With the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) program to demonstrate how to connect a variety of distributed systems in a joint all-domain network only just getting underway at the end of 2019, the service’s acquisition czar expects to get many companies contracted onto the program in the near future.
The service has completed one technology sprint demonstration to date, with the second demo postponed due to the effects of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. But thanks to a recent virtual industry day brought hundreds of company representatives in contact with the ABMS team and three planned broad agency announcements (BAAs), the number of contracts for ABMS-related efforts will grow soon, Will Roper, Air Force assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, told reporters May 14.
So far only a few dozen companies have received contracts, and the Air Force has only been spending money on ABMS “in earnest” for about six months, Roper said. However, “many” companies are likely to be added to the roster following the inaugural industry day hosted by Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
“We’re looking for entrants across the varied aspects of ABMS,” including software-defined radios, artificial intelligence capabilities, and various sensors and platforms, Roper said. “I hope after these industry days that we’ll be able to significantly increase the number of companies that are participating.
Over 958 personnel from more than 400 companies participated in the May 13 ABMS industry day, per the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC). The industry day, held virtually, was not open to the media.
“Our objective was for the ABMS team to communicate the Architect’s vision, each category’s scope, the process for demonstration on-ramps, test expectations and opportunities to contractually onramp,” said Norman Metzger, acting director of the architecture and integration directorate, in a May 15 release. “The response and engagement was exactly what we had hoped for.”
Among some of the companies already receiving contracts are Alphabet [GOOG] and Palantir to help with AI analytic tools for data management, Roper confirmed. Northrop Grumman [NOC], Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Honeywell [HON] are on contract to develop a gateway translator to help different aircraft and other systems communicate with one another. The Air Force released the first of three planned BAAs on Feb. 25.
Through the BAAs, the Air Force hopes to see a “wide variety of companies” that spans the traditionally defense to more commercial sectors, he noted. “There’s never been a program like this, and so we can’t underscore our urgency to try to do things differently. And so in trying to get out multiple avenues to work with us, we’re trying to encourage that kind of diversity of company that feels like they may be able to contribute, and therefore increase the likelihood that we’ll succeed.”
Roper said he hopes that the Air Force will award contracts related to the first BAA within the next four to six weeks, ahead of the second on-ramp technology demonstration currently slated for late August or early September.