The Air Force has opted to push its next Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) demonstration even further to the right as the Defense Department continues to take precautions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
The second ABMS tech demonstration – following the inaugural demo in December 2019 and anticipated to take place every four months – was originally scheduled for April, but the Air Force announced in March that it would be delayed until June to adhere to DoD and U.S. government guidelines for how to curb the coronavirus spread (Defense Daily, March 18).
Now, the new target demo date is late August- early September, the Air Force said this week.
Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, commander of U.S. Northern Command and of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, first revealed April 4 that the demonstration date had slipped once again. U.S. NORTHCOM was a key partner in the initial ABMS demo, helping to set the operational context. Air Force Public Affairs confirmed Tuesday that the new target date was late August at the earliest, but if COVID-19 related restrictions were lifted earlier – or later – than expected, that date will be revisited.
When it does occur, the following ABMS demonstration will be more space-focused, said Preston Dunlap, ABMS architect, in a May 7 webinar hosted by the Mitchell Institute.
“We now have a [U.S.] Space Command and a Space Force, so the predominant thing is we will have [Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond] be the supported commander for the first time,” Dunlap said. The goal of the demonstration will be to see “how he can operate and do what he needs to do.”
The service was expecting the April exercise to be “massive,” and that it would involve live-fire exercises and network connectivity tests to try and develop the “military internet-of-things” via the ABMS architecture. NORTHCOM will continue to support the next demonstration.
Dunlap noted that the ABMS team has continued to work through the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the current situation is “frankly, not that different” from the disaggregated posture that the effort is meant to improve with seamless communication and a common operating picture pushed out to operators in multiple domains.
“To that end, though the team was anticipating demonstrating early prototypes … we’ve actually pushed for and developed more capabilities,” Dunlap said. The service is deploying prototypes of its DeviceONE tablet – one element that was conceived under the ABMS architecture team – that has the ability to process classified information, but remain unclassified when not in use. Air Force Acquisition Czar Will Roper first told reporters of the DeviceONE testing occurring during COVID-19 in a March teleconference (Defense Daily, March 27).
“Now it’s actually supporting the ability for people to not be crammed in small spaces doing the classified work,” Dunlap said, adding that the Air Force will be deploying about 1,000 tablets in three-week segments out to the force.
O’Shaughnessy also shared in his April 4 Mitchell Institute webinar that NORTHCOM has deployed an unclassified Apple [APPL] tablet out to 325 medical workers on the COVID-19 frontlines, that is configured to help track their physical and emotional well-being in real time, and allow O’Shaughnessy to keep in regular contact with them.
“That just went from 5,610 people [being involved] to just myself and the doctors,” the commander said, noting that the entire process took less than 48 hours from when he received a call from a senior Apple executive offering COVID-19-related support, to getting the tablets to deployed doctors and nurses.
Dunlap said: “From both the classified and unclassified world, seamless devices, mobility, data and applications, where you need it, when you need it, are actually being demonstrated before our eyes in a real-world current operation. So in some sense, you could call it that we’re actually doing a current ops on-ramp to be able to support people and keep people safe.”