The Air Force plans to partner with combatant commands in a series of tests conducted several times a year, with the goal of increasingly demonstrating ways to connect U.S. military platforms in a quick and flexible manner.
Coming off of a successful first test with U.S. Northern Command in December 2019, service assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics Will Roper is looking for companies to provide new technologies for data fusion and agile connectivity as the Air Force and its partners perform new tests with different COCOMs every four months.
Those solutions will help the Air Force refine and select the best systems to field its Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) architecture, he said in a Jan. 21 media roundtable at the Pentagon. The service elected to pursue the ABMS concept in the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act rather than develop a replacement to its aging Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, or JSTARS.
The test involved using a radio and antenna system dubbed GatewayONE that was built by Lockheed Martin [LMT], Northrop Grumman [NOC] and Honeywell [HON], said Preston Dunlap, ABMS architect in the Tuesday roundtable. Test operators used the system to pass data back and forth between an Air Force F-22 Raptor and a Navy F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, two fighter aircraft whose datalinks are generally incompatible, he noted.
“We did begin to pass data back and forth over what we call a low-probability-of-detection intercept,” he said. The joint force test included Army and Navy assets such as the Arleigh-Burke class destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116).
The service also recently performed tests that linked SpaceX’s Starlink low-latency broadband internet system to an AC-130 gunship.
For an April test, the Air Force wants to put the GatewayOne system on an unmanned aerial vehicle in a future test to analyze its ability to enable date transfers with all assets in the air, Roper said. The service anticipates using the Kratos [KTOS]-developed XQ-58 Valkyrie drone, which has been performing tests under the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Loyal Wingman and Skyborg programs, but another platform may also be used. The service anticipates working with NORTHCOM as well as U.S. Space Command and U.S. Strategic Command for its next experiments, Dunlap said.
The Air Force is looking for solutions with a low baseline of success, Roper noted. A 10 percent success rate would be sufficient, and a far cry from the 80 percent solution that has been touted by the military as their preferred standard in the past.
He is hopeful that the ABMS program will encourage both legacy and emerging industry players to develop systems that can help legacy systems connect with a larger network to enable more data fusion for warfighters.
“What I hope industry will see … is a pot of money that is for connecting things, both new things and legacy things, and that it is open for competition,” Roper said.
The ultimate goal of the ABMS program is to build “the internet of things inside the military, something that is very overdue,” he added. “People come to the Pentagon, they go to their jobs in the military, and they have orders of magnitude less connectivity than they employ when they go home.”
“Part of how we’re going to try to demystify [ABMS] is to demonstrate as we go, and letting a high op tempo of demonstrations – with real systems in ways that haven’t been demonstrated or deployed before – to let those be our guiding forces so we can … show what an internet of things in the military could look like,” Roper said.
Roper and Dunlap have used the navigational app Waze as an example of how they visualize ABMS helping the warfighter. “It’s helping you be a better driver; the driver is in control … but it understands your likes and dislikes, and it’s pulling information from the world around you and exposing it to tell you that there are gas stations and restaurants and accidents.”
Dunlap said the Air Force has broken down the ABMS issue into six product categories and within that, 28 product lines that it plans to pursue. “Each of those product lines will have their own development schedule and testing and demonstration schedule, but every four months, we want to run them through this wash cycle … asking the question of not just ‘Are the capabilities developing and progressing?’ But, ‘Do they work together?’” he said.
“As we begin individual program developments … you’ll see a variety of efforts move in parallel as we go forward,” he continued.