The Air Force plans to take lessons learned from its initial Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) demonstration last year to up the ante for its second test this spring with more capabilities and data points, the service’s acquisition executive said Feb. 21.
“The event that we have coming up April 8 is going to be massive,” Air Force Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Will Roper said at a media roundtable at the Pentagon. Among the new test elements will be live-fire exercises such as taking down an unmanned aerial vehicle, a cruise missile shootdown, and service-wide activities taking place all across the country, including at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, Nellis AFB, Nevada, Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, and White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.
It will be the second in a series of technology sprints the Air Force is setting up every four months to quickly and iteratively test ways to build its ABMS architecture, where every U.S. military sensor is connected and warfighters can more quickly communicate, share data and make decisions across battlefields.
The first demonstration, conducted in December 2019, was performed in partnership with U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), and involved using a radio and antenna system dubbed GatewayONE built by Lockheed Martin [LMT], Northrop Grumman [NOC] and Honeywell [HON], to pass data back and forth between an Air Force F-22 Raptor and a Navy F-35B Joint Strike Fighter (Defense Daily, Jan. 22).
The joint force test included Army and Navy assets such as the Arleigh-Burke class destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116), and demonstrations that linked SpaceX’s Starlink low-latency broadband internet system to an AC-130 gunship. Roper told reporters in January that the demonstration almost went too well, and he expected more failure than what actually occurred.
“My hope for this event, unlike the first event, is that we have an equal measure of things that fail for things that succeeded,” he said Friday.
Space X’s Starlink satellites will participate “to a greater degree” in the April exercise, and hopefully connect to additional air- and land-based platforms, Roper said. The Air Force is in talks with Virgin Orbit about including the company’s LauncherOne two-stage orbital launch vehicle in the exercise. “It helps [the company] because they’re thinking through” concepts of operation, Roper said. “It helps us think about, how would the force be different if we’re able to launch satellites on demand?”
As a result of the December demonstration, Air Mobility Command is considering placing the GatewayONE translator on a KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueler, “and hanging it on the tanker so that the tanker can become a translator and has a different role on the battlefield,” he added. “That’s something that wouldn’t exist right now had the first demonstration not been done.”
In the future, international platforms are also expected to play a role, particularly to test space superiority capabilities, Roper noted. The Air Force’s fiscal year 2021 budget justification book shows the service hopes to spend about $3.2 billion in research-and-development funds on the ABMS effort over the next five years (Defense Daily, Feb. 11).