The Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) recent report critiquing the Air Force’s lack of business plan for its Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) effort didn’t take into account classified information or results from a recent demonstration, the service’s top official said April 22.
However, the government watchdog asserted that it had conducted classified sessions on the topic with the service, and that the results of those sessions did not change its overall finding that the ABMS effort required more direction.
The GAO’s April 16 report stated that the Air Force had begun to execute ABMS-related development efforts without clearly defined decision-making authorities, and lacking a traditional cost schedule or integration and functionality details (Defense Daily, April 17). It compared the effort – one of the Air Force’s top priorities to develop a “military Internet of Things” and network various sensors together across new and existing platforms – to past failed U.S. military programs such as the Army’s Future Combat System, and issued four recommendations for improvement, that the service concurred with.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in a Wednesday teleconference that the report’s release was an “opportunity to educate” the GAO, members of Congress, industry partners and others on what ABMS is working toward and how the service is planning to get there in small technology demonstrations every four months that are intended to push innovation forward more quickly.
“This is going to be an opportunity for the GAO to be fully knowledgeable of everything we’re doing,” he told the Defense Writers Group. “We’re demonstrating something every four months, and even though the last big demo that we had this month was postponed [until June], we haven’t slowed down.”
Asked about some of the GAO’s findings in the report, Goldfein noted that the watchdog agency was not present for the Air Force’s initial ABMS demonstration in December 2019. “They didn’t actually have anybody there that was seeing, real time, what we’re connecting,” he said.
He also suggested that lacking access to classified information on the program would have hindered the GAO’s report.
“That makes it challenging, because if the technology that we’re moving forward – a lot of it is in the classified realm, a lot of it quite frankly in the space realm – and the GAO doesn’t have access or clearance to be able to look at it, then the report is going to be on just a very small portion of what Advanced Battle Management System is.”
Marie Mak, GAO director for contracting and national security acquisitions, said in a Wednesday email to Defense Daily that she believed the agency has a “full understanding of the past and ongoing ABMS efforts” and that it coordinated “quite often” with the Air Force on the classified side even before the December demonstration.
“Ultimately the fact that some ABMS work is classified did not impact our review of overall ABMS planning efforts,” Mak said. “The Air Force still needs to develop an overall plan, to include preliminary costs and schedule. Without some type of overall plan in place, it will be difficult for the Air Force to prioritize this program among the acquisition efforts within the Air Force.”
Goldfein emphasized that the Air Force was “moving out” on ABMS, and that he was committed to ensuring that the GAO and lawmakers understood the need to move quickly.
“We are developing capability faster than we have ever developed capability before; we’re connecting things faster than we have ever connected them before,” he said. “Every four months, we are connecting new capabilities that have never been connected. That’s a hard one to deliver a report on, but I am eager to sit down with the GAO and get them up to speed.”