the field,” the documents said.

Budget documents show the Air Force categorizing ABMS into seven main sections:

  • Digital architectures, standards, and concept development;
  • Sensor integration;
  • Multi-domain data management;
  • Multi-domain secure processing;
  • Multi-domain connectivity;
  • Multi-domain applications; and
  • Effects integration, to include “open smart munitions,” attritable aircraft, and “real-time updates to mission data files to improve electronic warfare system performance.”

The Air Force first introduced the ABMS concept as a more cost-effective and upgradeable solution to the mission performed by its E-8C Joint Surveillance Targeting Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft, which were built by

Northrop Grumman [NOC]. The service canceled the expected JSTARS recapitalization program in the fiscal year 2019 budget and laid the groundwork for ABMS to become a key part of efforts to enhance service-wide multi-domain operations.

The budget documents note that ABMS is not a single program of record, and that “many lines of effort will be horizontally integrated by the USAF Chief Architect and partner organizations. Program execution (cost, schedule, and performance) will be managed by the Chief Architect Integration Office and the appropriate program office.”